Part of my job as a motoring journalist is to drive - sometimes it's just around Auckland, but other times I get to take my test vehicles for a real spin.
So when I had to head to Taupo for an event, I decided to take along Holden's new $22,990 Barina - clocking up 700km in the process.
Like so many long-running franchises, Barina has been revamped, messed up and finally rebooted. Once a highly regarded European (Opel) product, it morphed into a mildly made-over Daewoo in 2005. It wasn't very good.
That car was really just a stopgap for this one: the new Barina T300 is still sourced from General Motors' Korean operation, but it's a brand-new design and looks rather appealing.
The Barina's exposed lights, extroverted body creases, hidden rear doorhandles and binnacle-style dashboard are a welcome break from the supermini pack. Sure, the instrument panel is fussy and there are two prominent rows of pseudo-lights (12 in all) that don't seem to do anything. But at least they're trying.
Now that Toyota's supermini has gone all conservative, think of Barina as the new (old) Yaris. In fact, I'm sure much of the interior is inspired by the Japanese car: an expanse of plastic moulding in front of the driver, digital-only speedometer and lots of storage.
Barina boasts stability control, six airbags, Bluetooth connectivity, full iPod integration, steering wheel-mounted controls and niceties like "follow me home" headlights. That's a lot of gear for $23k.
Some of the old Barina remains, such as the revised 85kW/155Nm 1.6-litre engine. It's the low point of the car - at the pointy end of the supermini pack for power/torque but also uninspired and coarse under load. I tried out the five-speed manual, which is fun around town but too low-geared to satisfy on the open road.
Back in Auckland, I swapped to the $24,990 six-speed Barina automatic. In this segment, only VW's Polo does better, with its seven-speed robotised-clutch gearbox. The two-pedal Barina is smoother and more refined than the manual - every bit as sprightly and much better on the open road.
In the manual I averaged 7.6 litres per 100km for my 700km; while the automatic is more thirsty according to official figures (7.3 versus 6.8 litres), I'd be very surprised if it wasn't more economical in real-world Kiwi driving.
Barina is unashamedly set up for comfort, with spongy 15-inch footwear and complaint suspension. I don't mind that at all - while others in the segment chase the sporty dollar, Barina aims for the middle of the road and pulls it off nicely.
So it's still not a great supermini to pilot at pace, but it's competent - to the point where I don't feel like I have to justify liking the car by emphasising its value for money.
The bottom line:
Barina's design quirks are contrived, but in the end the whole package is hugely likeable. Six-speed automatic option well worth the extra $2000.
Ford Fiesta LX $23,990
Mazda2 Classic $23,245
Suzuki Swift Limited $23,500
Toyota Yaris YR $23,790
Volkswagen Polo DSG $25,750