By Miles Downard
Here in South Africa Suzuki has traditionally focussed on two markets; namely the small hatchback and the SUV/crossover. They have, arguably, mastered those with solid products that offer good value and exceptionally low ongoing running costs.
Now sights are set on a slightly larger segment with this, the Baleno. It’s styled in Italy, put together in India and features the same 1.4 litre petrol powertrain we’ve come to know rather well across the rest of the lineup.
On the outside
Despite the Turin-based styling department I can’t help but feel the Baleno retains an Asian influence in its design. The front area around the headlights reminds me of a Nissan, but from there back it’s fairly pleasing. The GLX model gets a little rear spoiler, in chrome, along with some belt-line trim to set it apart.
On the inside
The interior definitely stands out. It’s not like any Suzuki before it, which is refreshing (although there’s nothing wrong with a Swift). The seats alone give a great impression. The instrument cluster sports a full-colour TFT screen with all kinds of trip and other data. Digital climate control finds itself in the console and looks neat and modern.
Sat in the middle of the dash is a double din Pioneer touchscreen infotainment system (GLX only). Personally I didn’t have a problem with its operation, but some of my mates weren’t sold. Nice thing is that it’s a plug and play solution if you want something else. Steering wheel controls means you actually don’t need to be fiddling with the touch screen that often anyway. It has Bluetooth, of course.
The Baleno sits on an all new platform, so it’s not just a stretched Swift. Rear legroom and boot space are areas to which particular attention was paid, and it shows. The only downside being a fairly high boot sill that hinders easy loading.
Behind the wheel
The tried and tested 1.4 litre petrol unit is solid, offering great fuel consumption (I managed a few trips in heavy traffic under 5.0 litres per 100km). The easy operation 5 speed manual and light clutch pedal makes town driving manageable. With 68kW and 130 torques you can sometimes be found wanting more, especially when overtaking. The suspension has been set up well, riding bumps and other road imperfections nicely. Park distance control helps when reversing, nice considering I found rear visibility a bit limited.
The lower GL model is a smidgen under R200,000 (but doesn’t come with some of the nice interior touches). The GLX is R229,900 which in my book is great value. Competitors are likely to be the VW Polo, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai i20 etc, which don’t offer the same interior and/or boot space and cost more when similarly spec’d. The Baleno comes with a 3-year/100 000 km warranty and 4-year/60 000 km service plan too.
Given Suzuki’s reputation for exceptional reliability and budget beating running costs, together with the value on offer here, the Baleno simply has to be on your list if you’re after a non-premium hatch back.