Suzuki increases its supermini options

When Volkswagen reached the crunch point when they had decide on a replacement for the ubiquitous Beetle, the management team at Wolfsburg knew they had to get its successor right. So, they set two teams on the project, each with the objective to come up with a new small family car.

The result was the Volkswagen Polo and the Volkswagen Golf (subsequent versions of the Golf have, of course, grown to create some size separation between the two models).

Suzuki Baleno

That’s just one example of a motor manufacturer offering two cars aimed at the same market sector. Now we have another example with the launch in June this year of the Suzuki Baleno.

The Japanese marque is well known for focussing its efforts on small cars and SUVs. It already has an almost bewildering choice of models including its existing supermini contender, the Swift. So there were some raised eyebrows when a second supermini, the Suzuki Baleno was unveiled.

The aim, as with Volkswagen’s first Polo and Golf, is to grab a larger slice of the supermini market. Suzuki sees their two superminis appealing to subtly different markets. The Swift is seen as the contender with a bit more of a sporty image. The new Baleno, produced in India, is aimed at buyers whose main motoring priority is practicality.

That practicality message starts with the Baleno’s accommodation. There’s good space in the front. The seats are set quite high, but the driving position can be fine tuned with a steering wheel is adjustable for rake, but not for reach.

At 3.99 metres from bumper to bumper, the Baleno is just under 15cm longer than the Swift. That translates into greater passenger and boot space. Suzuki claim that the the Baleno offers the “best tandem distance” in the class – that is the distance between the front and rear seats. The aim is to make the Baleno a genuine four seater, not just a 2+2.

As someone who likes a long-legged driving position with the driver’s seat set at, or near, its rearmost position, I usually block the seat behind me for occupancy by anyone other than small people or children. But, in the Baleno, I found I could hop out, leaving the driver’s seat in the rearmost position, and jump quite easily into the back seat. Although, my knees were in contact with the back of the driver’s seat, I didn’t feel squashed.

This rear seat space doesn’t come at the cost of luggage space either. With the back seats upright, the Baleno will take 355 litres of luggage – 65 litres more than a Ford Fiesta. The only possible negative is the fairly high boot sill to lift things over.

If it has comfortable space for a car in this class, the comfort message continues when you set off on your journey.

With a major road construction project underway on our regular route into town, the surface of our local side roads has been battered into something that resembles the craters of the moon. On my first drive in the Baleno, I braced myself for my fillings to be jiggled and my ears assaulted by crashing and banging suspension. I wish I could have seen my face. It didn’t happen. The Baleno soaked up the bumps in quite remarkable manner, particularly for a short wheelbase car.

Suzuki Baleno

Undoubtedly one of the reasons for this is relatively soft suspension. That, in turn, inevitably means there is some body roll on corners, but it is well controlled.

Talk of body roll, combined with steering that feels rather light and lacking in feel and you might think that the Baleno would not be much fun either around town or on twisty B-roads. In reality, though, it feels remarkably agile. I found it took a few tight corners, however, to get used to having less self-centering than most cars.

One of the reasons the Baleno is quite good company around town or cross-country routes is the remarkable 998cc three-cylinder Boosterjet engine, with its 111PS power output. For someone who learned to drive in small-engined cars, it is nothing short of remarkable the performance that can now be delivered from small power unit, thanks to turbo technology. Suzuki even claim that the Boosterjet 1.0 delivers the “level of power and torque “ of a normally-aspirated 1.8-litre engine.

So much for the claim, what about the reality. We have an acid test for under-powered cars. It is an uphill section of dual-carriageway immediately after a roundabout. Powering back to 70 mph on this incline usually shows up any lack of urge, but the Baleno pulled strongly and willingly without any signs of flagging. It actually feels quicker than the 11.4-second 0-62 mph acceleration figure might suggest.

The move to smaller power units is, of course, all about increasing economy and reducing emissions. The Suzuki Baleno 1.0 Boosterjet just fails to squeeze under the magic 100 with a 105g/km figure for carbon dioxide emissions. The combined fuel consumption is 62.7 mpg and I achieved just over 45 mpg on a mixture of town and country driving, even with a fairly “heavy” right foot. With even mild restraint, most owners could expect to get over 50 mpg on a rural journey.

Suzuki Baleno

If there is one environment that the Baleno is slightly less at home it is on motorways and dual carriageways. Here the normally quiet Baleno becomes a slightly less hushed. In part, this increase in noise levels must be due to the Baleno’s lack of a sixth gear.

But, if the equipment of the Baleno is lacking an extra gear, it is certainly not lacking in other areas. The Baleno comes as standard with six airbags, alloy wheels, HID headlights, air conditioning, rear privacy glass, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB radio and even satellite navigation.

Befitting its focus on practicality, the Suzuki Baleno doesn’t display any extrovert stylist’s flourishes. Neat and practical, the design is workmanlike, but I would still award at least one aesthetic rosette for the attractive instrument graphics.

Suzuki Baleno 1.0 Boosterjet SZ-T
Carbon dioxide emissions: 105 g/km
VED band 8
Combined fuel economy 62.7 mpg
Top speed: 124 mph
0-62: 11.4 secs
Power 111 PS
Engine size 998cc petrol
Boot capacity 355/756 litres (back seats up/folded)
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