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Launch Review: New Suzuki Baleno offers exceptional value in the hatch segment

Published Jun 8, 2022

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Launch Review: 2022 Suzuki Baleno

Pietermaritzburg - Suzuki Auto South Africa is really rocking it at the moment. Not only was it the country’s most popular passenger car brand last month, albeit due to some bad luck on the part of Toyota, but its Swift hatchback was the best-selling vehicle overall with 1 764 units finding homes.

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However, compared with its smaller sibling, the Suzuki Baleno has always lurked in the shadows with monthly sales averaging well under 100 units. Adding insult to injury is that when it was rebadged as the Toyota Starlet, the latter sold in the thousands almost from the word go.

But Suzuki SA believes it can narrow that sales gap with the new model that you see here, and the carmaker is hoping to sell around 500 of them per month. Having spent some time with the new Suzuki Baleno on its national launch hosted in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, we believe it deserves to do even better than that.

So what’s new for 2022?

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Suzuki refers to this as a new-generation Baleno and although its basic structural architecture has been carried over, the front and rear ends have been completely redesigned, as has the interior where we now see a high-mounted infotainment system fitted as standard.

The suspension and steering have been revised too, and there’s a new engine beneath the bonnet, with the previous 1.4-litre unit having made way for the familiar 1.5-litre unit that also does service in the Vitara Brezza, Jimny and Ciaz.

The unit pushes out 77kW at 6 000rpm and 138Nm at 4 400rpm. For cost-saving reasons, however, Suzuki decided to stick with the somewhat old-fashioned five-speed manual and four-speed automatic gearbox options.

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Oh, and it’s a well-appointed bargain

Speaking of cost, the Suzuki Baleno is an absolute bargain, particularly in base GL guise, where it retails for R225 900 as a manual and R245 900 in auto format.

Not only does it cost R1 000 less than the base Starlet Xi (which itself offers exceptional value) but it also has more equipment than its Toyota sibling, with the Baleno gaining cruise control, reverse camera and front fog lights.

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The rest of its spec sheet is as per the Starlet Xi, with standard features including a 7.0-inch infotainment system with CarPlay and Android Auto, three USB ports (including a Type C), multi-function steering wheel, automatic climate control, dual front airbags and ESP stability control.

The range-topping GLX model retails for R275 900 (manual) and R295 900 (auto). Externally the GL’s 15-inch covered steel wheels make way for 16-inch polished alloys and the range-topper also gains LED headlights and DRLs.

On the inside, GLX upgrades to a 9.0-inch high-resolution infotainment system, and also gains a 4.2” colour information display in the instrument cluster, push-button start, reach-adjustable steering, automatically dimming rear-view mirror, as well as side and curtain airbags. There are also a few Baleno-exclusive features, such as a 360-degree camera and head-up display, although the latter looks a little rudimentary in our opinion.

Cabin design and practicality

The redesigned interior is more user-friendly than before, thanks to the high-mounted infotainment system.

The overall design is easy on the eye and a little more swoopy than before, but the perceived quality of the materials is average at best, albeit perfectly acceptable at this price point.

It’s a practical and family-sized cabin, and the 314-litre boot capacity should meet most requirements.

Let’s take it for a spin

Despite being the biggest hatchback in its price segment, the Suzuki Baleno is also relatively light. Tipping the scales at 955kg, it weighs 108kg less than the Polo Vivo.

That’s good news for both performance and fuel economy.

As mentioned, there’s a new 1.5-litre engine and while the previous 1.4 unit certainly did a good enough job, the few extra ponies offered by the new motor do come in handy when it comes to overtaking. Granted, at this price level you’re never going to get acceleration that’s brisk or exciting, but the Baleno delivers performance that is more than adequate. It’s comfortably powered and we doubt that the average owner is ever going to want more than what it offers. The engine noise can become a bit intrusive under hard acceleration, but not to the point of irritation.

In fact the Baleno is easy and comfortable to drive in general. It rides comfortably too and road holding, while not exciting, is safe and predictable. We drove it over some badly potholed roads in KZN and the vehicle never lost its feeling of composure.

We were only able to test the manual gearbox derivatives at launch, but we were impressed by its easy-shifting nature. However it does feel a bit under-geared at highway speeds, where a sixth gear would have delivered a quieter and more economical drive.

That said, the Baleno is impressively fuel-efficient for its size. Without us paying too much attention to efficiency, our test unit sipped around 5.8 on the freeway, but some of our peers were reporting figures in the early fives.

VERDICT

In terms of value for money, the Suzuki Baleno is downright unbeatable in the compact hatch sector, particularly in base GL form. That said, the Toyota Starlet Xi runs it really close in this regard and which model you choose will no doubt go down to brand affiliation.

For what it’s worth, Toyota does have a larger dealer footprint, but the Suzuki fights back with a more comprehensive warranty, at 5-years or 200 000km versus Toyota’s 3-year/100K, and a better service plan (4-year/60 000km versus 3-services/45 000km).

IOL Motoring

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