A toiler, to be honest
Updates amount to the expected front and rear revamp but there are also welcome additions inside, headlined by Android/Apple smartphone mirroring and heated front seats. The top-tier LT variant is about $21,600 drive-away. That isn’t smart buying when the base LS is $15,990 drive-away with the same 1.6-litre engine and six-speed auto, so effectively you’re spending roughly $6000 on keyless entry/start, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated seats and upgraded interior fabric. Servicing is every nine months/ 15,000km and the first four trips are good value at $229 each.
The ride is reasonable rather than great, with the low-profile 17-inch rubber creating minor jolts over sharp-edged low-speed bumps. The suspension itself is well-sorted and the Barina sits flat through the corners and doesn’t crash through the potholes as some in this class are prone to. The seats are similarly middle of the road, with the flat base not giving a lot of lateral support. The seven-inch infotainment screen is as good as it gets in the light car ranks.
The Barina was launched in late 2011 and earned a five-star rating from ANCAP the next year. Not surprisingly, the car’s age and price precludes such active driving aids as autonomous emergency braking (though forwardcollision and lane-departure alerts can be had on Chevybadged cars in the US). A reversing camera and rear sensors are standard across the range and there are six airbags.
The Barina claws back some ground here with steering and body composure that make it entertaining to drive. The auto transmission is well calibrated to get the best from the engine without challenging a Mazda2 for outright pace. That’s largely because the Barina is heavier than most of its opposition, which also translates into higher fuel use as the engine has to work harder to maintain momentum.
Mazda2 Genki auto, $24,690 drive-away (until June 30) The Genki is marginally more expensive and is a physically smaller vehicle. Offsetting that is a smoother, fuel-efficient engine and a stack of standard gear, from LED headlamps to city-speed autonomous emergency braking, rear crosstraffic alert, head-up display and seven-inch infotainment screen with satnav. Kia Rio SLi auto, $21,490 plus on-roads
Well-built and well-specified, the Rio’s engine (adequate) and four-speed auto (disappointing) don’t do justice to the local steering and suspension tune. Interior kit pretty well matches the Holden and the plastics are a class above, as is the sevenyear warranty. VWPolo 81TSI auto, $22,490 drive-away (ends June 30)
A seven-speed dual-clutch auto and a 1.2-litre turbo engine give the Polo the performance edge and equipment levels are on a par with the opposition, despite the Polo being a relatively old car (a new one is due next year). Automated emergency braking is an option and the Polo needs premium petrol.
An honest performer in a field of standouts, the Barina holds its own for roadholding and wins the space race. It will take a boost to interior quality and an engine/transmission update — or a price adjustment — to arrest the 50 per cent sales slump over this time last year.