South Africans buy more B-segment hatchbacks than any other vehicle. To capitalise, Suzuki has launched a second range in this market…
As is the case with most Japanese manufacturers, Suzuki’s cars are known for their build quality and reliability. And, among the Far East brands, it has established itself as a builder of appealing light and compact cars. That level of prowess is most evident in India where, under the banner of sister brand Maruti, Suzuki focuses on smaller cars and enjoys a massive market share of close to 50%. Even older Suzukis are difficult to fault. The current-generation Swift is getting on a bit now and we ran our first test six years ago. However, thanks mainly to its superb value proposition, it has remained a Top 12 Best Buys recommendation in its segment, which is quite an achievement.
Slotting in slightly above the Swift is the new Baleno B-segment hatchback. It is priced closely to the Suzuki Ciaz sedan, as well as the seven-seater Ertiga, and shares its engine with both those models, as well as the Swift. The Baleno’s exterior design is not the most exciting, sure, and, while it certainly is more sophisticated, it’s also a more conservative styling exercise than the perky Swift.
The attractive grille has a typically Suzuki visage, with the lines flowing down to run underneath the badge. At the rear, there is a neat roof spoiler, while the hatch opens up fairly high as the leading edge runs only slightly lower than the rear taillights. And that means once you’ve opened the boot, the floor is still quite low, offering a deep luggage space that can take an impressive 296 dm3. Fold the 60:40-split rear seats and you have access to 896 dm3, which is more than a Volkswagen Polo or Ford Fiesta can muster, but marginally less than the equally spacious Hyundai i20 (920 dm2), for example.
It might not look so in these pictures, but the Baleno is somewhat larger than the likes of the Polo and Fiesta. That, however, is not the Suzuki’s only trump card. The generous wheelbase of 2 520 mm (compared with the Polo’s 2 470 mm) plays in the favour of those seated in the rear. One of our taller team members (at 1,87 metres) was able to sit comfortably behind his ideal driving position, and that’s a rare thing in the segment, matched only by the aforementioned i20 and Honda’s Jazz. Headroom isn’t quite as generous, though, but that’s forgivable in the context of the Baleno’s small-car countenance.
This GLX manual sits smack-bang in the middle of the range, book-ended by the lower-specification GL and the more expensive GLX auto. In the GLX, you’re greeted by a decently specced cabin with comfortable cloth seats, electric windows and mirrors, a 6,2-inch Pioneer infotainment system (that can be difficult to read on sunny days) and a small 4,2-inch information screen in the instrument cluster sited between the speedometer and the rev counter. Apart from giving the necessary trip-computer information, ambient temperature and average speed, this secondary screen also offers a graphic display of the power and torque supplied from the moment you start the car.
There are, however, a few places where Suzuki can consider improving the cabin trimmings. Some buttons, such as the push stalk next to the instrument cluster to toggle the trip computer, feel out of date, while the perceived quality of some plastics aren’t quite European level. Overall, though, it is a well-built product. This is evident in the solid way the doors close, as well as the manner in which the switches, stalks and levers in the cabin operate.
In terms of Bluetooth connectivity, both Android and Apple phones were easy to connect and can be controlled via the multifunction, rake-and-reach-adjustable steering wheel. Equipped with Suzuki’s proven 1,4-litre, naturally aspirated engine, you might expect the car to feel a little asthmatic, especially with the modern trend towards small-capacity turbocharged technology, but that’s not the case with the Baleno. It is refreshing to read a press release where a manufacturer states that its “new platform offers a high level of rigidity and low mass”, and then the tests prove that to be true by weighing less on our scales than our sceptical brains expected.
The Baleno is a case in point; at just 916 kg (fully fuelled), it’s one of the lightest cars in this segment we’ve ever tested. Yet, despite the low mass, the Baleno’s smooth aerodynamics did see it only slightly disturbed by the Cape’s winds, and the lithe body allowed the engine to feel enjoyably punchy once taken into the second half of its rev range. At highway speeds, you can, for instance, stay in fifth gear (top) to overtake. With passengers on-board, however, a quick snick into fourth or even third is necessary. That’s in line with its competitors, and the slick gearbox makes it more pleasure than chore. The Baleno’s ride quality was another highlight. It easily soaks up most road irregularities, while noise suppression is good at high speeds.
On our test strip, we were able to match Suzuki’s claimed 0-100 km/h time of 10,9 seconds, while the brakes performed well during the punishing 10-stop emergency test. There was some body movement during these manoeuvres, but nothing alarming and certainly not out of character for the size of car. In terms of handling, the Suzuki feels composed, even if you drive it with a level of vigour beyond what its owners will likely subject it to. Completing the strong showing is an average consumption figure on our 100 km mixed-use, standardised fuel route of just 5,5 L/100 km.