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.

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