While Suzuki is pinning most of its hopes for a further 2017 sales boost on the new Ignis compact SUV, it is also covering its bases at the budget end of the new-car market with the far more conventional Baleno.
On sale for several months now, the Baleno is a pleasantly styled small hatchback, albeit one whose place within the Suzuki range - even without the Ignis - is not immediately obvious.
Dimensionally, it's a little larger than the Swift, but price-wise it's on a par. Power comes from the same K14B 1.4-litre engine that is the mainstay motor for the Swift line-up, and the pairing of the 68kW/130Nm engine to a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission is familiar too.
Dig deeper and you'll discover that the Baleno actually sits on a different underlying platform from the Swift, and that it is manufactured at the Maruti-Suzuki factory, not far from New Delhi in India.
Knowing this, I was unsurprised when taking stock of the $23,900 GLX Auto variant supplied for appraisal, to find a vehicle that gives priority to carrying capacity: arguably, its two most striking features are a very roomy cabin and likewise boot for a car of such compact dimensions.
Accessed through quite small rear doors, the back seat scores especially well for leg and head room. The deep boot can swallow a commendable 355 litres of luggage when the rear seats are raised (the Swift, by comparison, manages 210 litres), and this increases to 756 litres when the seats are down.
The front of the cabin has a tidy but unremarkable look. The dashboard is dominated by a large centre display colour touchscreen that is familiar from elsewhere in the Suzuki range. It's nicely set up, with different-coloured edgings for audio, phone, satellite navigation and smartphone connectivity (for Apple CarPlay).
The steering wheel includes summary audio/phone controls, and cruise control buttons. Air conditioning, a trip computer, auto-lights and reversing camera are other standard items that establish the Baleno GLX as well-equipped for its price. Alloy wheels only come at Limited specification which, for a $1000 premium, adds front foglamps.
While the Baleno covers the expected safety bases by providing front, side and curtain airbags and electronic stability programming, it has yet to be given an Ancap crash-test rating.
Taking the test car out for a decent run, I was immediately struck by its steering, which is very light, and features quite a rapid transition either side of straight ahead. Though not ideal from an enthusiast's point of view, this steering combines with a tight turning circle to make the Baleno an easy car to manoeuvre around town.
Out on the open road, it cruises readily at highway speeds, though it needs to be worked fairly hard on steeper hills to maintain momentum. Fortunately, the engine is a willing performer, with plenty of pep at around 4000rpm. While the vehicle's four-speed automatic gearbox is definitely old school, it still operates well.
With the suspension tuned quite softly to deliver an absorbent ride at slow to moderate speeds, the Baleno makes no pretence of being a sporty car. It is decently mannered if driven in a restrained fashion beyond city limits, but discourages press-on driving by producing a fair amount of body roll and early-onset understeer when pushed.
On that basis, the dynamically assured Swift is my preferred small Suzuki choice over the Baleno by quite a margin. However, those who rate a roomy back seat and decent boot as high priorities in a small car might just reach a different conclusion.
Bookmark/Search this post with: