The Suzuki Baleno ain’t no baloney.
The Suzuki Baleno sees a reintroduction of the name, which we saw disappear from Oz soil in 2001. This is a value-driven proposition aimed at trendy-but-sensible members of Generation Y, and looks like the sort of car that could last someone all the way from college to their first kid. Despite its attractive pricing, the Baleno packs a lot of kit and practicality that you’d expect from one class above, while also offering a joyful driving experience that the exterior doesn’t really allude to.
Under the bonnet, you’ll find either an atmo 1.4-litre four-pot petrol, or a fizzy three-pot 1.0-litre BoosterJet turbo-petrol, with 68kW/130Nm and 82kW/160Nm outputs respectively. And while neither of those figures seem blistering, the low curb weight of just 975kg means that the Baleno always feels sprightly. Capped-price servicing also adds value to the Baleno’s argument, cementing Suzuki’s new title of ‘small car specialists.’
“The Baleno’s appearance is a clear attempt at European design sophistication – and, at least in places, a misguided one.” - Autocar
Where the Suzuki Vitara and Ignis revel in their Japanese quirkiness, the Baleno has a whiff of European chic about it. We say a whiff, because while cars like the Volkswagen Polo and Skoda Fabia reek of it (because they’re European), the Baleno is merely an attempt at European sophistication. The bones of it are promising: The design language here is smart and mature, with GLX models looking particularly snazzy with alloy wheels and sharp projector headlights.
However, things start to go a little wrong after that. It’s as if someone at Suzuki let a little plasti-chrome fairy loose in the same room as a Baleno one evening, and decided that every conceivable exterior bit should be chrome. As a result, the nice chrome treatments on the grille and at the base of the windows get crowded with chrome doorhandles and a downright garish full-width chrome boot-lid thing.
Put on some (heavily tinted) sunglasses to block out the glare, and the Baleno starts looking appealing again. Maybe a ‘Shadowline’ trim package would be sage here, like the kind BMW offers.
Engine & Drivetrain
“There’s not vast reserves of power, but there’s enough.” - Practical Motoring
Other markets get a Baleno hybrid, which missed our market because we didn’t really need it. Instead, we get a 1.6-litre atmo petrol with 68kW & 130Nm, which works with either a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic (we’re not kidding). Fuel consumption is rated at less than 5.5L/100km, and this base engine is perfectly adequate for urban use.
If a wider range of ability is needed, the GLX Turbo is definitely the model to go for. Packing a not-inconsiderable 82kW & 160Nm, this engine uses even less fuel than the base model despite the performance on offer. Power is sent to the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission, which is smooth and refined through most applications.
“The Baleno has been designed to maximise interior space. Compared with the Swift, there’s a lot more room for rear seat passengers and a much bigger boot. To put it into perspective, it rivals the spacious Skoda Fabia for roominess. To highlight this practicality, you can only buy the Baleno as a five-door hatchback, not as a three-door.” - WhatCar?
Where the Baleno really shines is in the cabin. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more spacious alternative for the prices Suzuki is asking for, and predictably the company is betting that this will be the Baleno’s strongest selling point. Cargo space is at rated at 355-litres with the rear seats up, expanding to a capacious 1085-litres once the seats are folded. Despite being priced against smaller cars like the Toyota Yaris, the Baleno actually packs about as much practicality as the larger (and pricier) Toyota Corolla.
And it’s not just space for things where the Baleno gives the Corolla a run for its money. The passenger space beggars belief, even eclipsing Suzuki’s pricier Swift in terms of people-room. All five seats offer decent amounts of room, with even the central rear seat not too out there for regular use. We wouldn’t recommend the mid-rear seat over long distances, but the experience could be much worse, considering.
Helping things further are the interior aesthetics. While it could never be described as plush or forgiving, it’s certainly well screwed together, and has clearly been built to last. The plastics may be harsh, but they’ll take a lot of abuse. The whole car feels that way, and it’s a welcome feeling to get from such a value-driven vehicle.
Behind the Wheel
“The Baleno grips and rides well too, although the electric steering feels decidedly artificial. No alloy wheels? Meh.” - Motoring
Every once in a while, motoring hacks are reminded of the original Mini. With wheels pushed into the corners, it enjoyed go-kart like handling from its low centre of gravity. And despite giving away nothing to its ability, the Baleno feels like it has a little Mini DNA in it, with nimble and agile handling aided by the deceptively light construction. With the BoosterJet turbo petrol under the bonnet, the Baleno is more than capable of making you giggle with delight, regardless of what the exterior design may suggest.
