Suzuki Baleno Road Test

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Taking its name from the Italian for a flash of lightening, the Baleno hatchback now fills an obvious chink in Suzuki’s armour. The Liana was a competent if uninspiring four-door saloon whilst the good looks and performance of the Kizashi in no way made up for its ability to digest unleaded. But as the both faded away into Suzuki’s history it’s taken rather a long time for the hole they left to be filled. Enter the Baleno, a new hatchback that answers every question you wanted to ask and some you maybe hadn’t thought of.


Like most of today’s Japanese cars the Baleno isn’t manufactured in Japan. Instead this small C-Segment family car hails from Maruti Suzuki over in India. Introducing what Suzuki refer to as their ‘Liquid Flow’ styling and incorporating TECT impact safety system, the Baleno enlarges the Swift’s European body shape with added size and therefore, capacity. Forming part of the front wings the lighting continues the lines of the grille, deep air splitter and neatly rounded front, an upswept side profile curves with chromed handles and window surrounds and on into a bluff, chrome embellished rear end although the half depth tailgate does introduce a higher lift when loading cargo into the car.


Built on Suzuki’s new NEXT 100 platform and 16” alloys fitted with 185/55 Bridgestone Ecopia low easy rolling rubber, the Baleno sits comfortably on MacPherson struts and lowered suspension frame at the front, the rears utilising a Torsion beam and stabilizer whilst still incorporating coil springs. The combined effect of the body and suspension is to give the Baleno a lower stance than many similar sized cars, the look hinting at the car’s potential performance. Please do note though that the lover spec SZ-T models have drum brakes on the rear only the SZ5 as tested benefiting from disc brakes all round.


Inside the six airbag cabin Suzuki’s devotion to simplicity, functionality and durability is maintained, textured but still hard surfaces forming the bulk of the dash and door trim. With more than sufficient head, leg and shoulder room for up to five occupants, the SZ5 provides warm, fabric upholstery and a multi-function, fully adjustable leather steering wheel. The blue hued instrumentation is large and easy to read, a variable central display relaying torque, movement and fuel consumption figures. The centrally mounted satnav screen big and easy to use, the silvered climate controls set just below, the lower dash roll echoing the outline of the Baleno’s new grille. Besides ample door bins, central armrest, glovebox and sizable cup holders with the rear seats in place the Baleno’s twin level boot floor provides 320 litres of cargo space expanding to 756 litres with the rear seats folded.


Roof bar clips are located within the water channels but typical of Suzuki, roof and towing capacities aren’t quoted. And like most modern cars, there is no spare wheel, not even a space saver just the usual and debatably effective can of foam and small compressor.


Initially introduced in the Vitara S in four cylinder form, the Baleno uses Suzuki’s new 3-cylinder 1,000cc Boosterjet engine in three of the four options, the 1.2 Dualjet the only other choice. As tested the SZ5’s Euro6 spec 998cc, high torque turbocharged unit pumped out a healthy 111hp and 170 Nm of torque, the configuration of which is according to Suzuki the equivalent of a standard 1,800cc. Exceptionally small in size and weight the direct injection unit, by combining higher levels of boost, an intelligent wastegate and an air bypass valve that reduces turbo stall, the engine delivers most surprising levels of performance, power and economy aided by the stop/start system.


Mated to a short throw 5-speed manual transmission 0-62mph comes up in 11.4 seconds and a 124mph top speed. How accurate these figures are remains to be seen, the Baleno feeling far quicker in every respect, the performance considerably beyond Suzuki’s estimates or so it’s rumored. Economy wise, even driven with enthusiasm the Baleno will still return an average of 46.4mpg extending to over 50 with gentler use of the throttle which equates to around 450 miles per tank of unleaded petrol.


To drive the lightness of the Baleno’s weight saving construction comes to the fore. The three and a third turns lock to lock is easy to apply, the assisted steering nicely weighted, the gear changes quick and positive. Visibility is good as is the comfort over extended journeys, the Baleno equally at home around town and motorways whilst B-Roads allow the driver to capitalise on the car’s impressive levels of performance. As what is ostensibly a family hatchback if pushed hard into bends the body does roll slightly but the handling still remains neutral, the Baleno displaying no particular vices.


If a criticism had to be leveled at the Baleno it’s the hazard warning radar, its fixation to point out anything in front of the car at times annoying. It can be turned down but an off setting would be useful. The Baleno’s true surprise though is the price tag. The SZ5 seen here is effectively the top of the range will only set you back £14,679 or £430 less if you opt for one of the solid colours along with an annual road tax bill of just £20. And as part of their ongoing promotional activities, the Baleno features in Suzuki’s very favourable leasing schemes and financially attractive offers especially for business users.


On price alone Suzuki’s Baleno is a very attractive proposition. In most other respects it rates as one of the most exceptional little new hatchbacks you’ll drive, virtually everything about the Baleno a resounding positive!


            

By; Mark Stone



Suzuki Baleno Road Test