Suzuki Baleno GLX manual Practicality with a dash of panache Article: Richard Wiley

Suzuki Baleno GLX manual Practicality with a dash of panache Article: Richard Wiley

It won’t have escaped the notice of those who profess to be car buffs that South Africa is increasingly becoming a home to lower level car models that don’t always figure on the radar of importers in Europe.

I mention all this because I’ve just got back from a session with Suzuki South Africa and their new B-segment contender, the Baleno hatchback. Yes, it is made in India where the Suzuki brand rules the sales charts, but in this case, the model is not one of those that only surfaces in emerging markets as it’s most definitely available in Great Britain at least where it was launched in the late European summer.

Some may question the need for another Suzi that could perhaps cannibalise sales of the Swift but this view disregards the Baleno’s role in life. Whereas the long-running Swift is more for fun-loving motorists who don’t need lounging space or a commodious luggage area, the Baleno represents the practical side of things with good equipment levels, decent space and a (surprisingly) usable boot.

It certainly looks a lot more substantial than the diminutive Swift but thanks to a new platform that shaves weight (-10%) and adds stiffness, it still feels light on its feet.

As ever, my eye was drawn to the paintwork – red in the case of our test unit – and panel gaps, the latter being uniform and acceptably tight. It’s also pleasing to report the Indian plant has done a good job in achieving a deep gloss. If the external finish passes muster, does the interior match up? For the most part, and bearing in mind the segment the Baleno occupies, the answer is “yes.”

Suzuki claims class-leading interior dimensions and I’m not about to argue with the tape measure. Up front, decently-supportive cloth-covered seats with a good range of adjustment, including height for the driver, leave little room for complaint but it’s in the rear where the biggest improvement is recorded compared with the familiar Swift.

Knee and foot room could be described as generous while head clearance is passable for average-sized adults, two of whom can be comfortably accommodated without compromise while three kids have basking room.

Open the hatch and you’re in for a surprise as a deep cavern measuring 355l awaits your luggage or golf clubs or multitudinous shopping bags. So far, three of Suzuki’s claimed Baleno advantages have held up, these being styling and packaging. The third is fuel efficiency.

Motive power comes courtesy of Suzi’s familiar K14B normally aspirated 1.4. Thanks to the aforementioned weight paring, the motor copes pretty decently at sea level at least but does need revs on its side to respond with alacrity.

Two models are available, the GL with 5-speed manual only and the GLX with the same box – as tested – or with a 4-speed auto which was not available on launch. Given the newness of the test car, the quality of the manual shift was beautiful, the lever slicing through the gate with ease and precision. The clutch too was nicely weighted.

As mentioned, the drive was made at sea level with quite a few undulating roads of variable quality to be negotiated. On the cruise, the 68kW/130Nm motor that can reputedly propel the Baleno to 100 km/h in 10.9s, is muscular enough to provide an effortless 120-130 km/h cruise with good mechanical refinement but getting baulked on uphill sections demanded a number of downshifts. When pushed hard, the motor did make its presence felt but never to an unpleasant extent while wind and road-generated noises remained well suppressed such that refinement could be rated as very good for the class.

Good rigidity was also obvious given the absence of squeaks and rattles and the MacPherson strut/torsion beam suspension provided very decent ride comfort on 16-inch alloys, albeit that mid-corner bumps taken at speed deflected the rear end a tad.

The brakes did everything asked of them and the steering –  around town especially – was completely effortless but felt too light at speed. Overall, the driving experience was pleasant and even after some fairly hard use on the open road, the Suzi returned an encouraging 6.5l/100km so economy claims for the Baleno are largely borne out.

Practicality, space and good equipment levels are obvious Baleno benefits and to this it can be safely assumed you can add Suzuki reliability. Aimed at young families, singles and couples, Suzuki’s new model may cannibalise sales from within the broader brand range, but the model’s good enough to attract new customers to Suzuki dealerships.

As at November 2016, the manual GL is priced at R199 900, the GLX at R229 900 and the GLX auto at R244 900. A 4yr/60 000km service plan is provided along with a 3yr/100 000km warranty.

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