Baby bunch

How you can squeeze the best value out of $20K city cars

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Front Page - JOSHUA DOWLING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDITOR [email protected]

AS the most af­ford­able op­tion on show­room floors, city cars ap­peal to first-timers, old­timers and all in be­tween.

But it pays to do your re­search in this class of nearly two-dozen con­tenders. Some brands of­fer more than oth­ers, so de­ter­min­ing the best buy isn’t al­ways as sim­ple as look­ing at the rec­om­mended re­tail prices.

We’ve gath­ered the three lat­est ar­rivals in the sub$20,000 seg­ment: the re­cently up­dated Toy­ota Yaris and Holden Ba­rina and new Kia Rio.


This should have been a com­pletely new Yaris but in­stead it’s the sec­ond facelift in six years, a pe­riod in which most cars would be re­placed with clean sheet designs.

Toy­ota has added the lat­est safety fea­tures, namely au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing and lane wan­der warn­ing, to give the Yaris a new lease on its model life.

AEB is becoming stan­dard on more ex­pen­sive cars; the Yaris is among the first with the tech­nol­ogy in this class. It’s a rel­a­tively cheap $650 op­tion on the ex­am­ple we’ve tested and stan­dard on the dear­est Yaris.

To dis­tin­guish the new model, there’s a new bend in the front and rear bumpers and new tail-lights.

The smooth, re­fined and fru­gal driv­e­line — 1.3-litre four­cylin­der and four-speed auto — car­ries over.

Some in the seg­ment have grad­u­ated to a six-speed auto, which aids ac­cel­er­a­tion and fuel econ­omy, but the Yaris still gets the job done, at its own pace.

Th­ese aren’t meant to be race cars but the Yaris is the slow­est of this trio to 60km/h (6 sec­onds) and 100km/h (14 sec­onds).

The cabin is start­ing to look dated (Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto are con­spic­u­ously ab­sent) but it still oozes Made-In-Ja­pan qual­ity.

The ma­te­ri­als are of a high stan­dard and feel durable, while the seats are the most sup­port­ive among this trio.

The door pock­ets are thin com­pared to the oth­ers but there’s good odd­ment stor­age in other cub­bies.

Out­ward vi­sion is ex­cel­lent thanks to the large glass area, wide-view side mir­rors and rear cam­era (stan­dard on all three). Rear sen­sors are op­tional on the Yaris but stan­dard on both ri­vals.

On the road the Yaris feels sure-footed but, on skin­nier tyres, it can’t quite match the oth­ers for grip in the wet.

As a plus, the Yaris is eas­i­est to park: it has the tight­est turn­ing cir­cle and is the short­est of this trio bumper to bumper.

It’s age­ing well but we’re not sure Toy­ota has made enough changes to hold off the com­pe­ti­tion for an­other three years — and that may ex­plain its dis­count price. The pre­vi­ous model was $17,990 drive-away with auto (about $3000 off the RRP).

The lat­est it­er­a­tion has lim­boed to $17,490 drive-away with auto. Metal­lic paint adds $450.


As with the Toy­ota, the Ba­rina is ap­proach­ing its sixth birth­day. To keep it go­ing an­other cou­ple of years, Holden has added a bold new nose, fresh wheels and Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto.

Lit­tle has changed un­der the skin. The 1.6-litre en­gine car­ries over with the six-speed auto,

which is poorly cal­i­brated and makes the baby Holden feel un­co­or­di­nated in stop-start traf­fic.

Floor the throt­tle, though, and the six-speed auto does well to dis­guise the Ba­rina’s weight.

De­spite be­ing al­most 100kg heav­ier than the Rio and more than 200kg heav­ier than the Yaris, the Ba­rina is brisk­est to 60km/h (5.3 sec­onds ver­sus 5.6 for the Rio) and, like the Kia, reaches 100km/h in 13 sec­onds.

Its big­ger en­gine and heav­ier body blunt fuel econ­omy and it’s the thirsti­est of the trio.

On the plus side, the roomy cabin has mas­sive stor­age pock­ets. Less pleas­ing, the plas­tics look cheap.

The large boot stows a full­size spare as a no-cost op­tion — the de­fault fit­ment is an in­fla­tion kit.

Once on the move, the Ba­rina steers well and feels se­cure on the road.

Holden’s pric­ing is con­fus­ing. This month the brand slashed the Ba­rina man­ual to $15,690 drive-away, so buy­ers might ex­pect a $2000-odd pre­mium for the auto.

But no. The ba­sic Ba­rina auto (which ac­counts for most sales) is an eye-wa­ter­ing $20,000-plus drive-away, or more than $4000 for the auto upgrade. This time last year the auto was $16,190 drive-away with a five-year warranty. KIA RIO The Rio is a gen­er­a­tion ahead in this con­test. As it’s the new­est car in its class, Kia has ad­dressed many of the short­com­ings of its pre­de­ces­sor and its peers.

The 1.4-litre en­gine and four-speed auto carry over from the pre­vi­ous Rio; frankly, it’s not a li­a­bil­ity. The en­gine sounds a lit­tle nois­ier and harsher than the Toy­ota, not that most buy­ers would no­tice.

Its in­te­rior is the roomi­est and fresh­est look­ing of this trio and it in­cludes a tablet-style dis­play screen with Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto. In­stru­ments are crys­tal clear (in­clud­ing a dig­i­tal speed dis­play) and the ma­te­ri­als are of a high qual­ity.

The front seats are wider than the oth­ers and a bet­ter fit for larger frames.

Its big­ger five-door body means it has a larger foot­print. It also has the big­gest boot, which dis­ap­point­ingly packs a space-saver spare.

On the road the Rio feels plush com­pared to the other two, al­though the sus­pen­sion can thud when it runs out of travel on big bumps and the auto isn’t al­ways in­tu­itive.

Down­sides are few. It’s odd AEB is not avail­able as an op­tion on such a new car (this will likely pull the Rio back to a four-star safety rat­ing, , even though it has a full com­ple­ment mple­ment of airbags, a rear cam­era and sen­sors).

The Rio is alone in this trio in n lack­ing lack cruise con­trol but has aces up its sleeve — in ad­di­tion to its in­dus­try-lead­ingg seven year, un­lim­ited kilo­me­tree warranty), it’s sport­ing the su­per sharp price of $17,490 drive-away with auto (about $3400 off the full RRP). That’s vir­tu­ally a run-out price on a brand-new car. VERDICT The Ba­rina is worth a test drive but not at this price. Wait un­til it re­turns to where it has been for most of the past two years: in the $16,990 to $17,990 drive­away range.

Toy­ota should be com­mended for be­ing among the first to bring AEB to the city car class and the new Yaris still has the edge when it comes to qual­ity, re­li­a­bil­ity and real world fuel econ­omy.

But the Rio aces this test as the best all-round pack­age of the three.

The hon­est price and gen­er­ous warranty sim­ply seal the deal.

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