Holden Barina Swing

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Keywords: holden, 1994 holden barina swing
Description: NRMA's Car Review of the 1994 Holden Barina Swing SB reveals a worthy competitor in the small car class tha offers a variety of models for varying buyer requirements.

Small cars have come a long way in recent years, shedding the image of being noisy little "buzzboxes" with good fuel economy and a low purchase price about their only redeeming features. Today they are more practical, more stylish, more comfortable, better equipped and generally, they feature higher levels of performance, refinement and quality.

The segment has also become a lot more diverse and cosmopolitan, with entries from Japan, Korea, Spain and Malaysia. The latest Barina certainly has a mixed heritage; it's marketed by Holden, built in Spain, and based on Germany's Opel Corsa.

The Barina competes head-on against cars such as the Mazda 121, Daihatsu Charade, Ford Festiva, Suzuki Cino, Hyundai Excel, Seat Ibiza and Daewoo 1.5i. At the time of writing, the Malaysian-built Proton was still a few months away from release.

This segment is very price-sensitive and the Barina has an attractive starting price of $13,770 for the three-door City version. However, that only buys you a 1.2 litre engine and for the five-door 1.4 litre manual Swing (as tested), you'll have to hand over $16,490 before statutory and dealer charges, or extras. There's also a three-door Joy model for $16,800, while "top-of-the-range" is the sporty manual-only, but airbag and ABS-equipped, 1.6 litre GSi at $23,310. On Joy and Swing models, add $1,500 if you want automatic transmission.

All versions except the City have power steering and a driver's airbag is a $990 option on all except the GSi (where it's standard). Air conditioning (not an easy fitment, and not all that effective, according to some feedback), costs $1,800.

The new Barina is shorter than the superseded model, but it's wider and taller, with a longer wheelbase and a wider track. The higher roof line gives better-than-average head room front and rear, while the longer wheelbase and wider tracks bring tangible benefits in the areas of ride and handling.

As a long-legged driver, I couldn't get particularly comfortable in the Barina. I had insufficient leg room to get my knees under the steering wheel and this, combined with the pedals being offset to the left and set close together, led to discomfort after driving even a short time. The front seats look snug and well contoured but I didn't find them to be especially comfortable or supportive.

It's in the areas of ride and handling where the Barina best displays its European heritage. The handling inspires confidence over all surfaces with no real vices, and the car has a solid, unshakeable feel that's not always present in this segment.

Not so impressive is the performance. Mid-range torque is good, meaning the Barina 1.4 will respond satisfactorily for overtaking (provided you're in the right gear), but its low maximum power means just about every other car in this class (and the old model Barina) will leave it behind on acceleration from rest.

Low fuel consumption is compensation for the lack of outright performance. Highway-type running at the rate of 6.5 litres/100 km is economical motoring in anyone's language.

Though the Swing performed well enough in our general and emergency braking tests, the test car's spongy pedal action didn't inspire a lot of confidence. Similarly, I wasn't impressed by the rubbery feel of the manual gearshift, or the sharp joins on the gear knob which caused discomfort after a while.

Though there are some things about the Barina Swing (such as lack-lustre performance, awkward pedal spacing and rubbery manual gearshift) which dull my enthusiasm for it, I do like its solid overall feel, its excellent chassis dynamics, its impressive fuel economy and the availability of features such as a four-speed auto and driver's airbag.

All in all, the new Barina is a worthy competitor in the small car class and the variety of models caters well for varying buyer requirements.

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