The 2016 Suzuki Baleno is positioned, rather intriguingly, as something of a segment-straddler in the small car class.
Technically it is defined as a light car in Australia, and it’s only a wee bit bigger than cars like the Toyota Yaris and Mazda2, yet Suzuki sees it as a small car competing against the likes of the Corolla and Mazda3.
If it is a small car, then it’s the cheapest in its class, but also the least powerful thanks to the smallest engine. If, on the other hand, it’s a light car then it offers the biggest back seat in its class and an unbelievably large boot.
So, which is it then; a large light car or smallish small car?
Vehicle Style: Light hatch
Price: $17,990 (driveaway)
Engine/trans: 68kW/130Nm 1.4-litre 4cyl petrol | 4sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.4 l/100km | Tested: 6.2 l/100km
The two model Baleno line-up is simple to decipher - there’s this car, the base model GL with a 1.4 litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine and a choice of five speed manual, or the four-speed auto tested here, which Suzuki suggests will be it’s biggest seller.
There’s also an up-spec GLX model (which we’ve previously driven) that offers a more powerful turbocharged three cylinder engine, a standard six-speed automatic, and a few extra features.
But it's this base model that we’re most interested in. Suzuki already has the Swift in its range for light car buyers, and it’s a very good little car, even if it is starting to show signs of age - so why add another light car?
This one is designed to be a step up, without quite being a small car, and is targeted at buyers who might find the ever-expanding footprint of something like a Hyundai i30 or Ford Focus a little too large.
The driveline may not be as sophisticated as some small cars, but for anyone stepping out of a Holden Astra or Kia Cerato from a decade or more ago that’s unlikely to be a problem, and for the price of a decent used hatchback Suzuki can offer a new car, with full warranty - sure to be a tempting lure in itself.
- Standard Equipment: Fabric seat trim, air conditioning, leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, cruise control with speed limiter, height adjustable driver’s seat, tilt-only steering column adjustment, power windows, remote central locking, 15-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, AM/FM radio, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, four speaker audio
- Cargo Volume: 355 litres seat up, 756 litres seats down
Keeping in mind that the Baleno can be wheeled out of a Suzuki showroom for $17,990 driveaway the interior fits the price point. No, you won’t find Volkswagen Golf-rivalling levels of fit and finish, but things inside the Baleno aren’t too bad.
The interior plastics are hard, no matter where you touch them, but the fit and finish is quite decent, and nothing feels so flimsy as to be of concern.
Suzuki Australia has also opted to fit what it calls a high-level of standard equipment, meaning a leather clad steering wheel with audio and cruise control buttons and a 7.0 inch touchscreen with standard satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay connectivity.
There’s a few missing items, like a steering wheel that adjusts for tilt only, not reach - but the driver’s seat offers height adjustment, there’s power windows for all doors, and the rear seat has a 60:40 split fold built into it, so you’ll notice more features that are included over the things that aren’t.
The front seats are comfy enough, if a little flat, but it’s the rear seats that surprise the most, with plenty of legroom and headroom, though not enough width for three across.
Similarly, the boot is a whopper at 355 litres with the rear seats up - that’s big, even by small car standards though there’s a narrow opening and high lip to clear to get your things in there.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 68kW/130Nm 1.4 litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol
- Transmission: Four-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: Front macPherson strut, rear torsion beam
- Brakes: Ventilated front discs, rear drums
- Steering: Electrically assisted rack and pinion, turning circle: 9.8m
- Towing Capacity: 1000kg braked, 400kg unbraked
If you compare the Baleno’s engine outputs with other light cars you’ll see that it’s about average for the class, with 68kW of power and 130Nm of torque - maybe not as impressive as a Holden Barina or Hyundai Accent, but offset by the Baleno’s very low kerb weight.
That enables the Baleno to feel pleasantly zippy when moving off from a standstill - not exactly fast, but fizzy enough to stay out of harm’s way.
For slipping through city traffic the four-speed automatic tends to feel a little ‘gappy’ between gears. There’s a noticeable rise and fall of forward momentum as the Baleno battles against the gear ratio gaps of its old-fashioned transmission.
That’s okay though as the Baleno isn’t pretending to be racey. It’s a deliberately conservative car and that’s exactly how it drives.
It doesn’t do too badly out of town either, and can keep a steady head of steam on the highway, but becomes flummoxed when asked to overtake or climb a hill, revving hard but not delivering much extra pace.
Suzuki traditionally deliver fine-handling little cars too, as proven by the Swift and Vitara, but in the case of the Baleno the handling is a little softer, and there’s an inconsistent weighting to the steering.
Comfort is hard to fault, and over scarred road surfaces, cobbled laneways, and sharp speed humps the Baleno absorbs the worst Aussie road surfaces have to offer with little complaint. The ride is just right with one or two bodies onboard.
The Baleno also happens to be better at masking wind and road noise than first impressions might suggest, but work it hard and the ringing of the engine does tend to filter through the firewall and into the cabin.
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: Three years/100,000km
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 $175 including scheduled fluid replacement, except for the 24 month/40,000km and 48 month/80,000km services at $459 and $499 respectively.
A full genuine service history also makes vehicles eligible for an extended five year/140,000km warranty. Contact your Suzuki dealer for full terms and conditions.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
A new Kia Rio has already been shown overseas, but before it arrives the current model represents decent value, with enticing driveaway pricing for the entry-level automatic.
Though it may not be cutting-edge, the Toyota Yaris is dependable and still spacious enough to qualify as a competitor. Infotainment isn’t as well served, but for those that don’t mind the Yaris is a decent choice.
If size matters more than price, the Hyundai i30 still won’t break the bank, but steps up in size while offering a much nicer experience from behind the wheel - this is another car in runout, meaning sharp deals on a vehicle that’s ready to be retired.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Though the Baleno may not look like most compelling small car on the new car market in Australia, when you compare it against the light car class that it better fits into it offers more car for similar money.
Even though it may not be particularly powerful, the Baleno will be a better fit for shoppers who intend to use the back seat on a more regular basis, and is particularly alluring to shoppers that may have only been able to look at a secondhand car before.
Though safety is an unknown without an ANCAP score (the Baleno has a Euro NCAP three-star rating but the assessment criteria is slightly different to Australia’s), the peace of mind of a new car warranty, coupled with frugal fuel bills should see the Baleno GL enjoy a minor success in Australia’s packed new car landscape.
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VISIT THE SHOWROOM: Suzuki Baleno Models - Prices, Features and Specifications