Holden's efforts to deliver superior standards will make potential Suzuki Swift buyers think again
Arriving at Holden Australia's proving ground at Lang Lang to experience their new Barina RS hot hatch, the only thing warm was the car - with Victoria hit by a thunderstorm that turned the racetrack into something best suited to the brand's SUVs.
Instead of being able to experience a car that the company is promoting for the performance-orientated buyer, we instead had to drive to the conditions and admire the five-door hatch for its looks not what speed it could hit on the track.
On sale in the United States as the Chevrolet Sonic RS, the sporty Barina has been tailored for driving conditions experienced in New Zealand and Australia.
Holden has added the RS to the Barina line-up that already has the CD hatch and sedan, higher spec CDX and the youth-orientated Spark.
On sale from December 1, the Barina RS is priced from $26,490 and is firmly aimed at potential Suzuki Swift Sport buyers.
Distinguishing the RS from the rest of the range is the addition of 17-inch alloys, front and rear fascia with an "angry birds" look, a rear cap-on-backwards-style spoiler, front fog-lamps and the optional "orange rock" colour.
Little has changed in terms of interior style and substance from the other Barinas in the fleet.
RS buyers will still receive the same sport-bike-like instrument cluster and basic steering-wheel controls but there is the addition of RS emblems on the wheel, floor mats and some red stitching to emphasise the true intentions of the car.
It is levels of standard equipment where the RS really shines. As in the Barina CDX, it is the only entry into the sport hatch segment to feature a seven-inch touchscreen. This houses Holden's MyLink infotainment system, which is now available to 70 per cent of Holden's range. Apps such as TuneIn, Pandora and BringGo satellite navigation can be downloaded at will.
Holden Barina RS
While not a speed machine by any means, the Barina RS is brisk nonetheless. Using the same 1.4-litre iTi turbocharged four-cylinder found in the Holden Cruise, you get 103kW and 200Nm of torque, a six-speed manual or automatic box, while returning 6.5L/100km. The auto box does do its job well, but each upshift feels rather ponderous. You can shift yourself using the active select buttons on the gear lever, but only in manual mode and not regular drive. The manual on the other hand proves to be a sweet way of moving cogs about.
A direct and positive throw gives you the confidence to push it harder.
The RS features Holden-developed electric power steering and, yes, this is a good thing. One left or right twitch of the wheel and the car responds accordingly and without hesitation.
The RS-embossed heated leather seats, though comfortable and able to warm your buttocks, could provide more lateral support in the bends, but then again, this is no blistering track-devouring monster.
When it comes to handling, the RS is surprisingly perky with torque steer kept at a minimum. Lower by 10mm and stiffer by 15 per cent, the RS does track well and true in the twisty stuff.
The hatch is the only Barina to receive the RS treatment and Holden has no such plans to attach the RS nameplate to other models. Any comparisons to the Ford Fiesta ST or Peugeot 208 GTi would be unrealistic as they are different cars altogether.
At $26,490 for the manual and $27,990 for the automatic, the RS is a tempting package in many respects.
If you consider value and the amount of kit you get for the price compared with its competitors, it could well be the clincher for many.
Although the Holden Barina RS is not perfect, it is certainly the most enjoyable Barina for some time.