The Suzuki Baleno first launched in Australia three years ago, and unfortunately for the Japanese brand it hasn't quite been the sales hit that its Swift stablemate has been.
In the ever-competitive light car segment, the Baleno is up against big (little) players like the Honda Jazz, Kia Rio, Mazda 2, Toyota Yaris, the Volkswagen Polo, and of course its aforementioned Swift sibling.
Whereas rivals like the Mazda 2 and Volkswagen Polo have continued to push further upmarket in terms of available technology and refinement, the Baleno has taken a similar approach to the Honda Jazz in offering heaps of space and practicality for a relatively sharp price.
In 2019, the Baleno has been treated to a mild refresh, branded 'Series II' by the brand. Key changes include a new grille, revised front and rear bumpers, and new wheel and wheel cover designs depending on the grade.
There's also new fabric upholstery, and if you get the top-spec GLX you also get UV-shielding windscreen glass, along with auto-levelling LED headlights.
Here on test we have the entry-level 2019 Suzuki Baleno GL priced from $15,990 plus on-road costs for the five-speed manual version. The four-speed auto fitted to our test car brings that starting price to $16,990 plus on-road costs, while the Fire Red solid exterior paint is a no-cost option – opting for metallic finishes adds $595.
It's worth noting that at the time of writing, Suzuki Australia is advertising the Baleno GL with free on-road costs on its website ($15,990 drive-away with manual, $16,990 drive-away with auto).
Some of you may remember that my first-ever car review was the pre-facelift Baleno GL, and it's interesting to see what's changed in three years – or more importantly, what hasn't changed.
Equipment highlights from the base grade include a 7.0-inch touchscreen with inbuilt satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, cruise control, six airbags, front fog lights, daytime-running lights, and privacy glass.
However, there's no active safety tech like autonomous emergency braking or lane-departure warning available at all, despite the Swift offering these systems for similar money. It's also worth noting the Baleno remains untested by ANCAP, whereas the Swift wears a 2017-stamped five-star rating.
What the Baleno lacks in available tech, however, it counters with segment-competitive space and practicality for passengers and their luggage.
Being primarily aimed at the Indian market (where it is produced), the Baleno has been designed to pretty much transport entire families despite being a compact vehicle. You really notice this when you hop inside, too, because while it's pretty sparse, there's no denying how airy the Baleno's cabin feels.
Up front, there's heaps of head room and good visibility out of the large glasshouse, while there's plenty of room for two full-sized adults in the rear – three at a squeeze should you so require.
The cabin layout is very basic and functional, and also isn't the final word in material quality. It feels reasonably well built, and all the main touchpoints have more yielding fabric trim, though press on the door cards and the plastics will actually wobble. Same goes for the centre console against your knee.
Let's be honest, though, this is a budget car that's aiming to maximise space and minimise weight, so soft-touch dashes and heaps of sound insulation aren't really a priority – though we'll get to the latter in a bit.
There are also two 12V outlets (one at the front and one at the rear), though don't expect full charging capacity if you need to use both at the same time. If you look closely at the sticker placed next to the outlet at the back, you'll see that the two ports add up to 120 watts when both are in use, so 60W plus 60W.
Behind the second row of seats there's a 355L boot that is pretty much the top of the class – better than the cavernous Honda Jazz (354L) and the Volkswagen Polo (351L). Fold the rear seatbacks down and that luggage area expands to a claimed 756L.
Overall, not much has changed since the Baleno first launched, and while its strong practicality and decent cabin amenities remain, it lacks the driver tech and ambience of more upmarket-feeling rivals.
The Baleno range is now powered solely by a 1.4-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine developing 68kW at 6000rpm and 130Nm at 4000rpm. Suzuki has previously offered the fantastic 82kW/160Nm 1.0-litre turbocharged 'Boosterjet' turbo triple for the top-spec GLX, though that was pulled from sale in Australia earlier this year.
As mentioned previously, our tester is equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels. We don't blame you if the drivetrain sounds pretty drab on paper, but it's actually not too bad.
Thanks to the well-tuned transmission, and the fact the Baleno only weighs 915kg (kerb), there's more than enough go for urban driving where this vehicle will likely spend most of its time.
The Baleno's atmo petrol is a sweet little unit that happily revs out with a nice note, unlike some other engines in the segment that can get quite thrashy under load.
We were quite impressed with the intuitiveness of the Baleno's four-speed auto, which despite lacking more gears always seemed to have the engine at the right revs for linear, smooth acceleration. This was quite a contrast to rivals also equipped with four-speed autos, namely the Kia Rio.
For the odd highway run, the Baleno is amply equipped, too. The engine settles into a relatively quiet hum at a little over 2500rpm in fourth gear, while the standard cruise control does a good job at holding speed on flat roads – it won't really brake down hills, however. That's something worth noting in highly policed Australia.
Speaking of watching your speed, there's still no digital speed readout, either.
In terms of ride and handling, the Baleno strikes a good balance of comfort and engagement, relevant to its segment and intended purpose, of course. The Baleno offers a supple ride that deals with the various lumps and bumps of city driving admirably, while the direct and fairly communicative steering means you won't be bored once you hit a winding road.
Sure, it's not the last word in driver engagement, but like a lot of Suzuki's products you can enjoy your time behind the wheel.
Slowing it down a bit, the Baleno's compact dimensions and predictable driver controls mean low-speed manoeuvres in tight city streets and car parks is a breeze. As mentioned before, there's great outward visibility through the large glasshouse, and the rear-view camera bolsters that further with a pretty clear video feed through the back.
Claimed fuel consumption is rated at 5.4L/100km on the combined cycle, though we saw an indicated 7.4L/100km with mainly high-traffic city driving. That works out to a real-world driving range of up to 500km per fill of the Baleno's tiny 37L fuel tank, which happily runs on regular 91RON unleaded.
From an ownership perspective, the Baleno is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty (from October 1), which now doesn't require the vehicle to be serviced exclusively by Suzuki dealers.
Speaking of servicing, scheduled maintenance is now required every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Previously, Suzuki demanded six-month/10,000km intervals.
Using the capped-price servicing guide, the Baleno will cost $239, $329, $499, $329 and $239 for the first five visits, covering 60 months/75,000km ($1635 total). These prices also include filters and fluids, so you aren't in for any surprise costs at the dealer.
The Suzuki Baleno continues to offer maximum space and decent levels of equipment for budget pricing in GL spec, though next to nothing of significance has changed since I reviewed it over three years ago.
The lack of active safety technologies makes the slightly smaller and pricier Swift a far more convincing proposition for first-car buyers, though it still stacks up well against base versions of the Honda Jazz and Kia Rio that soldier on with no driver-assistance tech and basic drivetrains.
If you can get a good deal on one, it might be worth a look, though given there are better cars in the class for similar money, we wouldn't put it at the top of our shopping list.