Holden Barina, Toyota Yaris and Kia Rio.
Holden Barina, Toyota Yaris and Kia Rio.

Comparision test: Toyota Yaris, Kia Rio and Holden Barina

AS the most affordable option on showroom floors, city cars appeal to first-timers, old-timers and all in between.

But it pays to do your research in this class of nearly two-dozen contenders. Some brands offer more than others, so determining the best buy isn't always as simple as looking at the recommended retail prices.

We've gathered the three latest arrivals in the sub-$20,000 segment: the recently updated Toyota Yaris and Holden Barina and new Kia Rio.

City cars put to the test, Holden Barina, Toyota Yaris and Kia Rio.
City cars put to the test, Holden Barina, Toyota Yaris and Kia Rio.

TOYOTA YARIS

This should have been a completely new Yaris but instead it's the second facelift in six years, a period in which most cars would be replaced with clean sheet designs.

Toyota has added the latest safety features, namely automatic emergency braking and lane wander warning, to give the Yaris a new lease on its model life.

AEB is becoming standard on more expensive cars; the Yaris is among the first with the technology in this class. It's a relatively cheap $650 option on the example we've tested and standard on the dearest Yaris.

To distinguish the new model, there's a new bend in the front and rear bumpers and new tail-lights.

The smooth, refined and frugal driveline - 1.3-litre four-cylinder and four-speed auto - carries over.

Some in the segment have graduated to a six-speed auto, which aids acceleration and fuel economy, but the Yaris still gets the job done, at its own pace.

These aren't meant to be race cars but the Yaris is the slowest of this trio to 60km/h (6 seconds) and 100km/h (14 seconds).

The cabin is starting to look dated (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are conspicuously absent) but it still oozes Made-In-Japan quality.

The materials are of a high standard and feel durable, while the seats are the most supportive among this trio.

The door pockets are thin compared to the others but there's good oddment storage in other cubbies.

Toyota Yaris.
Toyota Yaris.

Outward vision is excellent thanks to the large glass area, wide-view side mirrors and rear camera (standard on all three). Rear sensors are optional on the Yaris but standard on both rivals.

On the road the Yaris feels sure-footed but, on skinnier tyres, it can't quite match the others for grip in the wet.

As a plus, the Yaris is easiest to park: it has the tightest turning circle and is the shortest of this trio bumper to bumper.

It's ageing well but we're not sure Toyota has made enough changes to hold off the competition for another three years - and that may explain its discount price. The previous model was $17,990 drive-away with auto (about $3000 off the RRP).

The latest iteration has limboed to $17,490 drive-away with auto. Metallic paint adds $450.

HOLDEN BARINA

As with the Toyota, the Barina is approaching its sixth birthday. To keep it going another couple of years, Holden has added a bold new nose, fresh wheels and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Little has changed under the skin. The 1.6-litre engine carries over with the six-speed auto, which is poorly calibrated and makes the baby Holden feel uncoordinated in stop-start traffic.

Floor the throttle, though, and the six-speed auto does well to disguise the Barina's weight.

Despite being almost 100kg heavier than the Rio and more than 200kg heavier than the Yaris, the Barina is briskest to 60km/h (5.3 seconds versus 5.6 for the Rio) and, like the Kia, reaches 100km/h in 13 seconds.

Holden Barina.
Holden Barina.

Its bigger engine and heavier body blunt fuel economy and it's the thirstiest of the trio.

On the plus side, the roomy cabin has massive storage pockets. Less pleasing, the plastics look cheap.

The large boot stows a full-size spare as a no-cost option - the default fitment is an inflation kit.

Once on the move, the Barina steers well and feels secure on the road.

Holden's pricing is confusing. This month the brand slashed the Barina manual to $15,690 drive-away, so buyers might expect a $2000-odd premium for the auto.

But no. The basic Barina auto (which accounts for most sales) is an eye-watering $20,000-plus drive-away, or more than $4000 for the auto upgrade. This time last year the auto was $16,190 drive-away with a five-year warranty.

KIA RIO

The Rio is a generation ahead in this contest. As it's the newest car in its class, Kia has addressed many of the shortcomings of its predecessor and its peers.

The 1.4-litre engine and four-speed auto carry over from the previous Rio; frankly, it's not a liability. The engine sounds a little noisier and harsher than the Toyota, not that most buyers would notice.

Its interior is the roomiest and freshest looking of this trio and it includes a tablet-style display screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Instruments are crystal clear (including a digital speed display) and the materials are of a high quality.

The front seats are wider than the others and a better fit for larger frames.

Kia Rio.
Kia Rio.

Its bigger five-door body means it has a larger footprint. It also has the biggest boot, which disappointingly packs a space-saver spare.

On the road the Rio feels plush compared to the other two, although the suspension can thud when it runs out of travel on big bumps and the auto isn't always intuitive.

Downsides are few. It's odd AEB is not available as an option on such a new car (this will likely pull the Rio back to a four-star safety rating, even though it has a full complement of airbags, a rear camera and sensors).

The Rio is alone in this trio in lacking lack cruise control but has aces up its sleeve - in addition to its industry-leading seven year, unlimited kilometre warranty), it's sporting the super sharp price of $17,490 drive-away with auto (about $3400 off the full RRP). That's virtually a run-out price on a brand-new car.

VERDICT

The Barina is worth a test drive but not at this price. Wait until it returns to where it has been for most of the past two years: in the $16,990 to $17,990 drive-away range.

Toyota should be commended for being among the first to bring AEB to the city car class and the new Yaris still has the edge when it comes to quality, reliability and real world fuel economy.

But the Rio aces this test as the best all-round package of the three.

The honest price and generous warranty simply seal the deal.


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