Life Auto The zippy Holden Barina CDX screams ‘first car’

The zippy Holden Barina CDX screams ‘first car’

Holden Barina 2015
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Expert rating: 75/100

Engine, drivetrain and chassis: 16/20
Price, packaging and practicality: 15/20
Safety and technology: 15/20
Behind the wheel: 15/20
X-factor: 14/20

The Holden Barina CDX has first car written all over it.

This mid-spec hatch is a really fun drive, seemingly targeted directly at the same demographic who listen to Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, like their photos with filters on them and prefer Facebook to actual books.

Despite the classic Holden front robbing it of its ‘cute factor’ somewhat, the car is attractive, especially in the Son of a Gun Grey with chrome highlights that I drove (worth noting this costs at least $500 extra).

This mix of modernity and signature Holden masculinity means the car is reasonably gender neutral, something I imagine is hard to achieve in small passenger hatches.

I’m looking at you, Nissan Micra.

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The Barina has the zippiness you desire in a small car, but the body feels sturdy and reasonably spacious.

Holden Barina
The Barina’s infotainment system is more PC than Mac.

Once you get going, steering and handling is smooth enough, but the car is quite ‘jolty’ when changing between park and drive, brake and accelerate.

At some points, when reversing out of a sloped car space, I felt like I was driving one of those lowriders out of American gangster movies.

Annoyingly, the car is really low at the front and you will probably find yourself wincing regularly as you crunch, scrape and clunk on driveways and speedhumps.

Luckily, you can hear every bump and scrape as engine noise is minimal.

The 1.6-litre engine is comfortable kicking it up a notch to make it through a busy intersection and nimble enough to zip in front of ambling cars.

Brakes are also highly responsive, which makes me confident my newly-licensed little brother and his over-zealous acceleration would be quite at home in the Barina.

The main problem with the car is that the design feels a little clunky.

It’s not so much impractical as tacky, with a few of the finishes feeling more Hot Wheels than hot ride.

The plasticky dash provides plenty of storage room for trinkets whilst the advertised “7.0-inch colour touch-screen” delivers on being seven inches and colour, not so much on the touch part.

The volume buttons are frustratingly hard to activate and the limited menu options take at least two finger taps to access.

It also has a very Windows 7 feel to it. The MacBook of infotainment systems this ain’t.

Holden Barina
Automatic headlights jazz up an otherwise cheap and cheerful interior.

Just to add insult to injury, while you’re struggling to turn the radio down you’ll also be reaching for the indicator, which is strangely high up and takes some getting used to.

Having said that, the classic gearshifter and handbrake are a welcome relief from all the push-button starts and miniscule levers trendy among recent car designs.

It’s new wave fandangled nonsense and I don’t miss it.

For people who love to blast the music while they drive, and will happily sit in their car until a good song is over, the radio is pretty awesome.

It’s got great sound quality, it tells you what song is up next and it doesn’t turn off when you switch the engine off, so the groove never dies.

It also has phone connectivity both via Bluetooth and a USB port, so you can play your own favourite tunes.

Holden Barina
A compact boot can fit two medium suitcases – enough for a first car.

There is something called MyLink that Holden proudly proclaims offers “in-built apps”, just don’t ask me how to use it.

From what I can see it lets you use a small handful of apps, none of which you are likely to recognise, except maybe the music streaming service Pandora.

Further research reveals you can use Stitcher to listen to podcasts, BringGo to access 3D maps and TuneIn to access radio stations from around the world – pretty cool.

If only I had the patience and spare time to Google it and read about seven pages of information when I was actually in the car.

Definitely worth investing a rainy afternoon to set it all up.

The handful of jazzy extras the car does offer are solid, but not super impressive.

Automatic headlights (that stay on long enough to see you safely to your door), a leather-covered wheel and effective seat heaters certainly up the luxury of the otherwise cheap and cheerful interior.

The car’s in-built rear parking sensors are a little over-dramatic.

They were going gangbusters during a parallel parking session, but I stepped out to find I still had at least a foot and a half of room between me and the car behind.

The 2016 model will get a reversing camera that may help to make sense of the over-zealous beeping noises.

For a small car, the Barina is actually pretty roomy.

Legroom is ample up front and the back could probably fit two adults comfortably, if they weren’t the size of your average AFL player.

Holden Barina
The hatchback has responsive brakes, smooth steering and only slightly temperamental transmission.

The boot is compact but big enough to fit two medium suitcases.

The space available can also be increased by fold-down rear seats.

In terms of price, the Barina is smack-bang in the middle range of the light passenger cars.

It comes in $1500 above the best-selling Hyundai i20 and $1900 below the popular Mazda2 Genki.

It’s not exactly the ideal price for a first car, but not completely unrealistic either.

This makes sense given the car appears to be right in the middle in terms of quality too.

Unremarkable in both a good and bad way, it’s got a nice combo of modern comforts and tech updates combined with box-checking standard features.

This all adds up to the car having a nice feel to it and ultimately, being a really enjoyable drive.

I’d recommend investigating other options in the same class before settling on the Barina, just to see if anything else can eclipse the behind-the-wheel feel.

Having said that, while singing along to a Taylor Swift song on Pandora, zipping around the suburbs and blasting the seat heaters it’s doubtful you’ll regret your decision.

2015 Holden Barina CDX pricing and specifications:
Price: $20,090 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol
Output: 85kW /155Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel: 6.4L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 153g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star ANCAP

What we liked:
>> The radio
>> The attractive exterior
>> The size

Not so much:
>> The tacky interior finishes
>> The temperamental touch screen
>> The over-sensitive parking sensors

Also consider:
>> Hyundai i20 ($18,590 plus ORCs)
>> Toyota Yaris ZR ($21,490 plus ORCs)
>> Mazda 2 Genki ($21,990 plus ORCs)

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