You would not accuse Suzuki of over-designing the Baleno. This new five-door hatchback from its Indian factory has a modern functionality. It is not endowed with extravagant creases (SEAT Ibiza) or a fabulous face (Ford Fiesta), nor is it is not as chunky as a Honda Jazz or as enduringly sensible as the Polo or the Corsa.
Those are some front runners in the four-metre class of hatchback, a size which is just about big enough for a family, just right for commuting and two-up holidays, or having as a stand-by in the household or downsizing your motoring needs. Then there’s the Peugeot 208 and the Toyota Yaris and Skoda Fabia and Renault Clio. As you can see, there’s no lack of choice..
The Baleno prices start higher than most rivals but all have five-doors and plenty of kit as standard. That means navigation, bluetooth, air con, digital radio, 16 inch alloys and darker rear glass. Prices are mostly in a narrow band from £12,999 for the one-litre SZ-T, £13,999 for the premium SZ5 version and £13,499 for the 1.2 mild hybrid SHVS which is rated at 94g and 70.6mpg. Gearboxes are five-speed manual. One can imagine going into the showroom and being convinced that a Baleno is good value. The main options are metallic paint for £430 if you don’t fancy white or red and a six-speed automatic gearbox for the SZ5 which hoists its price to £15,349.
On test was the SZ5 with manual gears. Its three-cylinder one-litre turbo engine is economical enough not to want a diesel Baleno, which is just as well because there isn’t one.
Tagged as Boosterjet, a version of the Boosterjet 1.4 in the Suzuki Vitara, it has a small, high-efficiency, fast-reacting turbocharger and delivers 110bhp and 125 lb ft torque. That does not sound much but the Baleno weighs less than a ton and feels quicker than its 11.4 seconds 0-62mph time. Top whack (not tested) is 124mph.
Do not lament the lack of a six speed gearbox. The five-speeder saves weight and is geared to give 70mph in fifth at a relaxed 2,500rpm. Even without the advantage of stop-start ignition (fitted to the SHVS) it achieved official figures of 105g and 62.7mpg. In general, here and there driving my consumption fell from the early days of 60+ mpg to settle at 53.5mpg after a week. My 45-mile simulated commuter route of city, motorway, ring road, suburbia and country was 57mpg.
The triple cylinder engine only gets sporty rorty when you demand action and otherwise the Baleno potters along, attracting little attention from other drivers. In fact I don’t recall it stimulating any curiosity. Shucks.
Suzuki may or may not be bothered that its “liquid flow” body design is getting scant aplomb. You can to read an explanation of the design ambitions on its website, it uses words like “compelling”, “dynamic energy”, and even “sophisticated”.
It’s not entirely bland. There is a flow line from the grille into the headlamps. The rear is indeed bland but it is cleanly drawn and it moves away from the blunt but effective shape of the smaller and popular Suzuki Swift. I could live with the looks of the Baleno if I decided I couldn’t afford a Polo and didn’t crave for the sweet handling ride of a Fiesta or the Gallic charm of the Peugeot.
Suzuki has applied the “liquid flow” design palaver inside the car where the heart of the dashboard is nicely done albeit surrounded and flanked by hard shell plastics. Voice control on the SZ5 test car was responsive, and politely I added “please” and “thank you” to requests. I hope it noticed. The navigation missed one ring-road roundabout completely – enough to cause panic if you are relying on it. The display does not include speed limits.
It’s alloys are smart, and if you get the SZ5 there is a reversing camera which, as life goes on, I feel I want more and more on a car. The engines meet EU6 on emissions but in the toughened 2016 EuroNcap crash testing the Baleno gets just three out of five stars for safety, largely due to the absence of standard crash prevention technology. With the radar-controlled crash mitigation fitted to the SZ5 version it achieves four out of five. Suzuki notes that the 2016 tests are more stringent than previous tests on its rivals.
Moving quickly on, then, I did enjoy this car. The ride is firmly sprung, with road faults causing jolts and jitters but the actual grip was never in doubt, helped by 185/55 Bridgestone Ecopia tyres. Suzuki says it was evaluated in the UK as well as Europe, so presumably it settled on this compromise in the handling and comfort.
Verdict: Worth trying, lots of kit for the price.