WE MADE a motley crew, we did, we journalists waiting in the rain at Holden's Lang Lang proving ground in Melbourne to put the Holden Barina RS through its paces on the same challenge course used by the company's engineers to determine its ride and handling.
That the weather made it difficult to distinguish the orange cones from yellow or differentiate the slaloms from the chicanes mattered nought. Neither did we give a second thought to the skills used by the accomplished test drivers who had come before us - this was Holden's inner sanctum after all and to say no to a go around the traps here was just plain ridiculous.
And what fun it was to have that adrenaline surge as you twisted through impossible corners and pressed hard down the strait, a feeling hardly dampened by embarrassingly losing one's way or slipping precariously around bends.
Crushingly, I will never make a racing driver, it was mid-table mediocrity for me, but I did manage to hop a ride with Michael Barber, Holden's specialist engineer for ride and handling, as he demonstrated what the RS could really do.
Days later my heart is still in my mouth, my tummy still doing flip flops and my voice hoarse.
Of course my eyes were closed for most of it, but what a thrill…
The interior of the RS is simple and efficient rather than sporty. The instrument stack adds interest without being spectacular and as is usual in a small car switchgear is always close to hand.
The steering flattened at the bottom is nice to grip and sports the RS logo as do the leather seats which although fairly comfortable for short stints could do with some side bolstering.
There are limited storage options and missing creature comforts with back seat passengers the most hard done by. Head and leg room is on par for this class while the boot, at 290-litres with the seats up, will hold a reasonable-sized weekly shop.
On the road
We drove both the 1.4-litre turbocharged automatic and manual on a suitably winding course, made all the more demanding by incessant rain, from Melbourne's city centre to Holden's proving ground at Lang Lang and without doubt the stick shift was the more enjoyable. This is plainly a warm hatch with sporty ambitions, but it was certainly pleasing that the RS stuck in the corners using its wide tyres to good effect and showed both poise and balance.
This Barina sits 10mm lower than its kin and features a stiffer suspension, performance-tuned dampers and additional body bracing in the hopes of delivering an edgier drive.
It was hard to upset the traction and stability control too much even with the odd handbrake turn and delivered a ride that was quite pliant even on secondary roads.
Handling was better than good with the steering offering reasonable feedback.
Best power delivery comes at around 4000rpm and holding it any tighter brings no advantage, with a throaty growl replaced by a complaining whine.
While the manual offered smooth gears and efficient response, the auto was a bit stuttered working hard to find the right gear and in no rush to do so. One would think that the auto would be capable enough for everyday tasks, but those wanting some sizzle should opt for the manual.
What do you get?
The Barina RS shares most of its inclusions with the CDX released last year and amongst others can claim cruise control, auto headlights, heated front seats, MyLink infotainment system with seven-inch touchscreen, smartphone integration, built-in app technology and Siri eyes-free functionality. Safety is five-star and features six airbags, traction and stability control and anti-lock brakes with EBD.
Holden has placed the RS in the same company as the Suzuki Swift Sport (from $23,990), Ford Fiesta ST (from $20,525) and Kia Rio SLS (from $19,990).
Despite increased driving pleasure the Barina RS does retain the practicality of five doors and acceptable space for passengers.
While we can acknowledge the ingenuity of using technology to lure your target audience we found the BringGo satellite navigation system which is dependent on the presence of a smart phone a bit iffy and unreliable although the Pandora and Stitcher apps worked well. The thickened A-pillars can be cumbersome when turning and just a single internal light is puzzling.
We got around 6.7 litres/100km during our test drive which included only a little time on the highway so it's hard to fault economy too much. Holden offers a three year/100,000km warranty and four capped price services for three years/60,000km.
The Barina RS is a snazzy looker using a new sports body kit featuring 17-inch alloys, funky front and rear bumpers, the RS logo and a larger rear spoiler to good effect. Orange Rock has been added as a unique colour for the RS but to our mind the Carbon Flash is a winner.
Holden has some very specific goals for the RS, in particular to improve interest from men in the 25-35-year- old target market. To this end the car they have produced with credible handling (in the manual), good inclusions, a sporty feel and affordable pricing looks well set to do that. It is not superfast, at all, but the power to handling ratio is at its optimum and will certainly please buyers.
Model: Holden Barina RS
Details: Five-door front wheel drive warm hatch
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed auto with active select
Engine: 1.4-litre 4-cylinder turbo induction petrol generating maximum power of 103kW @ 4900rpm and peak torque of 200Nm @ 1850rpm
Consumption: 6.5 litres/100km combined
Bottom line: From $20,990 (auto at $23,190).