First Drive: Suzuki Baleno

V8 engines, big spoilers, track-focussed handling. All things you won’t miss on the Baleno.

My expectations for the Suzuki Baleno were low. When a manufacturer announces a ‘world car’ I tend to think about the compromises made to make the car affordable in developing markets, and the resulting distance behind the standards we expect in Western Europe the end result will be. On top of that, for every entertaining car that Suzuki make, it tends to produce something unexciting but worthy – there’s the Ignis and Celerio, or the Vitara and S-Cross, for example.

At least the Baleno is a handsome enough car. It’s not drop dead gorgeous, instead being just a little bit bland, but it’s inoffensive and reasonably distinctive. It’s the first hint that this Baleno might be the Swift’s less exciting cousin, a small family car for the rational mind rather than the emotional one.

Suzuki has done its usual party trick and extracted an awful lot of space from within the confines of the supermini bodywork. Up front it’s almost cavernous, allowing two rather robust men to get along without any unnecessary elbow rubbing, while legroom in the rear will be sufficient for all but the abnormally tall. That said, headroom might be tight for teens and beyond.

There’s plenty of room in the boot, too, with countless nooks and crannies dotted around there and the rest of the cabin for storing bits and pieces, including an under floor box for valuables. It’s as practical as you’ll get for a car of this size, but the payback is in perceived quality – the plastics used around the car might best be described as sturdy, rather than plush or even just soft. There’s no doubting that it’s all bolted together exceptionally well though, which is what really counts.

The relatively low cost of the car doesn’t come across in equipment levels. There’s no traditional entry-level model, at least not on this hybrid-powered model, so the range starts at SZ5 spec. That comes with satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, adaptive cruise control, climate control, a DAB radio and a strip of chrome across the bootlid.

It’s the 1.0-litre Boosterjet engine that will take the bulk of Baleno sales, but the hybrid will tempt many initially. It’s exactly the same price, but CO2 emissions drop below that magic 100g/km figure to 93. Promised economy is also improved, with a combined figure of 70.6mpg provided by Suzuki.

That’s achieved by using Suzuki’s own mild hybrid system; a small lithium-ion battery powers a secondary beefed-up starter motor that assists the 1.2-litre petrol engine when accelerating, and regenerates battery power when coasting and braking. The whole package is compact and light, adding just 6.2kg to the already unusually lightweight Baleno. IT doesn’t give much of a boost in power, adding just 3bhp to the overall figure, but does provide another 50Nm of torque. It doesn’t sound all that impressive in isolation, but it fills in the blanks when accelerating and leaves the car feeling more sprightly than the raw number suggest.

It handles with a reasonable degree of agility too, thanks to that light weight. Sitting on a new platform that underpins the latest Swift, the whole car weighs in at under a tonne, which means the suspension doesn’t have to work so hard to keep things in check. In turn, that means the ride can be softened for comfort, without losing anything in terms of cornering talent.

That said, it’s no Fiesta ST, or even a Swift Sport, but the Baleno is comfortable and reasonably enjoyable to drive. It’s also impressively frugal, plenty practical enough for most, and undercuts the supermini competition on price. In fact the only problem with the Baleno is that the 1.0-litre Boosterjet model is the same money and gives you something slightly quicker, more entertaining and only marginally less economical.

The Baleno SVHS hybrid won’t set the pulse racing, but it’ll keep sensible buyers happy for many years to come. You just might want to look at the other models first, though.

Model Tested: Suzuki Baleno SZ5 1.2 Dualjet SHVS
Price: £14,249
Engine: 1.2-litre petrol hybrid
Top speed: 111 mph
0-62 mph: 12.3 seconds
Power: 90 PS (89 bhp)
Torque: 120 Nm (88 ft lb)
Monthly PCP*: £209
Official fuel economy: 70.6 mpg
Road Test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 93 g/km
Car Tax: £140 (£120 in Year 1)
Insurance group: 11E

* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 36%.

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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1 Comment

  1. I think this would be a perfect car for lady drivers. Small and and efficient!

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