Car reviews - Suzuki - Baleno - range
Ultra-competitive pricing, generous equipment list, ample interior space, excellent fuel economy
Room for improvement
Cheap feeling plastic interior, not-quite-right seating position, limited options
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1 Aug 2016
By TUNG NGUYEN
AFTER almost 15 years, Suzuki has reintroduced the Baleno nameplate with an all-new hatchback that the Japanese car-maker is pitting against some of Australia’s favourite cars.
While sharing similar proportions to its Swift stablemate that it will compete against in the VFACTS light-car segment, Suzuki insists the Baleno is actually competing in a size segment above that, against the likes of small-car juggernauts Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Hyundai i30.
Pricing is also kept well below perceived competitors, with the Baleno range kicking off at $16,990 driveaway for the five-speed manual GL, moving up to $17,990 for the four-speed automatic GL and topping out at $22,990 for the six-speed automatic-only GLX Turbo, tested here.
Suzuki says the Indian-built Baleno – which measures just 3995 millimetres in length – is under four metres to qualify for tax breaks in its country of origin, but on the local market, that puts it firmly in the light-car segment.
Despite this, the Baleno boasts a 355 litre capacity boot with the seats up and up to 1085L with the 60:40 split rear seats folded down.
That was more than enough storage space to lug around a set of four wheels and tyres for a project car and is comparable to the popular small cars listed above – and is actually more spacious than the 308 litres offered by the Mazda3 – although we wish the boot opening was a little bigger.
As it stands now, the Baleno’s boot floor is designed low for maximum storage capacity which, when paired with a high-position bootlid, gave us the feeling of stretching for the last stubborn pair of socks stuck at the bottom of a washing machine every time we reached in.
However, a closer rival could be Honda’s versatile Jazz, which features a near-identical 350L boot capacity and ‘magic’ rear seats that fold out of the way for even more storage space.
Where the Baleno comes out ahead though, is the standard equipment list. Suzuki has packed its latest car with a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment unit (the same unit found in the Vitara SUV), complete with Bluetooth, USB connectivity, reversing camera, Apple CarPlay, daytime running lights (DRLs), steering wheel controls and satellite navigation as standard across the range.
Our test car, the top-spec GLX Turbo, gains an additional 4.2-inch colour display nestled between the instrumentation, 16-inch alloy wheels and redesigned DRLs.
Satellite navigation as standard in a car at this price point is unheard of and Suzuki should be commended for packing so much in to the Baleno while keeping prices low.
The touchscreen interface is easy to use and intuitive and we never once encountered a single problem with using the system. Easily one of our favourite parts of the car is the handy and easy-to-read 4.2-inch display in the instrument cluster that can be adjusted to display the usual information such as fuel economy figures, but can also measure G-force levels. Not something we expected to see in the little Baleno.
The interior suffers from refinement problems and is swathed in cheap-looking and – even worse – cheap-feeling plastics. We also found that no matter which way we adjusted the seat, the driver’s position was either too far away from the steering wheel or too close to the pedals.
While passenger space is ample, both in the front and the rear – the legroom and headroom in a car this size is seriously impressive – the Baleno’s interior quality falls well short of the excellent in-cabin feel of the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla.
However, where the Baleno is more than a match for rivals is in its frugal fun factor.
Available with a choice of two engines, a 68kW/130Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder in the GL grade or an 82kW/160Nm 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder in the GLX Turbo, the performance of the Baleno does not exactly flaw you, but with maximum torque in the turbo engine coming from 1500rpm it can offer some genuine excitement.
Although power and torque outputs of 82kW/160Nm are nothing to write home about, they are more than enough for a car that weights just 975kg thanks in large part to Suzuki’s new lightweight platform. To put that in context, a 1.5-litre Mazda MX-5 is 10kg heavier than the Baleno.
Overtaking is easy and accelerating up to speed on a freeway on-ramp is effortless with no detectable turbo lag.
The six-speed transmission in our GLX Turbo is also a delight, holding gears when needed and shifting smoothly when required. Paddle shifters come standard on the top-spec Baleno and it can be rewarding to rev the eager 1.0-litre all the way to redline.
Suzuki also claims excellent fuel economy, 5.1 litres per 100 kilometres in the manual GL, 5.4L/100km for the automatic GL and 5.2L/100km for the GLX Turbo, helped by the lightweight and small engines.
Our economy figure of 5.9L/100km was not far off official figures for the turbo with a good portion of driving done through Melbourne’s peak hour traffic mixed with some light weekend work.
Suzuki has tuned the suspension on the softer side, absorbing road imperfections and small bumps with ease but, as is often the case in lightweight cars, road and engine noise does creep into the cabin.
Although never reaching levels of annoyance or becoming unbearable, the Baleno could defiantly use another layer or two of sound deadening in the wafer-thin doors.
Overall then, does Suzuki succeed in its Corolla-rivalling Baleno? Almost.
While the price, equipment list and a peppy turbo engine are big ticks, the Baleno is let down by a sub-par interior and refinement.
The Baleno won’t win over the majority of Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla buyers, but it will attract budget-savvy customers looking for fun, affordable practicality and Suzuki does prove that it is not the size that matters, but how you choose to use it.
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