THE 2016 SUZUKI BALENO REVIVES AN OLD NAME, BUT WITH AN ENTIRELY NEW VEHICLE.
In typical Suzuki style, value is the biggest part of the Baleno story. But there is more to this car than 'value buying'; Suzuki is also aiming to lure buyers for whom modern small cars are simply too large.
The new Baleno is a sized-right small car. It also cleverly uses SUV-influenced lower-body styling to stand a little apart, and, visually, to lean a little on the compact SUV segment.
Vehicle Style: Small hatch
Price: $22,990 (driveaway)
Engine/trans: 82kW/160Nm 1.0 3cyl turbo petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.2 l/100km | Tested: 6.3 l/100km
Australia’s small car segment is hot, hot, hot right now. Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30, and Mazda3 rule the sales charts, and there’s a huge array of other competitors vying for buyer attention.
So Suzuki would have to be mad - you'd think - to jump into a segment it hasn’t played in since 2012 (when the hatch and sedan versions of its SX4 crossover disappeared).
This time around however, value is the big drawcard, with headline pricing for the base model GL as low as $16,990 driveaway, and the well-stocked GLX, with auto, for $22,990 driveaway, pitting the more upscale Suzuki against the most basic Corolla and Mazda3.
In typical Suzuki fashion, the Baleno features a smaller engine than its competitors, but a much lower weight. And, for something different, Suzuki is keen to emphasise that its small car is still actually small - under 4.0 metres nose-to-tail.
So with all this value packed in, what’s the Baleno like to drive?
- Standard equipment: Cloth trim, climate control, cruise control with speed limiter, keyless entry and ignition, colour instrument display, trip computer, power windows and mirrors, steering wheel audio controls, tilt and reach adjustable steering, centre armrest
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch touchscreen, satellite nagivation, AM/FM radio, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, four speaker audio
- Cargo volume: 355 litres seat up, 756 litres seats down
The interior is modest. The seats are trimmed in sensible cloth, the dash and doors do without the soft-touch surfaces of some small cars, and the layout is simple.
It lacks the flash of some small cars, and feels a generation behind the pack - but at the same time it’s still not unpleasant, and probably more welcoming to buyers stepping out of an older vehicle.
Where Suzuki excels is in the utilisation of space, although the exterior is compact, the length has been pared-out of the Baleno’s bonnet, allowing it a larger passenger compartment.
In fact the Baleno is far more generous inside than you might expect. The front seats provide a broad range of adjustment with generous headroom.
In the rear there's more the kind of legroom that you might expect in a car from the class above, although width isn’t quite as generous.
All Baleno models are loaded with a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system featuring Apple CarPlay connectivity, and standard satellite navigation.
The Baleno GLX also scores a proximity key with push-button start, climate control (although it takes an eternity to heat up), a raised console box with armrest, reach adjustable steering (tilt-only on GL), and a colour instrument cluster screen with trip computer and performance meters mounted between the gauges.
At the back, boot space measures 355 litres, which is larger than Mazda3, almost on-par with Corolla, and a wee bit less than the i30.
Be aware though, the Baleno has a high loading-lip impeding easy loading, and although it features folding rear seats, they don’t fold fully flat.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 82kW/160Nm 1.0 litre ‘BoosterJet’ turbocharged three-cylinder
- Transmission: Six speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: Front macPherson strut, rear torsion beam
- Brakes: Four-wheel disc brakes with vented front rotors
- Steering: Electrically assisted rack and pinion, turning circle: 9.8m
- Towing capacity: 1000kg braked, 400kg unbraked
On paper the Baleno’s 1.0 litre three cylinder engine may not look altogether mighty. But, boil it down, and the Baleno GLX has a slightly more impressive power-to-weight ratio than a 1.8 litre Corolla.
The GLX churns out 82kW of power at 5500rpm and 160Nm of torque between 1500 and 4000rpm and comes matched to a six-speed automatic, although the cheaper GL offers a less powerful four-cylinder engine (sans turbo) with a five-speed manual or four-speed auto.
As you might expect, the Baleno GLX is no firecracker, but the three-cylinder engine is as lively as it can be, with a rorty engine note at high rpm.
It’s unusually smooth, and there’s no obvious power-sapping from the six-speed automatic, making progress in and around town smooth while still being eager.
While engaging handling tends to be a Suzuki calling card, the Baleno has missed out, but only slightly.
The Baleno rides out little bumps and jiggles nicely, but gets the staggers over harder hits like potholes and expansion joints and without some of the lively feel of the smaller Swift and larger Vitara.
Part of that comes down to the oddball electric steering, which tends to self-centre far too aggressively at low vehicle speeds.
At speed though, the Baleno is composed and stable, and quite a competent cruiser with surprisingly low levels of road and wind noise on the freeway.
Suzuki promises a super-frugal 5.2 l/100km on the combined cycle, but we skewed our time with the Baleno more towards city driving, returning a still-respectable 6.3 l/100km in sometimes very heavy stop-start traffic.
ANCAP rating: The Suzuki Baleno has yet to be tested by ANCAP.
Safety features: Six airbags, electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, front seatbelt pretensioners with load-limiters, 3x rear child seat anchorages, 2x ISOFIX mounts.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING:
Warranty: All Suzuki vehicles are covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty.
Servicing: Suzuki offers capped price servicing for a period of five years, with service intervals set every six months or 10,000km (whichever occurs first). Each Baleno service is priced at $249 including scheduled fluid replacment.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Suzuki Baleno walks the line between the light and small car classes, meaning it collides on price with cars like the Mazda2 and Kia Rio, but offers interior space closer to the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Suzuki is to be commended for offering a brand new small car for the price of a decent used car, meaning that buyers can enjoy a full new car warranty and the safety it embodies (once ANCAP does its thing).
There’s a few ‘rough edges’ to the Baleno though: while well-equipped, it doesn’t include some of the finishing touches of other small cars, and even though it’s only a lightweight, it lacks the authoritative acceleration that some buyers may crave.
Yet, for all of that, it remains a solid proposition (and Suzuki builds its cars very well). It gets the basics right and is the kind of small hatch we can comfortably recommend to a younger first-time buyer - they will love it.
There’s also a swag of mature buyers who will find its 'sized-right' small car dimensions, just right. They'll also appreciate the simplicity and ease-of-use of the Baleno, without sacrificing comfort or space.
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