Road Test: Suzuki’s new Baleno boasts has graceful engineering
New hatch is larger and roomier than a Swift, but still conspicuously good value for money
Date Reviewed: May 12, 2016
You may find it slightly odd that I was actually gently excited about getting to drive the new Suzuki Baleno. It’s not, on the surface, an especially ground-breaking car, nor one blessed with exactly sensuous styling and there would be no throbbing, massive V8 engine to enliven proceedings with a bit of tyre smoke.
Well, to be honest, I was looking forward to the Baleno because I quite liked its namesake predecessor. The old early Baleno saloon of the late 1980s, early 1990s, is as anonymous a small four-door as you could hope to find, with a cabin apparently made from recycled Christmas cracker toys.
So, with those memories firmly in mind, I trotted off to the launch of the new Baleno. The boot may have been excised, but the basic recipe is much the same as that of the original Baleno.
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It’s a small-big car, one that competes in terms of price and general mien with the likes of a Fiesta or a Fabia, but which offers the sort of cabin space you’d expect to find in a much larger, C-segment hatchback. In that respect, its closest conceptual rival is the Hyundai i20, but the Suzuki has one immediate and significant advantage over its Korean competition – its engines.
Even though the i20 is now getting Hyundai’s excellent new 1.0-litre turbo petrol unit, the Baleno strikes back with a brace of genuinely excellent engines. The first up is the most technically interesting – the SHVS hybrid. Rather tortuously, that stands for “Smart Hybrid Vehicle by Suzuki” but we’ll gloss over that.
It’s a mild hybrid, so there’s no huge battery stack nor weight penalty, just a 12v lithium-ion battery stashed under the passenger seat and a 2.3kWh “Integrated Starter/ Generator” which replaces the alternator and helps take the load off the familiar 1.2-litre, four-cylinder which has a very respectable 90hp.
Thus equipped, it’s not exactly a rocket ship, but it buzzes along nicely, and the engine, which we’ve long since driven in the Swift, is refined and happy to rev. And it’s properly, genuinely economical.
Here is a small car which, thanks to that hybrid trickery, can return a genuine 60mpg in mixed, often brisk, driving conditions. In fact, we got that figure without breaking a metaphorical or literal sweat. For those looking for a compact car which can genuinely keep you away from the fuel pump, the Baleno may well be the answer.
It’s not the fun Baleno though. For that, we must turn to the Baleno BoosterJet, with the most overcooked small car name of all time.
BoosterJet basically means downsized turbo, and so we have the now de rigeur three-cylinder 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine, developing 110hp and 170Nm of torque.
It sings a pleasing, offbeat, gruff song and that 170Nm has only 935kg to shove around, so it feels genuinely rapid once you wind it up. Certainly, it feels far quicker, subjectively, than its 11 sec 0-100km/h time would suggest.
The only problem is that, while the Baleno has its enjoyable moments in terms of driving dynamics, there are some unpleasant skeletons lurking in the chassis’s closet. On the good side, the steering feels nicely weighted, quick to react and has a modicum of feel.
In that, it’s much like the Swift’s steering, and that’s no bad thing. The Baleno also has good levels of grip, even on the rain-lashed roads of the Ards Peninsula, close to Belfast, so although there’s a rather sudden lunge of initial body roll as you begin to turn into a corner, the Baleno grips and scuttles its way around regardless.
The problem, the skeleton, is the ride quality. It’s just too firmly damped and sprung, which can lead to a sense of skippy-ness over certain bumps and an alarming bang as a wheel drops into a rut or a pothole. It’s a shame, but we can overlook it a little as the Baleno has a few other strengths going for it.
The cabin is not especially exciting, but it’s smart enough (better on the hybrid with a big, clear touchscreen in the centre of the dash) and, as you’d expect of a Suzuki, very well made. Notwithstanding the recent debacle over issues with brakes on the Celerio city car, Suzuki’s reputation for reliability is well founded and there is no sign the Indian-built Baleno has been built down to a price.
It’s not especially cheap but the €17,995 price for the most affordable BoosterJet model is actually significantly less expensive than an equivalent Ford Fiesta EcoBoost turbo and comes with air conditioning, DAB radio and sat-nav as standard. The hybrid is a touch more expensive but still clocks in at under €20,000.
And it’s roomy. With three motoring writers aboard (one lanky and two chunky) there was space to spare in the back.
Yes, it’s fair to say that the Baleno’s not going to win any styling awards, either inside or out. Quite how a company which makes the distinctive, attractive Swift and Vitara can make something that looks as bland as the Baleno is a bit beyond me, to be honest.
But honest is exactly what the Baleno is. It’s a small (but roomy), simple (but with some clever tech) car that should still be providing reliable service for many years to come. Fix the ride and it would be excellent. As it is, it’s still good enough to have made my gentle excitement worthwhile.
The lowdown: Suzuki Baleno 1.0 BoosterJet
Price: €17,995 Power: 110hp
Top speed: 200km/h
Claimed economy: 4.5-litres per 100km (66mpg)
CO2 emissions: 105g/km
Motor tax: €190