Holden Barina used car review

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Keeping it simple

Overall, the Barina is a work in progress with Holden engineers improving but not totally rectifying all the car’s shortcomings.

Barina has had a chequered career in its 30 years as Holden’s light car. Originally it was a rebadged, Japanese Suzuki Swift, then an Opel Corsa from Europe before economics dictated a more price-competitive model. So the Korean-built Daewoo Kalos became the TK Barina in Australia in 2005.

Unfortunately, the cheaper car also meant a backward step in quality and reliability. Likewise, Barina’s on-road dynamics and general driving experience started from a low base and have gradually improved, although quality, refinement and reliability still fall a little short. But depending on the grade, it’s well equipped, and for such a small car is roomy with a useful luggage area.

TK models on the used market are mostly 3dr hatches, followed by 5dr hatches and an occasional 4dr sedan. All use a 1.6L petrol engine in either 5spd manual or 4spd auto. In late 2011, the TM series saw the 3dr hatch dropped for the smaller, cheaper Barina Spark.

Performance is respectable but sensible gear changing in the manual is needed to maintain pace, while the 4spd auto also struggles at times. Barina’s gearing is not well matched to its engine, and the need to work through the gears is not helped by a vague shift action in the manual. And Barina generally feels a touch harsh, with a background of mechanical noise and tyre roar.

In the late-2011 upgrade, the long-serving engine received an increase in power and torque, while the 4spd auto was replaced by a 6spd unit.

Barina is easy enough to drive but the handling isn’t as surefooted or nimble as some of its peers. Overall it continues to be a work in progress, with Holden engineers significantly improving but not totally rectifying all the shortcomings. You can find plenty of owners who have had a good run but along the way there have also been some horror stories.

When buying a Barina, it is vital to shop around and check any prospective buys thoroughly. Make sure it has an up-to-date service history, find out if any major repairs have been done and, where possible, talk to the previous owner. It is essential the timing belt is replaced every 60,000km or four years, and it’s also worth changing the water pump at the same time.

RACV vehicle inspectors report oil leaks as common and, for such a small, light car, Barina can be hard on tyres, brake pads and rotors. Check that the engine runs and idles smoothly. Give the car a good road test, and pay particular attention to the operation of the automatic transmission. Make sure all the electrical systems function correctly, as it’s a car that has had a variety of minor niggles in this area.

Barina has been the subject of a number of recalls, so it is worth checking with a Holden dealer or Holden’s customer service to ensure any relevant work has been completed.

For more used car reviews, see royalauto.com.au.

Written by Greg Hill
March 03, 2015