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Suzuki has added the streamlined Baleno hatchback to its range of compact cars. The model is aimed at enhancing the brand’s reputation for selling some of the best small cars on the market. Reuben van Niekerk reports
From a styling perspective, the Baleno features short overhangs, sculpted flanks and a strong face that makes it easily identifiable as member of the Suzuki family. Larger than the popular Swift, it offers a spacious, well-packaged interior and good equipment levels.
The vehicle is powered by Suzuki’s familiar 1,4-litre, normally-aspirated petrol-fuelled engine which produces 68kW and 130Nm. The plant has a reputation for responsive performance and excellent fuel economy and, though I drove the car at sea level, I suspect its responses will not be blunted too much up at Reef altitude, in part due to an advantageous power to weight ratio.
There is a choice of two gearboxes – five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. Suzuki’s spokesmen admit that a self-shifting gearbox, coupled with a small capacity engine, does not always make the best combination – but they don’t expect the auto version to be the volume seller.
In terms of fuel consumption, they say the manual shift model achieves 5,1 litres per 100km against the auto derivative’s 5,4 litres per 100km, which makes the latter model a less enticing prospect for customers on a fixed budget.
Incidentally, a spirited test drive during the launch of the car yielded a figure of 6,1 litres per 100km, so getting close to the claimed figures should be possible if the car is driven with a light foot.
The Baleno is produced in India for international markets, including Japan. A benefit of this is that the car has an upmarket feel about it, with quality, fit and finish on par with Suzuki vehicles manufactured in Japan.
The brand’s spokesmen say that the Baleno is ideal for individuals and families who need the extra comfort and convenience of a spacious hatchback, while retaining the agility and efficiency associated with the smaller Swift.
Comparatively, the Baleno’s interior is 87mm longer than that of the Swift’s, with ample space at the rear to allow four adults to travel in comfort. The back seat can be folded flat in a 60:40 fashion to expand boot space from 355 litres to a maximum of 756 litres.
The width of the interior is emphasised by the smooth expanse of the dashboard, which is punctuated by an instrument binnacle directly ahead of the driver. In top of the range GLX models, a 6,2-inch colour display for the infotainment system is located in the centre stack.
The Baleno sits on a new platform designed to retain rigidity while reducing weight. Despite being larger than the Swift, the model is 11% lighter, tipping the scales at just 915kg.
Integral to weight saving is the body shell, its curved shape requiring fewer joints – and therefore less reinforcement – to construct. The reduction in weight not only benefits performance, but also helps to enhance economy, handling and refinement.
The Baleno is equipped with a comprehensive array of active and passive safety systems including ABS, EBD and EBA. Dual front airbags are standard too, while GLX models get side and curtain airbags. Other features include Isofix child seat tethers, childproof rear door locks, side impact protection beams and an alarm/immobiliser.
The Baleno is offered in two specification grades. The more affordable GL model is fitted with a manual gearbox only, while the GLX can be ordered with either manual or automatic transmission.
The GLX adds a variety of equipment to the comprehensive specification of the GL including HID projector headlamps; LED daytime running lights; low mounted fog lights; turn indicator repeaters in exterior mirror housings; chrome accents; a roof spoiler, privacy glass and revised tail lights as well as 16-inch alloy wheels.
Inside, the upholstery in both vehicles is similar, but the GLX features the already mentioned TFT colour screen for the infotainment system; chrome accents; and an enlarged instrument cluster that displays average speed, ambient temperature and a graphic representation of engine power and torque output.
Further, the multifunction steering wheel gains additional switchgear for cruise control. Air-conditioning is fully automatic and there is the addition of rear park distance control and keyless starting.
Reuben van Niekerk