THE RISK IS FISCAL
As a city car, the Barina is safe but not always reliable HOLDEN BARINA 2012-16
The Barina will be dropped soon from the Holden line-up. Few will mourn the passing of the city car with a chequered reputation. Built by GM Korea but no longer a rebadged Daewoo, as with the previous generation, the current Barina was introduced in 2011 — when Aussies still bought city cars in decent numbers.
At launch it was quite compelling with masculine visage, exposed headlights and prominent wheel arches. With high equipment levels for the class at the time, it was something of a sales success early on.
On the flipside, it was never a joy to drive, especially out of the city. Ride was crashy, handling dodgy and the auto transmission could be jerky and laboured.
The engine made a nasty racket when you floored the accelerator, with no meaningful progress in return.
Among used examples, there are reliability problems to consider. As it was built to a budget, the hard cabin plastics and seat materials in the main haven’t aged well.
Pricier problems have plagued owners. Engine mount failure has been common, coolant tank and hose failure has led to instances of overheating and sometimes engine failure. Gearbox, coil packs and thermostat failure crop up regularly.
Throw in complaints about the engine being gutless, thirsty and prone to oil leaks, sun visors breaking off, terrible Bluetooth connectivity and you may ask why you’d bother.
Some Barina owners are happy to share positive ownership stories. Praise is there for the styling, its roominess for a small car, safety rating, equipment levels and the turbo RS model having decent poke.
In four-door sedan guise or more popular five-door hatch, the TM series Barina arrived as a single grade with six airbags, 15-inch alloys, aircon, cruise control, digital speedo, USB input, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, steering wheel controls and traction and stability control.
There was an acceptable 290L boot for the hatch, or an impressive 502L in the sedan, which arrived in February 2012.
The engine was city car relevant, a lazy 1.6-litre four-cylinder with 85kW.A five-speed manual gearbox was standard but most buyers optioned the six-speed auto for an extra $2000.
Fuel consumption looks heavy by modern small car standards: 6.8L/00km (manual) or 7.3L (auto), and owners report even thirstier returns.
For the 2013 model year, the grades were CD and CDX, the latter with Holden’s MyLink infotainment with seven-inch screen, 17-inch alloys, reverse park sensors, heated seats and, later in 2013, Siri Eyes Free. A new six-speed auto improved fuel economy by 10 per cent.
By year’s end the sporty-ish Barina RS arrived with 103kW 1.4-litre turbo and sixspeed manual, lower suspension, quick ratio steering, body kit, new 17-inch alloys, leather sport seats and flat-bottom steering wheel.
Look out for Barina X models from April 2015, which were CD hatches with MyLink infotainment, electric sunroof and 16-inch grey alloys.
In November 2016 the facelifted Barina arrived, a car just about clinging to life in Holden showrooms today.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Will a used Barina be your first car? To avoid ruining the experience, prioritise cars with good service histories. This is certainly a model to have a professional mechanic look over for you: cheap ones are cheap for a reason.
There have been numerous recalls. View productsafety.gov.au to check what should have been done on any you’re considering. The latest recall was June to replace the Takata airbag.
Listen for noises from the engine bay and check any vibrations — tell-tale signs that the troublesome engine mounts need replacing.
Check under the bonnet for cracks or leaking from the coolant reservoir and hoses. Any salty looking or green residue is a bad sign.
Also check for oil in the coolant tank, or any mayonnaise-type gunk under the oil cap. Engine head gaskets have been known to fail and these are red flags.
The RS’s turbo had gremlins too, so if it struggles to start, runs rough, is sluggish to get away or makes any ugly noises, just say no.
The auto gearbox isn’t a great thing but if it stalls, flares, is really hesitant, makes nasty noises or bangs into gear changes, walk away; many owners have needed gearbox replacements.
Check all the lights go out on the dashboard after start up — Code 89 showing is a common grumble and means thermostat replacement.
Barina tyres wear out quite quickly so prioritise cars with new rubber. Ignition coil packs commonly expire, so ask if this has happened recently.
Ensure the cabin hasn’t weathered too badly and double-check all electrics, the airconditioning and Bluetooth connectivity.
Also check you can tolerate the Barina’s high road noise at speed, and the shrill nature of the engine when pushed.
These Barinas are too troublesome to recommend with much faith but temptingly low prices and attractive styling may sway you. Manual gearbox examples help avoid auto woes. Target CDX grade to score decent cabin equipment. To avoid the real lemons, have an expert look over a potential purchase.
PATRICK WOODS: My work car was a 2012 Barina with auto gearbox, used daily in town to get between jobs. It looked good, was easy to drive and the digital speedo was very useful. It always lacked power, however, and the engine would scream when putting your foot down, plus the gearbox got more and more jerky over time before needing to be replaced. Fuel use was OK but it needed replacement rubber far too regularly. Ours had a hard life but even so it felt very tired and weathered after only three years. It was easy to park and manoeuvre, and would probably make a good cheap first car.