Good things sometimes come in small (and thrifty) packages.
The Holden Barina is a light compact car that most people are familiar with. The Barina may have been around since 2011, but a refresh in 2017 has kept it looking fighting fit and entirely relevant, and now sports a front end that sort of looks like a Camaro if you squint at it from a distance. Despite its age, the Barina continues to come up as a strong, sensible, value driven contender in this fiercely competitive end of the market, and holds its own against increasingly advanced and intelligent competitors.
The refresh was limited not only to the aesthetic end of the Barina, but also saw Holden’s compact hatch get jam-packed full of kit making it even more appealing to a younger, more tech-savvy audience. Couple that to a low-stress, reliable powertrain and you’ve got yourself the recipe for a pretty good first car, or even a good starter family car.
“Changes for this facelift model are minor…” - CarAdvice
The 2017 redesign saw the Barina gain a muscle car-like front end, with the designers at Holden admitting they used a Camaro as inspiration. Thankfully the treatment was done well, and the Barina is now more handsome as a result. The rear end saw less work done (just some new lights here), but overall it certainly doesn’t look as dated as its roots would suggest.
The Barina has gained LED daytime running lights up front with projector lenses inside, and an enlarged front grille that works really well in its setting. Overall, the Barina doesn’t look like it’s trying too hard, something that a lot of its competitors are guilty of. But admittedly, those ‘hidden’ rear door handles are just weird.
Engine & Drivetrain
“The story is pretty much the same, as you’d expect, given the engine and transmission both remain unchanged.” - Motoring
The Barina facelift may have brought on a brawny new face, but it’s the same old engine under the bonnet. A naturally-aspirated 1.6-litre petrol unit sees use here, putting out a mind-bending 85kW/155kW. While it misses out on the kind of forced-induction that a lot of its competitors are packing, the Barina’s four-cylinder petrol is at least decently refined and linear in its power delivery.
Sending power to the front wheels, the Barina employs either a six-speed manual transmission on the lower LS model, with a six-speed automatic coming in as standard for the higher-end LT (and available as an option for the LS). While the manual may appeal as a drivers’ choice, the six-speed automatic is competent and well-judged, and is rarely found hunting for gears or shifting jerkily.
“In-cabin updates are less dramatic, centred around conservative new instruments and an impressive new multimedia touchscreen.” - Wheels Mag
When you’re considering a car that sells strongest when offered with sharp drive-away pricing, it’s worth keeping in mind that everything is relative. That in mind, the Barina’s cabin is a pretty nice place to be, considering that you can get one on your drive for significantly less than $20,000. It hasn’t seen too many changes inside though, with only the replacement of that god-awful motorcycle-inspired instrument cluster (it now features a more conventional setup) and the inclusion of a great new infotainment system. The bright, high-contrast, responsive system in the Barina even features Apple Carplay, great for the younger set and their insistence on the very latest tech all the time.
While the materials used through the cabin couldn’t really be described as ‘forgiving,’ they do at least feel hard-wearing and well put together. There’s the distinct impression that while one eye was kept on cost, the other was trained on overall aesthetic appeal. Thankfully, the Barina does well in both regards, with the cabin doing a good job keeping the real age of the Holden hatch well hidden.
Behind the Wheel
“Even a struggling Inspector Clouseau could figure out how the Barina can feel so strong and sturdy relative to some rivals.” - The Motor Report
The Holden Barina is surprisingly good fun to drive, despite what its affordable pricing and simplistic mechanicals might suggest. It might not have a torquey turbo-petrol under the bonnet or a slick double-clutch automatic, but the Barina’s 1.6-litre mill is nothing if not willing. It revs quite happily all the way up to the redline, and the six-speed automatic actually does a good job holding onto gears when you need rapid progress. But when we say ‘rapid,’ we mean about as rapid as a compact hatch ever really gets, because the naturally-aspirated Barina isn’t going to tear up drag strips and give people a run for their money between the lights.
What the Barina is good at doing is ensuring punchy, responsive progress through urban situations, and giving you just enough grunt to keep you going on the motorway. And it’d be best to remember that the Barina’s powertrain really is just enough, so don’t expect any hair-raising antics if the car’s loaded full of people and/or things.
Safety & Technology
“While the added specification is appreciated and the price points are well considered, it’s hard to overlook the newer entrants in the class.” - Autocar New Zealand
Though the Barina may be value-driven, it certainly doesn’t skimp on important bits. For starters, all Barinas get 6-airbags as standard, along with important electronic safety nets like traction control and ABS brakes. The Barina was last tested by Australian automotive safety watchdogs ANCAP back in 2011, and today still retains the same impressive 5-star rating (as per standards when it was tested).
It’s worth noting that while the Barina’s rigid construction meant that the body shielded its occupants well in all impact testing, the lack of advanced driver assistance systems like autonomous emergency braking, collusion warning or rear cross-traffic alert stands out as glaring omissions in today’s world. While it’s worth noting that these systems were likely unable to be added given the Barina’s age, buyers should keep in mind that there are competitors like the Mazda 2 and Toyota Yaris that offer a little more kit that’ll keep families safe.
Tech is generally well catered for, with the 7.0-inch touchscreen MyLink infotainment screen headlining interior kit. There’s also rear parking sensors, smartphone mirroring, automatic headlights, rear parking sensors and camera, along with cruise control for all Barinas. Keyless entry and go, along with heated front seats are reserved for the range-topping Barina LT, though.
While it might be getting on in age, the Holden Barina continues to fare favourably among its peers in this end of the market. Combining sharp styling, sharp pricing, and sharp handling, the Barina’s resolved and matured driving experience is marred only by the lack of forced induction under the bonnet, which would have quite happily put this car in contention with things like the Ford Fiesta and Peugeot 208 in terms of characterful drives, or even the Volkswagen Polo in terms of mature, refined progress.
Alas, the Barina makes do with what it’s got (at least it’s the gearboxes are six speeds), and while it isn’t the punchiest motorway drive, it’s plenty gutsy in town. The light controls, boxy shape and large glasshouse means that visibility is great, and it’s surprisingly easy to pilot around town. The Barina should be considered as a city car first and foremost, because when you do that, you realise it’s really rather good.
The Barina comes with sharp pricing and plenty of kit, and with the recent facelift, carries the sort of look that belies its age. The Barina is still a youthful, youth-targeted city car at heart, and frankly, is one of the best contenders at this price point. This is value, done properly.
Motoring – 70/100 – “So the Holden Barina exudes its growing maturity. The only real shortfall is the 1.6-litre engine. A characterful small-capacity three-cylinder turbo would absolutely transform the Barina and make it something to be truly reckoned with in the light-car class.”
CarAdvice – 6.5/10 – “While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the Barina and it’s undoubtedly more accomplished than the model it replaces, the pricing for the Barina puts it in a perilous position. There are so many quality options in this segment, that it’s going to be a struggle for olden to convince potential buyers to spend their money on a Barina. It’s definitely worth considering, though.”
Wheels Mag – 4.0/5.0 – “Still a good-looking car that builds on more than three decades worth of goodwill towards the Barina nameplate.”
The Motor Report – 2.5/5.0 – “Holden needed to do much more with the facelift of its venerable light hatchback; Instead, it has left the Barina vulnerable to attacks by newer rivals. While decent in terms of infotainment and handling response, it feels as though papier-mâché has been used to cover the considerable cracks forming with the engine and chassis.”
Autocar New Zealand – 4.0/5.0 – “If the Barina had feelings, they’d likely be hurt, as would yours if your younger sibling was shown all the love. The Spark was completely reinvented last year, while the ‘new’ Barina soldiers on with merely a facelift.”