Car reviews - Suzuki - Baleno - GLX Turbo
Sensible features, low fuel economy, flexible engine, cabin space, ride quality
Room for improvement
Hard plastics in cabin, bland looks, no autonomous emergency braking in Australia
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2 Nov 2016
By NEIL DOWLING
Price and equipment
THE Suzuki showroom, more than ever, can become a temple of indecision for the hapless car buyer. The quandary is its model choice and the fact they all look about the same size.
The Baleno – an old name revised in a manner becoming repetitive for recycling-conscious Suzuki – throws its conservative hatchback silhouette into the ring.
At about 150mm longer than the Swift, the Baleno can be equally as functional for singles or couples – yes, even families with youngsters – as the Swift.
The difference isn’t just its size. The Baleno is in every regard more mature and has more up-to-date features. It also rides and handles more in keeping with modern rivals and, surprisingly given its relatively rudimentary suspension layout, is more comfortable than many competitors.
This new Suzuki is available in three variants from the base GL manual at $15,990, the base GL auto at only $1000 more, and the GLX turbo tested here at $21,990. This top-shelf model picks up Suzuki’s new 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged BoosterJet engine pumping out 82kW/160Nm.
The Baleno GLX’s price compares with some smart rivals including high-end versions of the Mazda2 and Honda Jazz. But there is a difference. By comparison to these hatchbacks, the Baleno is very conservatively styled, ostensibly to appeal to its broadest possible audience.
Technically and aesthetically, it is also a remarkably simple car and while that should translate into few ownership hiccups, it can be seen as perhaps too restrained for prospective owners of a funky city car.
Where it will pick up an audience, however, is beyond the body style and in the cabin where it lacks little in the way of appointments or appearance.
Standard equipment includes satellite navigation – a feature even included in the entry-level variant – and a reversing camera, heated front seats, six-speaker audio, connectivity to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, cruise control, tilt and reach steering-wheel adjustment, Isofix child restraints on the outboard rear seats, and a TFT screen between the gauges.
Outside it has 16-inch alloy wheels, projector headlights, LED daytime running lights and four-wheel disc brakes.
The only listed option is metallic paint at an extra $400. That said, there’s only four colours to choose from – three metallic and a fleet-white hue – which pretty much forces it from an option to a mandatory feature.
Australia misses out on the autonomous emergency braking (AEB) system that is standard in most other markets. Even though Suzuki Australia said this will be included in the next mid-cycle makeover, it’s firstly a snub to the Australia customers and secondly a marketing miss at putting the Baleno a big step ahead of its competitors.
As it stands the GLX represents good value against its more established rivals.
It is yet another case where prospective light-car buyers need to drive the car to appreciate its assets.
Cynically, sit in one small car and you’ve probably had the feeling that you’ve sat in them all.
Sure, some are full of chrome and promise and the threat of decay, while others are prison-cell depressing in blacks and greys.
Function is well and good but when the neighbor gets in for a lift to the train station and starts looking around, you personally may be judged on the interior decorating skills of someone in a foreign country that you will never have the chance to meet.
The Baleno is simply styled. That’s not an excuse because it does have an attractive basic dash design overlaid with a swatch of soft-feel plastic beneath a curved hard plastic shell.
Switchgear is easily readable and even well located, while there’s extra finger-tapping buttons on the steering wheel.
The central 7.0-inch colour monitor is a good thing, divided into a quadrant for telephone, internet connectivity, audio and the Garmin-delivered sat-nav.
The graphics are a little bit primary school but still work well and the response to the finger is quick enough for most drivers.
The screen also works as the monitor for the rearview camera. Vision is excellent – perhaps up to European standards – and it’s even pretty good during the night when most rivals collapse into portraying a slurry of indistinguishable objects and a discarded artists palette of colours.
The GLX has a second TFT screen between the two instrument dials for further information.
Like the Vitara (and here’s Suzuki at its best with cleverly sharing components within its model range) there are round ventilation outlets for the front but none in the rear. Where your children are.
Despite this being marginally bigger in length than the Swift, the Baleno has a more spacious interior and a boot almost the size of the bigger-class Corolla.
It measures 355 litres with the rear seats up and 1085 litres with the seats down – pretty much an industry standard for the small-car class and now a rather spectacular result for the light-car brigade.
Full marks for the wide boot opening and one point off for the space-saver spare, but back in the good books for the Baleno’s standard fit of two outboard Isofix anchors for child restraints.
Front seat comfort is quite good but nothing to write home about in the rear, though the saving grace is that the back seat can fit two adults at 1.8m in stature without them claiming a OH&S violations.
Engine and transmission
This may come up as a quiz question so remember that Suzuki has never made a push-rod engine. The reason is because Suzuki is a canny car-maker who seems as smart in the accounting department as it is in engineering.
By leap-frogging push-rod engines – made possible by transitioning straight from two-stroke to single-overhead camshaft four-stroke engines – it’s saved itself a lot of cash and some late nights by engineers.
We have mentioned that Suzuki appears adept at cherry-picking components from its various models to create new variants. The Baleno is no exception.
The platform is all-new and is likely to be the new underpinnings for the next-generation Swift expected next year.
