As petrol prices bit deeper we decided to take a look at some small used car options, and figured Holden’s early 2000s XC Barina might fit the bill of being frugal and available at stealaway prices.
Well, the first is certainly true, the Barina is an economical little car, but we were surprised to find prices still a shade under or over the $10,000 mark. The cheapest we found on autotrader.co.nz were around the $8990 mark and the dearest was around $15,990. The last time we surveyed Barina prices about three years ago they ranged from $11,990 to $18,990.
So the cars’ value is holding up well, which probably says a lot about its popularity and desirability. That’s despite such glitches as the relatively short life of the all-too-vital cambelt and the comparatively minor but irritating faults that afflict most mass-market European-built cars.
For despite the Holden badge, the Barina is about as Australian as Phar Lap. It’s really an Opel Corsa under the skin, engineered and developed by General Motors’ German division. It was the second Opel-based Barina (before that they were re-badged Suzuki Swifts), but where the first Opel-derived Barina was lack lustre and very ordinary – a Holden staffer described it privately as a district nurse’s car, the XC set new standards for small cars.
It took the nameplate into new areas for safety, ability and value for money when it was introduced in 2001. It was launched at a sharp price with sharp handling, sharp performance and cutting edge levels of safety. It was bigger, roomier and safer than its predecessor.
The 1400cc DOHC engine developed 66kW of power at 6000rpm and peak torque of 120Nm at 4000rpm, giving a 185kph top speed and acceleration to 100kph in 12 seconds. Holden said the motor was between three and seven percent more fuel-efficient than its predecessor’s. Engine noise is low, even at high revs, and there should be a total absence of transmission noise. The Barina turns-in and corners with precision and real bite. It’s in its element on a road which changes direction frequently.
Ride quality is good and the suspension soaks up quite large bumps with ease, though the car loses a little composure on closely coupled tarmac road bumps.
The manual gearbox was a little notchy and had a somewhat “rubbery” feel. The shift from first to second gear wasn’t as smooth as we’d have liked.Four-wheel disc brakes provide excellent, fade-free stopping.
The seats have active head restraints to reduce the risk of whiplash; and a pedal release system is designed so that brake and clutch pedals will disengage from their anchor points in a severe impact. Standard equipment included air-conditioning and a single-disc Blaupunkt Compact Disc player. We didn’t much like the automatic version of the Barina. The gearshift was fussy and the auto box took away too much of the engine performance, especially on hills.
Seven years later, the XC Barina remains a competent small car with good performance, nimble handling, dependable roadholding, a nice level of standard features and an impressive line-up of active and passive safety equipment.
It was a great improvement on its predecessor. Nice points about the Barina include the instrumentation which includes an outside temperature gauge. That may not sound all that important but it’s always nice to know. The only irritating note – and one which seemed to irritate women more than men – was the rather chirpy sound of the indicators.
We thought the Barina was the pick of the small cars we road-tested in 2001 and it’s still a credible used car choice.
What to look for
Our inquiries show that Barinas seem generally reliable and wear well. Things to check include the condition of the disc brake rotors. European cars’ disc rotors tend to be a little “softer” and wear more rapidly than Japanese cars’ discs.
The car seems to have no particular or chronic problems, other than the usual wear-and-tear that affects any cars. Holden recommends that the cambelt should be changed at 60,000 kilometres, a little lower than on most Japanese cars.
There can be problems with the windscreen wipers dragging and juddering across the windscreen. Many owners may think it’s merely a dirty screen or worn blades, but it’s a known fault in the wiper mechanism. On most cars it should have been rectified under warranty, but if it happens on a Barina you’re looking at try to get it rectified before you buy.
So what to look for? The usual things – records that the car has been serviced, that the cv joints aren’t noisy, that the car tracks true and doesn’t pull to either side. If the car has covered more than 60,000km – or multiples of 60,000 – make sure that the cambelt has been replaced.
If you’re getting a pre-purchase inspection mention the brake discs, the windscreen wipers and the cambelt.
One other thing to look for is a lap/sash seatbelt in the centre of the rear seat – standard on NZ market Barinas. Some cars were diverted from other markets and came in with lap belts only in the centre-rear position. Opt for a Barina with a full set of lap/sash belts.
One owner told us she had a problem with the rather flimsy coaming on the under-grille spoiler. It’s a two-piece unit and one piece fell off. She had also had a problem with the engine management computer which had been set-up wrongly during servicing carried out for the previous owner.