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Suzuki's new Baleno hatched in SA

Latest launches

By: Jason Woosey

Suzuki has added yet another hatchback to its local line-up and this one takes aim at the heart of the so-called 'B' hatch segment where Polos and Fiestas rule the roost. Built in India on a brand new, weight-saving platform the Baleno is larger than the Swift, yet weighs 110kg less.

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Where does that leave the Swift, then?

On the surface the Baleno would appear to be the defacto replacement for the 1.4-litre Swifts (but obviously not the much cheaper Indian-built 1.2 models though), given that the new hatch costs between R199 900 and R244 900. The Swift 1.4 range starts at R222 900, yet Suzuki SA insists that these models will stick around until such a time as demand falls off the cliff, which is likely to happen as the new Baleno outshines its sibling on so many fronts.

Sadly, the new 1-litre, three-cylinder 'Boosterjet' turbopetrol engine, which pushes 82kW and 170Nm, is not part of the local range, at least for now. When asked about the new motor, Suzuki SA's product planning manager Charl Grobler would not rule it out for later introduction, but didn't imply that it was imminent either.

Familiar engine

For now then, the only option is Suzuki's familiar K14B 1.4-litre normally aspirated petrol engine, rated at 68kW and 130Nm, which in reality is not as bad as it sounds given that the car weighs just 915kg.

The engine is mated to either a five-speed manual or old-school four-speed autobox and I got to sample the former at its local launch in the Port Elizabeth area. Though for that reason I can't say how it'll cope with altitude, performance at the coast was certainly reasonable, if anything a notch above adequate, and the Baleno was quiet and fairly refined at cruising speeds. The road holding proved to be safe and neutral, but it was the supple ride quality that really stood out.

Roomy interior

The hatch appears sturdily built inside and out and the cabin feels durable enough, but it is a bit of a hard-plastic party in there and it doesn’t match the perceived quality of many of its contemporary B hatch rivals, particularly the Polo. Yet that's also partly a case of its rivals having set the bar so high, and the Suzuki does have an ace up its sleeve in the form of ample stretching space - there's an abundance of legroom in the back and the boot is surprisingly large, swallowing 355 litres and that's with a space-saver spare wheel in place.

Two grade flavours

Suzuki has kept the line-up simple, by offering just two grades: GL and GLX.

The GL has all the essentials, such as air conditioning, a six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth connectivity, multi-function steering wheel, remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors, dual airbags and ABS brakes.

The GLX adds cruise control, automatic climate control, keyless start, 16cm touch-screen, rear park distance control, and leather trim for the steering wheel, which also becomes reach-adjustable at this level.

Externally the range-topper is told apart by 16-inch alloys (versus 15" covered steel rims in the GL's case) as well as chrome door handles, a roof spoiler, foglights and headlights with HID projector elements and LED daytime running lights. Added safety features include side and curtain airbags as well as rear disc brakes.

It's a pity that those extra safety features aren't fitted to the GL as well, as this otherwise seems like the pick of the range, with a price that undercuts rivals. The GLX, though well appointed, rubs shoulders with some turbo-charged machinery and that's bound to count against it on the sales charts to some degree.

PRICES

1.4 GL - 68kW/130Nm - R199 900

1.4 GLX - 68kW/130Nm - R229 900

1.4 GLX auto - 68kW/130Nm - R244 900

All are sold with a four-year / 60 000km service plan and three-year / 100 000km warranty.

ALTERNATIVES

Ford Fiesta 1.0T Ambiente - 92kW/170Nm - R221 900

Ford Fiesta 1.0T Trend - 92kW/170Nm - R235 900

Hyundai i20 1.2 Motion - 61kW/115Nm - R219 900

Hyundai i20 1.4 Fluid - 74kW/133Nm - R249 900

Kia Rio hatch 1.2 - 65kW/120Nm - R214 995

Kia Rio hatch 1.4 - 79kW/135Nm - R240 990

Mazda2 1.5 Active - 82kW/145Nm - R209 800

Mazda2 1.5 Dynamic - 82kW/145Nm - R222 800

Opel Corsa 1.0T Enjoy - 85kW/170Nm - R234 800

Peugeot 208 1.2 Active - 60kW/118Nm - R224 900

Renault Clio 0.9T Blaze - 70kW/150Nm - R204 900

Toyota Yaris hatch 1.3 - 73kW/125Nm - R220 000

VW Polo 1.2 TSI Trendline - 66kW/160Nm - R221 100

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