Road trip test: Suzuki's Baleno goes the distance
Long-term update: Suzuki Baleno 1.4 GLX
Pretoria - When I looked at the boot space of our long-term Suzuki Baleno, I was a bit hesitant to tackle the almost 800km down to the South Coast holiday cottage for the December holidays.
Considering it would be my partner and I, as well as my son and a school friend, both strapping almost-16-year old Grade 10s, my partner suggested taking her BMW 320i GT.
It was tempting, but my idea was a more practical test, considering that I could have arranged a much larger double cab or SUV that would have left us and our luggage rattling around in the space.
Thing is, a large SUV or double cab is an expensive vehicle to purchase and, whichever way you look at it, you’re highly unlikely to get away with a monthly payment of under five figures, including insurance.
It’s no secret that our economy is floundering, the cost of living is sky high, salary increases (except in the public sector) are often below inflation and it’s generally damn difficult to make ends meet as an average citizen.
Small wonder then that buyers are becoming a lot more discerning about where they spend their money, and value plays an ever bigger role on where it’s spent.
So at just under R250 000 and a much more manageable payment, the Suzuki Baleno is a car that appeals to buyers and is more likely to stand in the garage than something double that price or more.
With the decision made, passengers were given instructions to try and keep it to one bag – with the threat that the overflow would have to be on their laps.
The morning of the drive, with everything including a cooler box standing on the kitchen floor, I had an overwhelming urge to reverse the BMW in and change the plan.
In my Land Rover Defender or other bigger test cars I’m used to, it’s basically throwing everything into the back and driving off.
This would require the packing skills of a Kilimanjaro climber but after squeezing a bit and shifting around, everything was in – including a large umbrella down the side on the passenger side.
Powered by a normally aspirated 1.4 litre engine that’s good for 68kW and 130Nm, coupled to a five speed gearbox, I could feel that the car was loaded and needed to be thrashed a bit to get up to speed but, like all Suzukis, it’s not averse to the red line.
On the long straights, however, with the cruise control set just above the speed limit, the “little blue car” (as it became known) coped without too much effort.
There was the occasional time though that more power would have been appreciated, particularly when passing slower traffic on an incline but, again, more power equates to more money so I had to live with it and adapt my driving accordingly.
I moved my seat forward enough for me to be in a comfortable driving position and the youngster behind me had ample leg room, even though I assured him that I could still move.
By that time though, they had plugged their phones into the twin USB charger we had bought to plug into the rear 12V socket, assumed the position with their headphones and would only occasionally acknowledge us regarding drinks and food.
Our route included a drive to spend a night with friends who live in Underberg on the twisty and – surprise, surprise – well-potholed R617. Fully loaded, the Baleno felt planted throughout and the brakes did a sterling job slowing the vehicle down before having to swerve for said potholes.
Driving to Leisure Bay was through Kokstad in heavy rain and although not a deal breaker, a nice-to-have would have been rain sensing wipers.
The aircon demist only has an option to blow on the windscreen and the footwell for a reason that I fail to understand which, when you’re driving in shorts, can become a bit uncomfortable.
They’re minor things though and doesn’t distract at all from the overall driving experience and, having driven just over 2000km, the return of 5.5L/100km with the air conditioning mostly on quickly makes you forget that.
The dark privacy glass proved to be a hit, especially with the two boys, who commented that they didn’t have to angle the phone from the sun’s glare and you know how much that means to any millennial.
When we pulled into the driveway, it was mission accomplished.
The Suzuki Baleno had taken four people on holiday effortlessly, kept us cool, swallowed all our luggage and proved that, with a little planning, you don’t have to fork out a pile of money to have a good time.