What’s not to like about the new Suzuki Baleno?
Sometimes expectations are low. When a manufacturer announces a ‘world car’ – such as the Baleno – I tend to think about the compromises made to make the car affordable to developing markets, something that generally fails to meet the expectations of the more demanding western European market.
The Baleno isn’t an outstandingly beautiful car, but neither is it an ugly thing. It’s just a bit anonymous, despite having a chrome strip stuck incongruously across the bootlid. It’s the first hint that this slightly-bigger-than-a-Swift car is for the rational mind, eschewing excitement for something altogether more practical.
Despite being planted firmly in the supermini class (although it looks a little larger) there’s plenty of space all round. The front seats leave loads of room in all directions for two rather generously proportioned men to not rub elbows, while leg room in the back is adequate enough for all but the lankiest; headroom in the rear will be tight for those over 6ft.
The boot is a good size too, and there are countless little nooks for storing bits in the car, including an under floor box. It’s as practical as it gets for cars of this size, but the quality of the plastics do more than just hint at the cost cutting measures that have been made. Being positive, they’ll be easy to wipe clean.
It’s loaded with equipment. Suzuki has realised that few buyers choose low-spec models, so there’s no real entry-level option here. Instead you start at SZ-T, which comes with satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, air-conditioning and a DAB radio. An extra £1,000 gets you an SZ5 that adds keyless entry and start, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and an upgrade to climate control.
Oddly, you don’t get to choose the lower spec model if you want the hybrid powered Baleno. For some reason, that’s only available in top SZ5 trim, and that’s what I was driving.
It’s the 1.0-litre Boosterjet engine that will take the bulk of Baleno sales, but the hybrid will tempt many. Like for like, it’s £500 cheaper than the ‘normal’ Baleno while CO2 emissions drop to just 94g/km. Promised economy is also improved to, rising from 62.7 to 70.6mpg.
That’s achieved by using Suzuki’s own mild hybrid system. A small lithium-ion battery powers a secondary beefed-up starter motor that assists the 1.2-litre petrol engine when accelerating, and regenerates battery power when coasting and braking. The whole package is compact and light, adding just 6.2kg to the already lightweight Baleno. It only adds 3bhp to the engine’s output, but does provide some 50Nm of torque. That doesn’t sound much, but the car feels more sprightly and quicker than the 0-62mph time of 12.3 seconds suggests.
It handles in a reasonably agile fashion too, thanks to that light touch. Riding on a new platform that will underpin the next Swift, the car weighs in at less than a tonne, allowing the suspension to work at holding on to the road without needing to be so stiff as to upset the ride quality.
All of this combines to make the Baleno a comfortable, reasonably enjoyable, frugal, practical and cheap supermini that confounded my expectations, so what’s not to like? The hybrid’s biggest problem is that the conventionally powered 1.0-litre Baleno is just £500 more expensive and gives away very little in the way of economy while adding extra performance and a whole heap of fun.