MUSCLING up has given Holden's pint-size Barina renewed vigour.
There's a tougher stance, broader shoulders along with a good line-up of standard features.
And it needed a lifeline. The previous TK model had the pint-size hatch on life support as it struggled to compete against a surge of competent competitors.
New from the ground up, although the engine has received relatively minor tweaks, the TM Barina looks better, performs better and already the proof has been in the pudding.
During its first month on sale, the Barina saw its best sales result since February 2008.
And Holden needs its small car brigade firing. With the Commodore losing its mantle as Australia's number one selling car, and the shift towards smaller cars, the Barina forms an alliance with the funky Spark and Cruze to become the lion badge's new front line.
Holden's own Ondrej Koromhaz played a pivotal role in the redesign of the Barina, which borrows design cues from the Spark and the Cruze, to make the hatch appealing to both sexes.
Aimed towards a youthful market, the Barina has an interesting new dash layout not dissimilar to the Spark.
The driver stares at an instrument cluster that has been inspired by motorcycle design. There is one primary analogue gauge for revs, while the speedo is a large digital presentation.
Next to the main read-outs are a host of small circular holes, some of which feature additional information such as temperature, lights etc.
It does work aesthetically and is simple to read.
Inside it's bigger in all directions. Both front seats are supportive in the right spots, although the back pew is relatively flat and is really only the domain for two.
There is probably enough real estate for three kids, but there is limited leg and knee room for adults.
On the road
Holden has improved efficiency and performance from the 1.6-litre four-cylinder, and while it's no fire-cracker, it is serviceable.
Available with either a six-speed automatic or five-speed manual, we sampled the latter and found it reasonable in most circumstances.
The box has long throws between gears but most drivers will find no issues there.
The self-shifter would probably be the pick for most drivers and it's worth the $2000 premium.
At highway speeds the Barina moves along nicely at about 3000rpm at 100kmh but can sound thrashy if you work it high into the rev range.
A small "shift up" icon illuminates to encourage fuel efficient driving.
Handling is good with reasonable feedback through the steering, although the four-potter can run out of breath on steep hills and you need to keep it spinning to ensure you maintain your momentum up inclines.
What do you get?
With Generation Y firmly in Holden's focus, the pint-sizer is well kitted for the technologically savvy.
Key inclusions are Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, USB input, cruise control and alloy wheels as standard - and even a full-size spare.
You also get five-star safety that includes stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes and six airbags.
Model: Holden Barina.
Details: Five-door compact front-wheel drive hatchback.
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder generating maximum power of 85kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 155Nm @ 4000rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed manual or six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 6.8 litres/100km (combined average)
Bottom line: $15,990 (auto $2000 extra).
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