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Holden Barina SB (1994-2000) Used Car Review

Author: NRMA MotoringDate: 14 March 2003

Holden's 1994 Barina, based on Germany's Opel Corsa and built in Spain, replaced the Suzuki sourced model made popular by the high profile "Beep Beep Barina" advertising campaign. Its competition in the segment included cars such as Mazda's 121, Daihatsu Charade, Ford Festiva, Suzuki Cino and Hyundai Excel.

Two body types were originally offered with different equipment and specifications: the 'base' three-door 'City' with 1.2 litre engine, the three-door 'Joy' with 1.4 litre engine, the five-door 'Swing' with 1.4 litre engine, and the sporty three-door airbag and anti-lock brake equipped 'GSi' with 1.6 litre engine. All except the 'City' included power steering as standard.

The European origins of the Barina become obvious on the road

Holden's 1997 upgrade saw the 1.2 litre engine discontinued and the introduction of multipoint fuel injection on the 1.4 litre models increasing claimed max power output from 44 kw to 60 kw. By then dual airbags were standard across the range. Airconditioning remained an option across the range and all models included seat belt pre-tensioners and a six-speaker stereo. The 'Swing' has the 60/40 split-fold-rear seat.

A two door cabriolet was also introduced in 1997 and limited edition versions with extra equipment included the Olympics Edition (1999-2000), the Grand Prix (1996-1997) and the Lambada (1997).

Inside there is reasonable space for four adults but if you are a long-legged driver try the cabin for size and comfort before buying. The pedals also feel to be offset to the left and are rather close together. Rear space is reasonable for two but would be cramped for hip space for three. Luggage space is good for a car this size.


Performance from the 1.2 litre is lack lustre. The 1.4 litre engine responds satisfactorily for overtaking provided the right gear is selected but will be left behind when it comes to acceleration from rest. Adding automatic transmission and airconditioning slows things down further and even the 1997 upgraded 1.4 litre engine with multipoint fuel injection still fails to satisfy. The GSi with the 1.6 litre engine, double overhead cams and 16 valves, is where the performance can be found.

Low fuel consumption is the pay back for the lack of performance and with a Barina Swing manual we recorded a highway cycle figure of 6.5 litres/100km and around 8.2 litres/100km in the city.

The European origins of the Barina become obvious on the road. Its handling inspires confidence over all surfaces and the car has a solid and unshakeable feel that was not always present in this segment. The steering is quite heavy in the 'City' without power steering, making parking a chore.

Shopping guide

With a new Barina just released by Holden, buyers can expect some second hand examples on the market. A 1994 3-door City manual can be picked up for around $3,800 privately while a 2000 5-door Swing with automatic transmission and airconditioning will cost around $14,000 from a dealer.

It's important to check service histories to ensure that the engine timing belt is replaced every 4 years or 60,000km and that the cooling system is well maintained, (particularly important is the first full flush and change). Some early models had noisy brakes and wear rate can be high. There have been reports of ignition lock failures, leaking oil pump gaskets, expensive automatic transmission repairs and ECU problems. While they felt solid on the road some did have questionable build quality and the cost of parts can be quite expensive.

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Holden, Barina SB (1994-2000), Small, 3-door hatchback, Press-releases, Motoring Feed

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