However, that’s not to say that the 1.4-litre non-turbo engine isn’t worth considering. The Baleno GL’s drivetrain is perfectly adequate for zipping about town, with light controls and a surprising amount of mid-range punch making it pretty nippy. The base engine only really feels out of its depth on the motorway, when it requires far too much effort to keep up with traffic. The four-speed automatic is much the same way: Good in town, but a little off the pace elsewhere.
Safety & Technology
“There’s a decent amount of standard safety equipment, and Suzuki has a good reputation for reliability.” - Carbuyer
The pittance you pay to get a Baleno on your drive shows up a little in this area, but we’ll get to that later. It’s worth noting that this bargain family hatch comes with a surprising amount of standard kit. There’s satellite navigation, reverse camera, and Apple CarPlay on offer here through the 7-inch infotainment screen, all available in even the steeply-priced entry level models. The kit count improves with the Turbo model, though only just: Keyless entry & go, a 4.2-inch colour LCD driver’s display, chrome embellishment and alloy wheels are the only additions to the list of features.
Safety-wise, the Baleno falters slightly. While there are six airbags, supplemented by all the usual electronic safety aids (including hill-hold assist, a boon for manual models), there is a distinct lack of active safety systems like autonomous emergency braking, even as cost-options. Though some may argue that the need for such systems is actually fairly low, we feel that AEB is especially prudent, as it’s rather effective in avoiding low-speed collisions (and lowering insurance premiums).
If you dismissed the Baleno as just another cheap Suzuki, you’re missing out: This is easily one of the most compelling new compact hatchbacks on the market, period. If value’s your game, then the base GL models will likely take your fancy, with great pricing, capped-price servicing, and amazing practicality. We have little difficulty in believing that pragmatism was at play when designing the Baleno, as it seems to have tread the line between ‘spartan’ and ‘plush’ perfectly, so much so that the top-spec model becomes difficult to justify.
Despite its tidy handling and great chassis, the Baleno also offers a comfortable and compliant ride, and acceptable (if not exemplary) levels of safety kit. This is a great car that we’d recommend highly to young drivers and young families alike. It’s a great car, the Baleno. Shame people forget it’s there.
If you’re considering the GL models, there are few competitors that offer the level of standard kit the Baleno does without commanding a not-insignificant price premium, making it an easy choice to live with. However, the top-spec GLX Turbo model may require a little more consideration, as the prices commanded put it in contention with higher-end Mazda 2’s and Ford Fiestas, which are both better to drive and offer more refinement inside and out. What we can say is that the Baleno, in any grade, is worth looking at; High praise for what is a budget family hatch.
Motoring - 76/100 - “The performance is so strong, the interior so accommodating and the boot large enough to potentially fulfil the needs of a small family. Not many people would consider the prospect, but the Baleno is able to tow as much as one tonne of braked trailer (more than the car itself!).”
CarAdvice - 7.0/10 - “Overall, the not-so little Baleno is an impressive entrant in the light-car class. Sure, the powertrain leaves a little to be desired, as do the very ordinary cabin plastics, but for many people who just need a cheap city runabout to carry cargo and multiple passengers in, you’ll be pressed to find a better alternative for the price.”
Practical Motoring - 3.0/5.0 - “The Baleno offers zesty handling, good fuel economy and excellent use of space at a very competitive price. That's reasonable value by a some measures, but you can't have everything and in this case you won't be enjoying refinement or features.”
Wheels Magazine - 6.0/10 - “The Baleno is an especially roomy five-door, five-seater hatchback with a massive boot and high equipment levels, to lure small car buyers into a more compact and economical alternative. So while it’s nearly as practical as a [Toyota] Corolla, the prices are more closely aligned to that of a Mazda 2.”
WhatCar? - 3.0/5.0 - “The Suzuki Baleno is not the cheapest or the most premium feeling supermini [in the UK], but it is frugal, well equipped, and very spacious.”
Autocar - 3.0/5.0 - “A fine engine, a practical cabin and boot, a high equipment level and a low price may be all the Baleno needs… This spacious, nippy, and well-priced Suzuki lacks the usual dynamic flair.”
Carbuyer - 3.8/5.0 - “The Suzuki Baleno is a practical supermini thanks to its roomy interior. In fact, it gets a lot right, but can’t match all its rivals for material quality.”
AutoExpress - 4.0/5.0 - “It might be a little bland, but the saving the Baleno offers are tasty. While the Suzuki is cheap and cheerful, it still offers a great level of kit and practicality for the price alone. Once again, I’m impressed.”