Japanese small car specialist Suzuki has resurrected another widely known nameplate from its 1990s stable— the Baleno.
Launched in Australia last week, the 2016 Suzuki Baleno continues a company resurgence kicked off by the launch of the reborn Vitara small SUV last year.
Couple that with a long feature list, a big back seat and a new turbocharged engine in the range-topper driven here, and the newest Suzuki model looks intriguing.
The Suzuki Baleno range comprises two variants, the GL (priced from $15,990 with a manual and $16,990 with an auto) and the GLX Turbo ($21,990 with an auto as standard).
Better still, all can be had drive-away for a lower-than-usual $1000 extra, making the Baleno a clear rival to sharply priced offerings such as the top-selling Hyundai Accent.
Even the base GL comes with a standard 7.0-inch touchscreen with satellite-navigation, a reversing camera and Apple CarPlay. You also get cruise control with speed limiter, a nice leather steering wheel with audio buttons, and LED daytime running lights.
This is a longer feature list than many rivals at this price point get, and gives the Baleno a real leg-up in a fiercely fought part of the market. You also get the class-standard six airbags.
The GLX Turbo adds keyless entry and start, climate control, a 4.2-inch colour LCD instrument display, chrome exterior bits and 16-inch alloy wheels as part of its $5000 price premium over the GL auto.
Read our more detailed Suzuki Baleno pricing and specifications story here.
As befits the name, the GLX Turbo also gets a force-fed engine — 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder from Suzuki’s new BoosterJet family in place of the GL’s basic 68kW/130Nm 1.4-litre petrol that does the job, and nothing more.
The BoosterJet unit’s 82kW (at 5500rpm) and 160Nm (between 1500 and 4000rpm) aren’t huge numbers, but when you add in the Baleno’s light kerb weight of 975kg, they’re sufficient to make the little Suzuki a sprightly urban runabout.
Better still, in typical three-pot fashion it has a characterful off-kilter thrumming note, while the turbo helps create a decent mid-range. It’s also largely free of any turbo lag at lower engine speeds, making the car a willing accomplice darting through traffic.
Channelling torque to the front wheels is a standard six-speed automatic transmission with paddle-shifters that’s generally intuitive and fuss-free, and which outstrips the four-speed auto/five-speed manual gearboxes offered in the base GL, and also the Swift Sport’s CVT.
Suzuki claims combined-cycle fuel economy of 5.2 litres per 100km, with its 37 litre fuel tank giving a theoretical range of around 700km. Realistically, you can expect to get returns in the mid 6L/100km range, which is still a good number.
Dynamically the Baleno GLX feels like the literal lightweight it is, with sharp turn-in, nippy change of direction, good road-holding an effective braking. It’s also fairly stable at higher speeds.
However, the rack-and-pinion steering is a little strange, being too light and detached on centre and borderline too resistant from quarter lock. The Swift Sport’s setup is sharper.
The ride compliance is about average, being relatively capable at absorbing typical urban-road corrugations but occasionally brittle over sharper hits. The is despite the fact that the Baleno is made in India, a country with notoriously poor roads.
Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels are ok despite the car’s light weight, with tyre roar and wind noise evident but liveable. The engine does let some vibrations through the steering wheel, though we’ve felt worse recently.
The Baleno’s cabin is a mixed bag. From an infotainment perspective it’s fantastic, with the big screen offering and the connectivity you could want for the money while looking well-integrated and classy. That it’s on the GL and GLX Turbo alike is truly impressive.
Other highlights include the nice leather steering wheel (which bizarrely gets telescopic adjustment on the GLX Turbo but not the GL) and edgy blue-lit dials with cool G-Force, engine torque and boost gauges — a little try hard, but at the same time oddly charming.
Other elements of the cabin’s design are a little bland though, and while the build quality feels acceptable, some of the plastic trims used on the doors, atop the dash and above the transmission tunnel are of below average quality.
From a practicality perspective, you get ample cabin storage including cup holders, and open cubby with USB port and door pockets with bottle holders, though there’s no proper closing centre control.
The back seats are very strong for the class, with sufficient space for two adults or two ISOFIX points for new parents. Rear occupants also get a 12V outlet for a USB adaptor to plug into. Only the Honda Jazz, and perhaps the Skoda Fabia, outpoint it.
That cargo space, as mentioned, is an excellent 355L, expanding to 756L if you flip the rear seats. This is way above the class average. Only the very high loading lip and the space-saving temporary spare wheel (unlike the Accent’s proper spare) lets it down.
From an ownership perspective you get a three-year/100,000km warranty plus capped-price servicing at six-months intervals. You have to buy your own roadside assist.
It’s clear that the Baleno GLX Turbo is an impressive little package. However, we can’t help but wonder if that $22,990 drive-away price for this top-spec offering is viable.
At one end of the spectrum, the Suzuki S-Cross offers even more cabin space for about the same money (albeit without the fun engine and with less standard equipment), while at the other end the better-to-drive and more upmarket Mazda 2 Genki looms large.
Perhaps, then, it’s actually the less exciting Baleno GL 1.4 that makes the better value-for-money case, considering you get that excellent infotainment, the big cabin and a still-willing drivetrain for bargain-basement pricing.
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