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Driven: Suzuki’s equipment-laden Baleno launched

Bantamweight contender: Suzuki’s all-new Baleno may have the diminutive proportions of a light car, but the Japanese car-maker is gunning after small-car stalwarts Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Hyundai i30 with the introduction of its latest hatchback.

Budget buyers targeted by Suzuki’s Corolla-fighting Baleno from $16,990 driveaway

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Suzuki logo29 Jul 2016

By TUNG NGUYEN

SUZUKI Australia has introduced its equipment-heavy Baleno small car and, despite sharing similar dimensions and the same segment as its Swift hatchback stablemate, the Japanese car-maker is adamant there is room for both models to thrive.

Measuring just 145 millimetres longer than the Swift at 3995mm, the new Suzuki Baleno is physically smaller than the hatchback rivals it hopes to steal sales from, including Toyota’s Corolla (4400mm), the Mazda3 (4460mm) and Hyundai’s i30 (4300mm).

Although its proportions may be smaller, Suzuki has managed to carve a comparable interior space and competitive 355 litre boot capacity, while loading the Baleno with a long list of standard features including satellite navigation, cruise control and Apple CarPlay.

Speaking to GoAuto at the launch of the crucial new model, Suzuki Australia general manager Andrew Moore said the Baleno and Swift are both targeted towards different buyers with different needs, justifying both models sharing the same showroom space even though classified in the one segment.

“We see them as two quite distinctly different cars,” he said. “I think because of the dimensions everyone has seen from overseas, most people are coming into this proposition who haven’t experienced the car are saying ‘oh there isn’t that much difference in length’ but there is significant difference in size.

“I think it’s simply, the Baleno is obviously a bigger car and has a different benefit to someone who might want more cargo space. It’s also a new model, pretty much a new nameplate for us.

“There is always going to be a small degree of that (cannibalisation), but we think that the two models are distinctly different enough that they will appeal to different buyers.

“It’s probably something we’ve been talking to journalists to try and get their head around, and even VFACTS, ‘how long is the car? How wide is the car? Oh, that’s the segment’. It’s not the segment, it’s how the customer uses the car and where it sits for the customer.”

While the front end of the car, from the nose to the accelerator pedal, is 66mm shorter than the Swift, the interior dimensions from the pedals to the hip point of the rear seats is actually 87mm longer and the distance between the rear bumper and rear seats is 124mm longer.

Mr Moore said the Swift is geared toward younger buyers who prioritise aesthetics over practicality, whereas the Baleno is aimed at empty nesters looking for a good value car and hopes it is cross-shopped against the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3.

“We want to grow this brand, we need to get on more shopping lists and my philosophy is if we want to move up, we almost need to be number one in our offering in the marketplace because Mazda, Toyota, they’re on the shopping list, we need customers to go ‘hey we’re going to check out the Suzuki’, so that’s why it’s such a compelling proposition,” he said.

“We think Baleno, when you see it next to Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla, has a much higher percentage of buyers over 45 and 50, empty nesters, and we think Baleno is probably a better vehicle for those empty nesters or will appeal more to those customers because it has more cargo space.

“There are plenty of customers who like the small differences, and we are confident that Swift is such a huge brand and key model for us that it will continue to be very strong. Now we have a very compelling proposition in Baleno to make sure we get a maximum number of customers considering our cars.”

The Suzuki Baleno range will open at $16,990 driveaway for the base five-speed manual GL, move up to $17,990 driveaway for the four-speed automatic GL and top out at $22,990 driveaway for the top-spec six-speed automatic-only GLX Turbo.

Compared with the competition, Suzuki’s Baleno wears a much smaller pricetag, with Toyota’s Corolla starting at $19,790 before on-road costs, the Mazda3 from $20,490 and Hyundai’s i30 from $20,990.

Mr Moore said the introductory driveaway pricing would remain throughout the Baleno’s life, representing a high value choice for budget-focused customers.

“That’s the price we want to maintain,” he said. “I think manufacturers are quoting RRP, which could change any time. We’re going for a consistent position on the price we want to lock in and the only thing that would change that is if sales double what we expect.

“We reckon we’ve got a really good value package, particularly when you stack it up. Those cars (competitors) are a little bit bigger, but interior-wise, the customer is getting the same type of space, the same type of boot size, plus standard in the Baleno, you’ve got sat-nav and Apple CarPlay, much better fuel economy, and in the turbo, a better power-to-weight ratio.

“It might be 200mm shorter (compared with Corolla) but in actual usable space, it’s the same. But by being 200mm shorter, it’s easier to park.”

Although the Baleno is yet to receive an Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) crash rating, in Euro NCAP testing it has received four stars, despite its relatively small front crumple zone. Mr Moore expects Suzuki’s latest car to perform well in local safety testing.

“It’s Suzuki built. We’re talking Suzuki manufacturing practices that have stemmed from Japan and Europe,” he said. “We’re currently going through crash testing with ANCAP at the moment and we’re confident we can get five stars on this vehicle.”

Safety feature standard across the Baleno range include and electronic stability program (ESP), hill hold control in automatic equipped versions, brake assist, reversing camera and dual front, side and curtain airbags.

Other standard features include a 7.0-inch multimedia colour touchscreen, satellite navigation, cruise control, daytime running lights (DRLs), front fog lights, 15-inch steel wheels, steering wheel mounted controls, fabric seats and Bluetooth connectivity on range-opening GL variants, which are powered by a 68kW/130Nm 1.4-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine.

Moving to the top-spec GLX Turbo replaces the engine with an 82kW/160Nm 1.0-litre Boosterjet turbocharged three-cylinder. Additional equipment includes keyless entry and start, digital climate control, hockey-stick style headlight-integrated daytime-running lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, chrome door handles, a 4.2-inch colour LCD display and HID projector headlights.

Dealer fitted optional extras include front and rear parking sensors, sports body kit, 16-inch black alloy wheels, floor mats, boot carpet and weather strips, although pricing of extras was not revealed.

Exterior colour choices are limited to only four – white or metallic silver, blue or grey.

The Baleno is also the first car built on Suzuki’s new-generation platform, employing extensive weight saving measures to tip the scales at less than 1000 kilograms, meaning it is able to return fuel consumption figures of 5.1 litres per 100 kilometres in the manual GL, 5.4L/100km in the automatic GL and 5.2L/100km in the GLX Turbo.

Toyota’s Corolla is powered by 103kW/173NM 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine returning 6.7L/100km, the Mazda3 is powered by a 114kW/200Nm 2.0-litre four banger with 5.7L/100km fuel economy and Hyundai’s i30 is powered by a 107kW/175Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine rated at 7.0L/100km.

Mr Moore said he believes Suzuki will sell out the Baleno’s 400 unit a month allocation and warns of stock shortages and waiting lists if demand exceeds expectation.

“It’s probably going to max out at around 400 because that’s the level of stock we have coming in,” he said.

“It’s always a little bit tricky with a new model, and you don’t really have a history to compare. We’re targeting 400, I’d like to think we could go beyond that, but you don’t know for sure. It’s sort of a six month lead time on ordering, so there is a bit of crystal balling when ordering cars.

“400 a month is a very good growth position for Suzuki Australia.”

Last month, sales leading Hyundai i30 sold 6432 i30s, Mazda sold 4112 units of its Mazda3 and Toyota sold 4427 Corollas.

2016 Suzuki Baleno driveaway pricing
GX$16,990
GX (a)$17,990
GXL (a)$22,990

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