Car reviews - Suzuki - Baleno - range
Reliable, comfortable, economical
Room for improvement
Bland to behold and boring to drive
27 Jun 2003
ON the face of it, few cars seem as average as Suzuki's Baleno.
For a start the styling - though neat and well-proportioned - is so completely inoffensive that nothing stands out. The Baleno could be any Japanese small car.
Then there is the text-book small car engineering - front-wheel drive, east-west engine with a 16-valve head and MacPherson strut/coil spring suspension. Nothing evocative here, either.
No wonder new car buyers forget the Baleno. Since the model's launch in April, 1995, less than 7000 have found homes in Australia. High prices and some quite outstanding rivals have kept Suzuki's wallflower on the shelf.
It is a shame because the Baleno - Suzuki's largest passenger car to date - is under-rated and represents a sound used car buy.
Three body styles are available. More than half of the Baleno sales have been the boxy four-door sedan, followed by the three- door hatchback, while the spacious four-door station wagon has accounted for only 10 per cent of sales.
All are powered by an economical and responsive 72kW, four- cylinder engine. Once again nothing special or outstanding in the small car class - merely competent.
But the Baleno GTX, which was discontinued in January, 1999, was a different story.
Available in every Baleno body style, the GTX uses a larger 1.8- litre, twin cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine to lift the Baleno beyond the boring.
Power jumps 16kW to a decent 89kW at 6200rpm while a 32Nm torque increase means the GTX develops 152Nm at 3400rpm.
This, combined with a close-ratio five-speed manual gearbox, helps the GTX deliver enough performance to keep most hot-hatch buyers happy.
The GTX deserves praise for its handling. Stiffer spring and damper rates and a rear anti-roll bar ensure the car stays flat during hard cornering.
The three-door GTX rides on a shorter wheelbase than the sedan and wagon GTX, and handles slightly better. Roadholding also improves over lesser Balenos thanks to larger wheels and sportier tyres.
Four-wheel discs and standard ABS anti-lock brakes complete the picture.
The GTX downside includes vague steering inherited from the lesser Balenos, a harsh ride and excessive engine and road noise - all hallmarks of the stiffer suspension modifications.
The cabin does not vary greatly from more mundane Balenos, although the dark trim colours, small side windows and thick A- pillars contribute to a slightly claustrophobic feel.
The bolstered seats are comfortable and hold the driver and front seat passenger in place. Rear seat passengers will much prefer the sedan or wagon over the hatch due to the legroom-increasing longer wheelbase.
Good looking alloy wheels and a subtle spoiler kit give the Baleno a much needed lift.
Buyers should look for evidence of accident damage since the boy- racer appeal of the GTX encourages hard and fast driving. Examples with lots of kilometres need a thorough engine check - look for blue smoke from the exhaust and metallic noises at idle from the engine.
The GTX raises the desirability stakes of a mediocre small car considerably.
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