All cars, no matter their size, shape or capability, have a certain something that will define how they attract their buyer. A Wheel Thing butts up against two cars that have their own attraction from two totally different viewpoints, the new Subaru Forester XT and Holden’s updated Barina CDX.
The Barina has been with the red lion, in one way or another, thanks to different suppliers such as Suzuki and Opel, for nearly thirty years. Currently, it’s sourced from Korea from the effectively defunct Daewoo brand, owned by General Motors. Some time ago that would have been cause for major concern, (Barina Spark still is) and to a point, it’s an unjustified concern for the 2013 model. An uprated entertainment interface, consisting of a touchscreen system called MyLink, brings internet style connectivity on the run, a reasonable look and some decent dynamics raise the bar, to be slid back somewhat by a lethargic engine and lacklustre gearbox.
The exterior is a light year away from the curvy and rounded Barinas of years past, with a more upright, boxy and angular look. It’s certainly not unattractive, with a pert tail and four lantern square jawed front. A Wheel Thing’s test chariot was in the flavour of the month colour, silver, which highlighted the subtle creases in the skin along the sides and on the rear gate. The interior was also not unattractive, with complementary angles on the central console matching the tiller, plus a brushed aluminuim look on both. Directly ahead of the driver is the now familiar motorcycle style display with its huge and legible screen. The front, heated, seats were flat, unsupportive in having no give to the cushion yet didn’t trouble on an extended drive. It’s definitely not suitable as a five seater, even if the rear pew is occupied by smaller people, meaning rear cargo space (seats up) isn’t huge and not really much better with seats down.
Ride quality is surprising; there’s plenty of grip from the European Continental tyres and minimal understeer when pushed. Bounce and rebound is well controlled, if a little bricklike over those utterly annoying streetbased speedhumps. Turn in is natural, unforced through the well weighted steering, although a touch numb and uncommunicative on centre, with the rear following faithfully. There is a measure of road noise transmitted through to the cabin but becomes quickly ignored. What can’t be ignored is the market driven failure to insist on mating a small and wheezy engine (a lifeless 1.6L with 85k@ and 155Nm) to a traditional, non CVT, auto transmission. Quite frankly, they’re appalling. Off the line there’s no urge. Under way there’s no urge. The box changes hard on the downward shift and through a couple of gears, noticeably. The six speed manual change option is no better, with a noticeable gap between activating the (unusually sited) change button and the transmission actually doing something. There’s no excuse anymore for this level of uselessness and it cruels, severely, what is otherwise a pretty decent setup overall. At over 1200 kilos and that, in itself, excessive for a small car, however, this somewhat mitigates the issue, but it’s mostly an unusable combination.
The innovative MyLink system is wrapped around Bluetooth streaming, forthcoming internet based (presumably via smartphone data connection) content such as Pandora and TuneIn radio plus AV playback via USB. It’s a 7 inch capacitive touchscreen setup that’s fairly intuitive and very easy to read (info here: http://www.holden.com.au/vehicles/barina/interior). It promises more but begs the question about what distracts drivers….according to our ever benevolent governmental system. And there’s this, says Holden:
Operating via the Barina CDX Holden MyLink infotainment system, customers with a compatible iPhone* running iOS 6 can direct Siri to perform a number of tasks while they safely keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.
Eyes Free integration keeps the device’s screen from lighting up, ensuring drivers are not tempted to look at their phone screen. Owners simply connect their iPhone to the MyLink radio via Bluetooth, pair the phone with the system, and use the steering wheel voice activation button to begin and end sessions with Siri in Eyes Free mode.
Holden Barina CDX owners can use Siri in Eyes Free mode to make voice-activated, hands-free calls to contacts on their iPhone, listen to, and compose and send an iMessage or text message to a phone number or anyone in saved Contacts and access the calendar to add appointments, among other things.
