The Baleno will initially be sold only with a 1.4-litre normally-aspirated engine.
The Baleno will initially be sold only with a 1.4-litre normally-aspirated engine.
Johannesburg - I might have had a little peek. I don’t normally look to international motoring media for impressions of cars soon to be introduced to our market, because I like my first impressions to be based on clean, uncorrupted slates.

But when Suzuki announced early this year its plans to launch the new Baleno, I had to do some digging. Mostly because I hadn’t a clue as to where the hatch, which went on sale overseas last year, would fit into the brand’s existing range. It took only a few clicks to discover this is not, I repeat not, a replacement for the relatively pint-sized Swift as I originally thought, but rather a bigger model to more squarely take on cars like Ford’s Fiesta and VW’s Polo.

The reviews I stumbled across were all pretty positive too, almost unanimously agreeing it’s a spacious and well specced car for the money. Problem is all these foreign reviews involved tests of a new 1-litre turbo three-pot dubbed Boosterjet, and, as it turns out, this engine’s not available in SA. Or at least not yet.

Frugal 1.4-litre motor

While it would have been cool to say that Suzuki finally has a higher tech turbo engine available in our market, and even cooler to finally try one out, we’ll instead soldier on with older naturally-aspirated units locally. But having driven the Baleno for a week, I’d say it’s not really a huge problem. The 1.4 petrol we get is the same as in the Swift, Ciaz sedan and Ertiga MPV, and it’s not a bad little motor at all.

Power is quoted at 68kW and 130Nm, and while it’s hardly a performance powerhouse, neither are the respective turbo motors in similarly priced competitor cars, Fiesta and Polo included. It’s nowhere near as smooth as some of its more modern rivals, and north of 4000 revs it becomes a bit gruff and gravelly in voice, but then a real world fuel consumption of 6 litres per 100km on the dot is a fair trade for any lack of refinement. This is among the least thirsty petrol engines, turbo or not, we’ve ever seen.

On the space for money front the Baleno’s a winner. Exterior dimensions are pretty much spot on with various B-segment hatches, but inside it’s another story. Boot space with the rear bench in place is a huge 355 litres (with space saver spare), expanding to 756 with seats folded flat – outdoing all but the wagon-esque Honda Jazz in cargo carrying ability. Rear legroom is also noteworthy, and in the unscientific ‘sit behind myself' test the Baleno scores extremely well. Possibly best in class.

Cabin not the classiest, but well kitted

Perceived cabin quality in the Indian-made Baleno might be a notch below the best built cars in this price bracket, but I wouldn’t say it’s in any way substandard. It’s well insulated on the open road and feels solidly built, but there are some cheapish plastics in the dash and door panels that let down the overall feel somewhat.

Black-on-black with cloth upholstery is the only interior colour choice and we’re thankful for that considering other Indian-made cars have been imported with nasty beige-on-beige in the past. The instrument cluster, which also included a nifty 4.2-inch colour trip computer between the gauges in our top speci GLX test car, is backlit with deep blue colour accents and looks quite classy, especially at night. The moody blue theme also carries over to the central 6.2-inch infotainment touchscreen’s graphics (again, GLX only), adding a much needed techy ambience to the Suzuki range.

It’s a fairly straightforward multimedia system, and pairing my iPhone via Bluetooth for calls and music playback was a painless process. Connecting with a USB cable was less successful and, though it charged my device, seemed to require a specific app (which I couldn’t find in my appstore) to link phone functionality.

In top GLX spec the Baleno comes with cruise control, rear disc brakes, keyless entry and ignition, reach steering adjustment, rear parking sensors and a leather-wrapped steering wheel – all essential in the compact hatch segment today, but I’d expect to see an automatic headlight switch at this level. Stability control would be a nice bonus too, but at least it comes standard with ABS brakes and six airbags (two in the lower GL).

The Baleno makes no attempt at being sporty, and instead focuses on comfort and easy driveability. Squishy springs and high-ish profile 16-inch tyres make for a suitably soft ride quality, while an especially feathery clutch action, slick five-speed manual gearshift (four-speed auto is an option) and light steering will go down well with beginner drivers. I also like that the driver’s seat is height adjustable – a rare inclusion in budget hatches.

VERDICT

At R229 900 the Baleno GLX does creep into the price territory of similarly specced Polos and Fiestas, and it’ll be a hard sell against those extremely popular models. It does have the comfort game waxed, however, and with a healthy standard features list it’s a realistic alternative to the usual suspects. The inclusion of the Boosterjet turbo engine in the South African range would also be welcome.

The Baleno is covered by a three-year/100 000km warranty, and a four-year/60 000km service plan.

FACTS

Suzuki Baleno 1.4 GLX

Engine: 1.4-litre, 4-cylinder petrol

Gearbox: 5-speed manual

Power: 68kW @ 6000rpm

Torque: 130Nm @ 4000rpm

0-100km/h (claimed): 10.9 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 175km/h

Price: R229 900

Warranty: 3-year/100 000km

Service plan: 4-year/60 000km

ALTERNATIVES

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

Hyundai i20 1.2 Fluid - 61kW/115Nm - R231 900

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

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

Renault Clio 0.9T Expression - 66kW/140Nm - R226 900

VW Polo 1.2 TSI Comfortline - 66kW/160Nm - R247 900

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