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Now more than ever, the crowded micro car segment is a battleground for manufacturers and now more than ever, those same micro cars are more comprehensively equipped and more compelling value for money than they’ve ever been.
The updated 2017 Holden Barina has some work to do then to win over the hearts and minds of Australian buyers looking for a value for money city car.
VFACTS calls this segment ‘Micro And Light Passenger’ cars and it’s crowded with interesting, sometimes quirky, but often viable alternatives to the more well known options.
The Barina as tested here, sits above the cheaper Barina Spark, and the segment also includes Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta, Honda Jazz, Hyundai Accent, Mazda 2, Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Micra, Peugeot 208, Skoda Fabia Suzuki Swift, Toyota Yaris and Volkswagen Polo.
We’ve tested the six-speed automatic LT model here, with pricing that starts from $20,390 before on-road costs. Ours only has optional paint – Nitrate Silver – costing $550.
The manual LS variant is significantly cheaper, starting from $14,990 before drive away costs are added, while there’s also an LS automatic available starting from $17,190. All three grades are powered by a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine, with the five-speed manual standard on the base model. The automatic transmission is optional on the base LS and standard on the LT.
Changes for this facelifted model are minor, and include a redesigned front end, updated rear end and an upgraded interior. While the exterior changes ensure it looks appealing in this crowded segment – especially the 17-inch alloy wheels that the LT sports – it’s inside the cabin where much-needed changes have been made.
All Barinas now come equipped with Holden’s 7.0-inch MyLink infotainment system that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto along with six airbags, auto headlights, rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera and cruise control.
Outside there are LED daytime-running lights and fog lights. Our LT gets the aforementioned 17-inch wheels, leather trim for the steering wheel, ‘Sportec’ leatherette seat trim (which isn’t great in the heat of an Aussie summer), heated front seats and keyless entry and start.
Under the bonnet, there’s a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, which kicks out 85kW at 6000rpm and 155Nm at 4000rpm. Against the ADR claim of 7.2L/100km, our Barina LT returned an indicated 9.5L/100km during our week behind the wheel. A lot of that time was spent working our way through heavy traffic too, so expect that number to drop if you spend more time on the move than going nowhere.
Inside the cabin, our only gripe is the ‘up-spec’ leatherette trim, which, like most attempts of its ilk, doesn’t translate well to a sticky summer’s day. It’s an example of where a manufacturer should either opt for real leather (and ask the customer to pay a little more), or stick to tried and tested material trim. The leatherette is probably fine when it’s not too hot, but that’s hard to avoid in summer in Australia.
The new infotainment screen is excellent, and once connected, we found Apple CarPlay worked really well. There’s so much to like about the smartphone link cars have now, not the least of which is the safety of not needing to touch your phone to do anything. We also like the way Apple maps are almost always up to date, something proprietary satellite navigation systems can’t match.
The voice recognition system also worked well and never seemed to struggle to understand what we were asking it to do. Callers did report the sound from their end not being as clear as it was in the cabin at times though, which might prove to be a bit of an issue.
The driving position is easy to adjust for most drivers to find a comfortable view, and the Barina avoids the pitfalls of so many small cars, which make you feel like you are sitting right up against the dashboard. Taller drivers can certainly get far enough away from it to be comfortable. While the view is excellent fore and aft, the rear-view camera is clear and broad and the parking sensors work well too.
In the second row, you’ll find there’s enough room for adults, so long as those in the front seat aren’t super tall with extra long legs. It’s comfortable enough in the second row for longer drives too, and the luggage space is large enough for two adults to cram it full of essentials for at least a week on the road.
Most surprisingly, the Barina is a hoot to drive, which will be a critical purchasing decision for more buyers in this segment than you might initially think. When you step into this micro car segment, you expect zippy performance, sharp steering, an exceptional turning circle, and go-kart-like manoeuvrability and the Barina delivers across all those expectations.
The engine zings up to redline, holds gears when you keep the engine burbling, and gets up to speed more easily than the power and torque figures might suggest. While the engine does sound as if it has to work hard when it’s under the pump, that’s partly to be expected from a sub 2.0-litre unit.
The six speed automatic is slick and precise and regardless of how hard you’re working the Barina, it always seems to know which gear is the right one to be in for the given road speed. If the Barina has four adults on board and the AC running on a hot day, you’ll need the full travel of the throttle pedal to get rapidly up a steep hill, but aside from that specific example, it’s otherwise a nippy little performer.
You could argue the manual transmission would be a more effective way of extracting the best out of the small engine and that is probably true for the driving purist – if your commute includes a twisty road with no one on it, that is. However, around town, in stop/start traffic where most owners will spend the majority of their time, the auto is definitely the pick of the two. It’s entirely inoffensive and unobtrusive in the way it works, which is what you want from an automatic.
We liked the steering, which played its part in ensuring the driving experience is as much fun as it is. The Barina turns on a dime, and perhaps most crucially, the suspension tune is excellent. Even with the larger 17-inch rims of our test example, the Barina manages to soak up the worst of Sydney’s urban road network with composure, something it needs to do given it will ply its trade most commonly on these very road surfaces.
While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the 2017 Barina LT and it is undoubtedly more accomplished than the model it replaces, the pricing for the LT we’ve tested here puts it in a perilous position. There are so many quality options in this segment that it’s going to be a struggle for Holden to convince potential buyers to spend their 20 grand on a Barina. It’s definitely worth considering when the time comes to make your purchase, though.
Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss the 2017 Holden Barina below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.