Xander Berkeley. Ring a bell? He should, as a Hollywood actor with over 240 performances to his name, I’m sure you’ve seen his work.
Anything? How about we just call him ‘the stepdad from Terminator 2’, or ‘the doctor in Gattaca’, or more recently ‘Gregory from The Walking Dead’.
Got him now? He may not have the star power of Cruise or Affleck, but just because his name wasn’t on the poster doesn’t mean he wasn’t there. And, as such, I draw my somewhat long and convoluted parallel to the 2021 Suzuki Baleno GLX.
Our $18,990 GLX sits at the top of a two-model range (manual GL is $15,990), and is offered in a single configuration with a four-speed automatic transmission.
Metallic paint, like the Granite Grey here (one of seven choices), is a $595 option and the only way to alter your Baleno. That is, of course, until you peruse the accessory catalogue and discover 40 items to dress up your wheels, which even includes... Wheels!
There are no fancy additions like leather seats or high-tech driving aids, so I guess the question begs, just how much car do you really need?
To that end, it is a case of low-frills not no-frills in the little Suzuki.
|2021 Suzuki Baleno GLX|
|Engine configuration||Four-cylinder petrol (variable valve timing)|
|Power||68kW at 6000rpm|
|Torque||130Nm at 1500–4000rpm|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Power to weight ratio||71.2kW/t|
|Fuel claim (combined)||5.4L/100km|
|Fuel use (combined)||6.5L/100km|
|Main competitors||Suzuki Swift, Volkswagen Polo, Kia Rio, MG 3|
Launched in 2016 and given a mild facelift last year, the Baleno offers echoes of Alfa Romeo Giulietta from the rear (it was designed in Turin after all), and presents as a clean and likeable little hatchback.
It is interestingly sold in some countries as a Toyota Glanza or Starlet, and while they might be what we tend to call ‘emerging markets’, for big-T to slap a badge on the front is a pretty decent nod to the intrinsic quality of the Baleno.
The LED head and running lamps flow into the chrome trim elements, which balance well with the design of the car. The GLX includes 16-inch alloy wheels and chrome rear ‘spoiler’ lip, too.
Inside is a 355L boot that expands to 756L with 60:40 split rear seats. It’s quite deep, and bigger than the Polo (351L), Rio (325L), and the MG 3 (307L), but the load floor isn’t flat when those seats go down and the hard parcel shelf is inconvenient to store. There’s a space-saver tyre under the floor.
Moving forward, there’s good head room and leg room in the back seats and the cloth fabric is comfortable enough. I’m not sure about the blue and grey combo, though.
That said, it’s pretty spartan back there with no armrest and just one map pocket. You do get a little storage cubby and a 12-volt outlet as well as bottle bins in the doors, which have a little image of a bottle on them just in case you wanted to try jamming a phone book in there.
Up front, the Baleno has power windows (only the driver’s one is a one-touch operation), power mirrors, automatic headlights and automatic air-conditioning. There are no auto wipers, though, and the cruise control is the old-school regular kind.
Storage is good, with deep cupholders and a storage cubby, plus a USB port and a 12-volt outlet.
|2021 Suzuki Baleno GLX|
|Wheels/tyres||185/55R16 – Bridgestone|
Telephone and audio buttons on the steering wheel, push-button start and keyless entry are standard on the GLX, which are all handy inclusions. However I will say, that the bank of six switches along the lower dash, populated by a simple ‘traction control off’ button, is quite puzzling. I mean, what could possibly fill the other five blanks? Not safety tech, as, ah, there pretty much is none.
You don’t get autonomous emergency braking, or blind-spot monitoring, or lane-keeping or anything fun like that. Driver and passenger, side and curtain airbags and ABS braking are pretty much the limit, which isn’t great. There’s no ANCAP rating either as the Baleno hasn’t been tested, and if it were, it, ah, wouldn’t be a high score.
If safety tech is key to your purchase decision, then sadly the Baleno isn’t going to cut the mustard, especially considering the Polo ($19,290), Rio ($18,590) and even Swift ($17,690) all score five stars.
Infotainment is handled by a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as offering integrated navigation and Bluetooth audio. There’s a rear-view camera and a six-speaker sound system, too. It’s quite a good little system, and is certainly adequate enough to match the rest of the Baleno’s 'low-frills with some-frills' vibe.
Under the bonnet, the Baleno is packing a 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with 68kW and 130Nm available. Sadly, the zippier 82kW/160Nm 1.0-litre turbo was phased out in 2018, which is a shame as if there is something the Baleno is clearly lacking, it’s zip.
What it lacks in power though, it makes up for in sheer simplicity. Just get in and go is the order of the Baleno.
Response is good off the mark, with peak torque available from 1500–4000rpm, but running the poor engine around to 6000rpm just to find all 68kW feels a bit cruel. It’s better kept low and punchy, for both drivability as well as fuel consumption.
Suzuki claims 6.7L/100km on an urban run and 5.4L/100km on a combined cycle. We sat in the 7.0L/100km range around town, but had settled in the mid-6L/100km range by the end of the week, which is pretty decent. It’s helped by the fact the car only weighs 955kg.
|2021 Suzuki Baleno GLX|
|Colour||Granite Grey (metallic)|
|Options as tested||$595|
|ANCAP safety rating||Not tested|
|Warranty||5 years/unlimited km|
The little Suzuki handles 40- and 50-zone traffic areas well enough, but I’d suggest avoiding freeways as the car seems to climb up to 80km/h and then kind of runs out of puff. Yes, you can build up to 100km/h, and yes, it will sit there quite happily, but I’d say there’s a good 10 seconds of ‘Will it or won't it?’ acceleration time between the two.
Worth noting, too, the transmission lever has no stepped gate or ‘hesitation’ to engage the lower gear settings, and it’s entirely too easy to aim for drive and click it one or two steps further back, especially if you aren’t looking. This can be a bit frustrating when parking, as while your eyes are on mirrors and things around you, it’s easy to move the lever two clicks forward into neutral and not reverse.
There’s a 4.2-inch digital display between the instruments, which shows fuel consumption and other trip data, but has no digital speed readout.
Ride control at urban speeds is good, and the Baleno is pretty comfortable across all surface changes. You’ll feel sharper edges at higher speeds, but again when running to the shops or school or the station, things are just fine. It has a 9.8m turning circle, but the steering itself feels like it needs a lot of input, despite only requiring 3.5 turns lock-to-lock.
So, not a great option for frequent long distances, but definitely cheerful enough to stay in urban confines, providing you are fully aware of where the frills aren't.
Like Xander Berkeley, you’ve probably seen more Balenos than you think. As somewhat of an innocuous, blend-in 'everycar', the little hatch does tend to fly under the radar.
It also may not command top billing, but it is still a talented little runabout, and might make a good second car. But it's ultimately let down by the comparative lack of safety equipment that is now available in the sub-$20K buying segment.
Keep an eye out for deals, though, as the already good value 2021 Suzuki Baleno GLX does occasionally get sharper, which might be enough to lift it to a starring role in your driveway.