Suzuki Baleno links space to spark
Small car specialist Suzuki is hoping to broaden its hatchback horizons with the new Baleno, a larger and more spacious offering than the marque’s evergreen and hugely popular Swift. Despite the Swift’s success, its subcompact status has limited its family motoring appeal.
While the Baleno is not a full-sized C-segment hatch like the VW Golf, Opel Astra or Ford Focus, it’s significantly roomier than the Swift, while retaining the nimble character and wieldy dimensions of a smaller hatchback.
At 3,995 metres long, it’s 14,5 cm longer than the Swift. It’s also 50 mm wider, but 40 mm lower, confirming the new car’s streamlined shape. Indeed the Baleno is the most aerodynamically efficient car Suzuki has ever built – and that also benefits aesthetics.
The lines are smoother and more rounded than the Swift’s crisp shape, creating a modern and elegant impression. Wide-eyed trapezoidal headlights with daytime running lights, and a bolder grille, create a distinctive identity, while the elegantly ounded rear looks more European than Japanese.
Underpinning the Baleno is a brand new platform that uses advanced, high-tensile steel and to reduce weight – it’s up to 150 kg lighter than then Swift, despite its more generous dimensions. The new platform is also stiffer, benefiting handling and overall dynamics.
But the Baleno’s most impressive party trick is a cabin that feels uncannily spacious, especially for such a compact car. And it’s most apparent from the rear bench seat, where there is an abundance of legroom and shoulder room.
There’s around 70 mm more legroom than in a Swift, and overall, the cabin is 87 mm longer, but the difference feels even more marked in practice. At 355 litres, the boot is also significantly bigger than the Swift’s.
Spec levels are impressive for a car that’s priced at below R230 000 – the GLX model features climate control, central locking, Bluetooth, a multifunction steering wheel, park distance control and six airbags. But it’s not all good news – stability control is notable only by its absence here.
All three Baleno models are powered by Suzuki’s familiar 1,4-litre engine, rated here at 68 kW and 130 Nm. The default gearbox is a five-speed manual, but a four-speed auto is also on offer.
Because of its relatively low kerb mass, performance is brisk: it nips from rest to 100 km/h in 10,9 sec, and top speed is 180 km/h. At 5,1 litres/100 km, the claimed fuel consumption is impressive, although real-world figures will be significantly higher.
In practice, the Baleno feels at least as nippy as the smaller Swift. The engine is eager to please, and the first three gear ratios are spaced to keep the four-cylinder on the boil. It feels willing enough at sea level, but expect some of that verve to be blunted at Reef altitudes, or when filled to the brim with passengers and luggage.
Handling is excellent, however. The Baleno feels just as agile, as chuckable and as fun to drive as the smaller Swift. The steering is quick and direct, but suffers from some numbness, and if you try too hard, the front end will start running wide. Still, overall poise is impressive, and ride quality is good in small car terms, too.
The Baleno takes the Swift’s best attributes, but adds vital extra space, while requiring less fuel. Add the keen pricing, and the Baleno may well become the popular mainstream choice Suzuki is hoping for.
1.4 GL MT 199 900
1.4 GLX MT 229 900
1.4 GLX AT 244 900