The engine in the GLX is related to that in the mini-car Suzuki Alto that was replaced by the Celerio.
It has clearly impressed someone in the sportscar segment because it’s also an engine option in the Caterham.
Also borrowed are suspension and steering components.
The 1.0-litre engine has three cylinders and twin overhead camshafts with variable-valve timing. It is assisted by turbocharging and as such follows the same theme as the lauded Ford EcoBoost 1.0-litre triple and the less revered Volkswagen Group equivalent.
The Suzuki engine is fuel injected and delivers 82kW at 5500rpm and 160Nm of torque at a low 1500rpm and remaining flat through to 4000rpm.
Technically, that’s a reasonable bunch of numbers though the 82kW is no big deal in today’s market, particularly for a turbo engine and then when you place it against the non-turbo Corolla engine at 100kW.
Believe us when we say the numbers don’t matter. Bigger isn’t always the best and that’s because there is a list of other factors that affect vehicle performance.
In the Baleno’s case, the reason the 82kW looks wimpy on paper but is actually dynamic on the road, is that it weighs only 955 kilograms.
This featherweight mass plus the revving, almost excitable engine and its grunty dose of low-speed torque make it work so well that there’s no reason to mate it to a manual gearbox.
It is perfectly suited to the six-speed automatic that copes beautifully with crawling city traffic as it does with winding country roads and open freeways.
Suzuki claims 5.2 litres per 100 kilometres and on test, using a common suburban-country route as for other test cars, it showed 6.4L/100km. Not bad for an automatic that can carry four adults and cost less that $23,000 on the road.
Ride and handling
The new platform is the shining light in the Baleno and it’s pleasing to see it is to be shared with the next Swift.
It is no sportscar – though the weeny engine is fun to urge along – but the taut chassis gives excellent rigidity that transforms into a controlled ride with a confident ability to shrug off road imperfections, particularly through the corners.
We are giving the platform all the kudos here because the suspension is rather basic – MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the back, with coil springs – and though helping contribute to keeping the car’s price low, are hardly the ingredients for sports performance.
Which brings up a second mystery – how did Suzuki get the ride comfort so supple using these rudimentary springs?The Baleno’s confidence through the bends and its stability on the freeway put it into another category and streets ahead of the Celerio.
Seat comfort (see Interior section) is good and even when my wife made me ride in the back, it was roomy and though the seats were a bit firm, hardly worthy of a complaint. Even the angled side glass didn’t upset the passenger experience.
Safety and servicing
Suzuki has a three-year or 100,000km warranty which is not competitive against the Hyundai (five years) and Kia (seven years) rivals. There is no roadside assistance program.
However, opt for the capped-price service program and you’ll get a five-year or 140,000km warranty.
The capped-price service program will cost a rather expensive $1458 for three years and will extend to five years.
Part of that high service cost is that the car has to be serviced twice a year – six months or 10,000km – which is also becoming less common as owners seek to minimise their time in dealership service centres and petroleum companies produce superior engine oil.
Standard safety equipment includes electronic stability control with brakeforce distribution, six airbags, brake assistance, a reverse camera and rear park sensors.
There is also dusk-sensitive projector headlights, LED daytime running lights and disc brakes on four wheels (the GL gets them only on two).
Glass’s Guide estimates that the Baleno GLX will retain 46 per cent of its purchase price after three years. This compares poorly with the Honda Jazz at 57 per cent, the Toyota Yaris at 57 per cent and the Mazda 2 Genki at 54 per cent. However, Baleno’s low resale estimate could be based on its new-model listing.
Suzuki again presents a surprisingly competent new model that, while appearing a tad bland, is unexpectedly fun for the driver, as comfortable as a large car and with the appetite of a sparrow. The GLX is the pick of the bunch but the GL will appeal to budget-conscious motorists.
Mazda2 Genki from $22,690 plus on-road costs
Cute Mazda 2 hatch wins on looks and the Genki features are just cream on the cake. It has an 81kW/141Nm 1.5-litre aspirated engine driving through a six-speed automatic transmission.
Mazda claims an average of 4.9L/100km. Features include 16-inch alloy wheels, sat-nav, six-speaker audio, colour contrasting cabin and automatic LED headlights. The boot holds 250 litres. Servicing is annual if less than 10,000km and the warranty is three years or unlimited distance.
Toyota Yaris ZR from $21,920 plus on-road costs
Another solid car from Toyota but one that has been stampeded by rivals, particularly from Korea. The ZR has an 80kW/121Nm 1.5-litre aspirated engine and a four-speed automatic.
Toyota claims 6.3L/100km. Features include LED headlights, six-speaker audio, sat-nav and 15-inch alloy wheels. The boot space is 286 litres. The warranty is three years or 100,000km and servicing is every six months or 10,000km.
Honda Jazz VTi-L from $22,490 plus on-road costs
A very hard car to overlook especially with its reputation as a quality build – though it’s now out of Thailand, as is the Mazda – and its most attractive feature, the multi-fold seats that give it class-leading cabin flexibility. The 1.5-litre aspirated engine is rated at 88kW/145Nm and 5.8L/100km. Standard is leather seats, six-speaker audio, LED headlights, 16-inch alloys and a body kit. The warranty is three years or 100,000km.
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