Initially launched with the Stitcher embedded app, additional functionality is now available on the Barina CDX MyLink system. This includes embedded apps for full compatibility for Pandora internet radio, BringGo navigation and TuneIn radio.
Pandora®, Stitcher™, BringGo™ and TuneIn© apps are now available for download from the iTunes store and Google Play stores. BringGo is available for a 30 day trial at 99 cents and the full version with map updates costs $59.99.
*Siri is available in Beta only on iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad (3rd and 4th generations), iPad mini and iPod touch (5th generation), and requires Internet access. Data costs will be incurred for streaming via mobile device. Drivers should ensure they have an appropriate data plan with their mobile provider.
Subaru continues to deliver quality in the form of the Impreza based Forester; this time around A Wheel Thing has piloted the near top of the range XT. Bigger in all three dimensions than the previous model yet comes with a slightly smaller (2.0L from 2.5L previously) turbo engine. It’s also wearing a new suit, with a bonnet nip and tuck by losing the canyon sized scoop from the previous model. The interior also cops a makeover and, apart from a dot matrix screen for the radio, looks the goods.
Sizewise the Forester is 4595mm long, a full 35mm bigger in that respect, whilst it’s 15mm taller and 20mm wider; plus, with a full inch longer wheelbase interior room is just a little less compromised. Driving style is also a little less compromised, in one respect, by offering just one transmission, a finely tuned CVT. As an advocate for teaching people to drive manuals and forcing more awareness of what you and your car can do, it’s a grave oversight by Subaru. However, when just 17% or so of Foresters are requested with a manual, it makes sad, economic sense, to go the self shifter. Damn….
The revamped exterior shies away from the previous model’s nicely rounded shape with a few angles by adding a few more, especially at the front. The headlight cluster and lower bumper have a few more straight lines, it’s not altogether coherent yet not unpleasant either. The rear is a little less sharp edged, looking more like models past. The interior is another story: it’s got a classy look and feel, apart from the aforementioned radio screen, with a clean layout on the dash, copping LCD screens for the driver and upper centre console, which displays a bewildering amount of info… However, for the price (around $43K) you need to lay out a stupidly high seven thousand or so extra to get satnav, keyless start and auto headlights. Really Subaru? REALLY?? Having said that, it’s somewhat offset by getting a manual and electric (slide cover, switch for the) sunroof. There’s the usual Bluetooth and assorted safety items as well.
The seats, leather waisted around cloth, were reasonably comfy yet somewhat flat also, oddly enough. An issue in regards to how the seatbelt clips in made its presence known; with a booster style seat trying to clip the belt in had the seat based retainer sinking in below the cushion. It’s difficult enough for a parent to reach in and across a child to strap them in by to have to fish around for the safety equipment. Another oddity is the raised level of the Forester’s boot space; it’s unsuitable for shopping, allowing items that have moved during transit to roll out and off when the tailgate opens.
On the road the Forester shines; the CVT is seamless and perfectly matched with the 2.0L turbo. Although there’s the now standard six speed manual option, complete with flappy paddles, they’re superfluous. The engine note is restrained, emitting a barely audible turbo whistle under stress and delivers flexibility from around 2000rpm, with real urge seeming to kick in from 3000rpm although the torque figure, 350Nm, is on tap from 2400rpm whilst power is a towering 177kW @ 5600rpm. There’s a couple of electronic driving programs to deal with, offering Subaru Intelligent Drive. There’s Sport and Sport Sharp, increasing throttle response and sharpening up the overall feel. It handles well, as expected, with a touch of understeer dialled in…personally, I think there’d be better bite with better tyres than the Bridgestone Duelers fitted to the test car. There’s a XMode button, offering extra traction assistance if some offroading is undertaken. Body roll is non existent, dive and squat well adjusted under acceleration and braking but the tyres do squeal when really pushed….and sometimes when not so pushed.
In a class war, both of these two stand out in their respective categories. Neither are without faults yet, for the markets they are placed in, they wage a fair battle against their opposition.