With an impressive line-up of Swifts to take on the Fiesta, and the Celerio on Up-baiting city car duties, we’d understand if Suzuki’s small car range left you baffled.
So where does the new Baleno fit? Above both, actually, but only just. It’s fractionally longer nose-to-tail and wider than the Swift; but more squat in its stance, better-equipped, and while prices have yet to be announced, it’s likely to be quite a lot more expensive.
Sounds like an ice cream, but isn’t the Suzuki Baleno name familiar?
Vaguely. It was a badge seldom seen on our roads, but look closely at the classifieds and you’ll spot the odd one for sale. It was a medium-sized hatchback/saloon/estate effort, probably most notable in GSR hot hatch form.
There’s nothing remotely hot about this car, though. That’s the Swift Sport’s job. Instead what’s on offer here is a higher-tech solution aiming to be more premium and more practical.
So what’s it like to drive?
Its handling is never going to set your heart staccato. It doesn’t elicit the sort of cheeky smile a Fiesta does on a B-road, its damping suited more to bump-absorption than lift-off oversteer.
In fact, barrel into a corner with too much speed and you’ll feel the car’s heft shift markedly. You’re sat high in the cabin which means good visibility, but you’re feeling perched on rather than planted in the seats – so the tilt is amplified. Don’t expect much engagement through the steering wheel either, because the electronic assistance on offer sullies any sort of genuine feedback about what’s happening under the front wheels. It doesn’t feel anywhere near the taut, chuckable thing the Swift does.
It’s no sports car, then. What about the Boosterjet engine?
It’s a direct-injected petrol turbo lump which means it’s capable of the sort of thrifty running costs associated with this type of car (close to 100g/km CO2 output, claimed fuel economy over 60mpg), but you’re in for a shock when you put your foot down.
It’ll rev smoothly from very low down the engine’s operating range, but it’s when you pass 2000rpm – and thus hit peak torque – that things really get going. The compressor comes online incredibly quickly, forcing huge gulps of air into the tiny combustion chambers and dramatically improving its character, both aurally and out on the road. It feels far quicker than its numbers suggest, because even fully specced-up this car’s kerb weight doesn’t reach a tonne.
There’s still a good dollop of performance above that magic threshold, with peak power arriving at 5500rpm. You’ll only need to drop a cog for the most desperate of overtakes, even with the five-speed manual ’box doing its best to frustrate with a longer-than-necessary throw and cheap shift knob. We also tried the five-speed auto and found we actually preferred it. Make of that what you will.
Sounds great, then?
Sort of. Below those revs the engine is very quiet, accompanying the lack of wind or road noise. That’s a product of the Baleno’s surprisingly good NVH levels, meaning the cabin’s a relatively serene environment for a car of this size.
Since it’s positioned as a more grown-up proposition than the Swift, it’s also going to come to the UK very generously equipped. The 7in touchscreen will get covered with fingerprints in seconds but looks the part, responds well to finger inputs (including smartphone-aping pinch-and-swipe operation) and is standard across the line-up – complete with Bluetooth, sat-nav and a reversing camera.
As will a set of 16-inch alloys, which we tested and considered a decent match for the suspension, though some fatter tyres might serve UK buyers better if potholes or speedbumps are a major issue. The ride can be jolty, and will be more so if you fill the car with four adult passengers (possible in remarkable comfort thanks to excellent rear headroom) or make full use of the 355-litre boot. That’s a whole 1,000 millilitres more than a Honda Jazz, incidentally, but it’s worth mentioning Honda’s clever stowing Magic Seats here: they make for a more versatile solution than the Baleno’s – which don’t even fold down flat. And what’s a litre between friends?
It’s the small Suzuki for grown-ups. There’s a lot of promise here, especially from the wonderful engine, and pragmatically the space and kit look as good on paper as the running costs. It’s the list price that’s likely to ruffle feathers, but don’t forget how many toys you’re getting for the cash. It undercuts the Honda, and that’s where it’s going to win big.