There was a time when hatchbacks were generally considered the choice of those on a budget. However, all that has changed over the last few years. It all started with the Honda Jazz, which was one of the first hatchbacks in India to bear the tag of being premium. Not surprisingly, it did not find many takers. But the market has evolved and as a result cars like the Hyundai i20 and Volkswagen Polo, inspite being priced at par with many sedans, are doing good. So Maruti-Suzuki has decided to join in with its very own premium hatchback, the Baleno.
Unlike the last Baleno, this one is a hatchback, not a sedan. This is the first thing we start with, thanks to the calls we’ve been getting over the last few weeks with people enquiring if it would be a new Baleno sedan or not. However as far as dimensions go, the new hatch is quite big. Measuring 3,995mm, the Baleno is as big as most other compact sedans available in the country. It also has a substantially large wheelbase. When it comes to design, the Baleno is best referred to as conservative. The headlamps remind one of the erstwhile Swift and then you have a small grille. The chrome lining the grille is an Indian touch and gels well with the overall theme. Maruti-Suzuki has also played a funny game when it comes to equipment.
Also read: Maruti Suzuki Baleno is the next big hatchback
Step inside the Baleno and it impresses with its overall design theme. The dash is a large unit and features a flowing design. The audio-nav unit fits in flush and the two air con vents are finished in silver. The unit offers features like sat nav, audio, Bluetooth connectivity and also doubles up as a display for the rear view cam. However, I must add here that the overall sound quality isn’t great. The climate control system is well integrated in the overall design and we particularly liked the idea of having the display integrated within the central dial. The quality of switchgear is also top class and has fitting of a premium sedan. The instrument panel is also a comprehensive unit and displays everything one might want to know and even more. The Baleno also impresses with the amount of in-cabin storage space. Most of these are usable units which are easily accessible.
However, the biggest advantage of having a Baleno is the fact that it offers a humungous amount of cabin space. Be it up front or at the back, the large wheelbase helps open up a generous amount of space. Knee room, especially at the back, is great and even three can sit in comfort on the back seat of the Baleno. On the downside, inspite of being a new vehicle, the Baleno does not offer an aircon vent at the back.
Maruti Suzuki is offering the Baleno with the choice of two engines and two gearboxes. The 1.2-litre petrol variant can be either bought with a 5-speed manual or a CVT. The other option you have is one powered with the tried and tested 1.3-litre Fiat derived diesel engine which is mated to the 5-speed manual gearbox. For those who are unaware, this is the same engine which is employed in various other Maruti-Suzukis including the Swift.
Start her up and there is a familiar diesel clatter which intrudes briefly into the cabin. The clutch feels light but unlike other Suzuki gearboxes, the Baleno’s unit is not as slick. It has kind of a rubbery feel to it. The Baleno takes off with vigour but is not exactly quick. The turbo takes time to spool and boost is built at around the 1,800rpm mark. From there on Baleno is ready to bolt but in a rather linear fashion. On the move too, keep it in the sweet spot and the need for downshifts are omitted.
One of the main reasons for the Baleno to feel sprightly inspite of sharing engines with the Swift is the fact that it is kept light despite having better torsional rigidity. While the Swift in diesel guise weighs in at just over 1,000 kg, the Baleno weighs 985 kg. When it comes to fuel economy, Maruti-Suzuki is claiming a fantastic figure of 27.39kmpl. It’s not surprising since the company is always related to efficient cars.
The Baleno features suspension which is tuned to offer more comfort than handling. The unit is set up soft and in that capacity, it absorbs bumps and ruts with ease at low speeds. The passengers are left in comfort and very little is transfered into the cabin. However, as speeds rise the Baleno starts getting a bit shaken on rough patches. In the lower variants, things get a little more dicey thanks to the smaller 15-inch wheels.
Last but not the least, Maruti-Suzuki is offering the Baleno with dual airbags as standard, while other features like ABS and EBS are also standard which is a brilliant move. Cheers to them for paying extra attention to safety.