What is it?
The Suzuki Baleno is the larger of two superminis available from the Japanese brand, sitting alongside the much better-known Swift.
Lots of interior space, light weight, strong general equipment levels
The Suzuki Baleno is designed to appeal to a different market to its sister the Swift. This is a car for those who value practicality and space over personality. The car has very little of the latter, and while its on-the-road performance is adequate and general equipment levels good, it is let down by cheap interior quality, bland styling and an unimpressive safety package.
The Suzuki Swift is a popular and charismatic supermini and the brand’s best seller. But did you know that Suzuki also makes another supermini?
Possibly not – the Suzuki Baleno is not a car that particularly hogs the limelight. So is it forgotten, or forgettable?
The Baleno launched in 2016, and Suzuki admitted straight away that it was designed to be a ‘more rational choice’ for those who wanted more space than offered by the Swift, but not to the extent of moving up a class to a full-blown family hatch.
Made in India (where it is very popular), the Baleno measures almost exactly four metres in length – almost 16cm longer than the Swift, and a lot longer too than most supermini rivals. In fact, this model won’t be dwarfed by some cars in the next sector up.
Despite this, the Baleno is no heavyweight – it was the first to use a new Suzuki platform that employs lots of modern high-strength steels. As a result, the car’s shell is the first in its sector to dip under 200kg – once thought impossible – and that means good things for both handling and economy.
So, much effort was expended in the structure – and apparently that money was claimed back from the styling department. This is one of the most conservative-looking small (ish) cars you will set eyes on.
Suzuki tells us all about its ‘Liquid Flow’ design language, which results in the most aerodynamic car the brand has yet built, but visually the Baleno is dull, a step back to the bland appearances we used to expect from the budget badges.
Buying and owning a Suzuki Baleno
Those attracted to the Baleno are offered a reasonably simple line-up – two engine options and three trim levels.
The powerplants are a four-cylinder 1.2-litre of 90hp, or the 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit offering 111hp – this uses Suzuki’s latest Boosterjet technology, promising the power and torque of a much larger engine but with better efficiency.
Best efficiency of all, however, comes from the 1.2-litre when specified with Suzuki’s SHVS mild hybrid system. This acts as both a generator and starter motor, its assistance producing class-beating figures – emissions of 93g/km and combined cycle fuel consumption of 70.6mpg.
The three trim levels are dubbed SZ3, SZ-T and SZ5, but if one goes for the base SZ3 level, starting from £12,999, the only propulsion option is the 1.2. Still, the standard equipment level is good, with six airbags, front electric windows, air conditioning, and a DAB Radio/CD player (remember them?) with USB and Bluetooth connectivity.
Our test car is to mid-level SZ-T specification, starting at £14,999 and adding high-intensity headlamps, rear privacy glass, satellite navigation, a reversing camera, front fog lamps and leather steering wheel. It also comes with the seven-inch touchscreen centre console infotainment system – a very efficient and quality unit that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility.
Top-level SZ5 versions start from £15,999. Notable on this level is a significant safety upgrade, encompassing Radar Brake Support (autonomous emergency braking) and adaptive cruise control. You also get automatic climate control, rear electric windows, a four-inch central colour trip display between the dials and LED rear lights.
With the SZ5’s ‘Safety Pack’ the Baleno was rated at . Lower-spec versions scored , not impressive when compared to today’s rivals.
Inside the Suzuki Baleno
Buyers will not choose the Baleno for its h interior. The dash layout is conventional but well laid out, with the controls sensibly placed and easy to use.
In appearance, however, it is a generation behind – dominated by cheap-looking grey plastic with particularly nasty (and over-used) silver detailing. At a time when supermini rivals are adopting interiors from their larger sisters, and even Suzuki doing interiors much better in the likes of the more recent Ignis small SUV, the Baleno lets the brand down.
Where it does recover its poise is in space – this is one very roomy supermini. There is plenty of room to get comfortable whether in front or back, and the boot offers 320 litres of space, which is big for the class – 28 litres more than the best-selling Ford Fiesta and practically-shaped.
Driving the Suzuki Baleno
Yes, the 1.2 engine in hybrid form offers the best economy and emissions, but we would recommend going for the rather newer technology of the 1.0-litre Boosterjet unit – after all, every supermini is going the three-cylinder route these days.
The official figures of 62.8mpg and 105g/km are still reasonably impressive for a petrol engine, and Boosterjet-fitted cars when accelerating feel a lot more enthusiastic than the quoted 11.4-second 0-62mph time would suggest.
Sitting at the lights this engine will remind you of its three pots courtesy of a slightly chuggy note, but once underway it soon evens out to reasonably, if not totally, refined progress.
That word reasonable comes to mind again when discussing ride comfort. The car is quite softly suspended, and does its best to smother lumps and bumps in the road surface, but only partially succeeds.
In the corners reasonable becomes merely adequate. The Baleno won’t write any headlines for its handling, with little directness when changing direction.
The Baleno is a competent supermini, but a thoroughly forgettable one. It scores on its space and generally its equipment, but is marked down on its interior quality and safety score.
Bland styling and a soggy chassis is a disappointment when compared to the Baleno’s sister, the Swift, which is such a good-looking and fine-handling little car. But then again, those who want a fine-handling car will buy a Swift. Those for whom a car only needs to be reliable and easy to live without making any statements could well be swayed by a Baleno.
|Make & model||Suzuki Baleno||Ford Fiesta||Skoda Fabia|
|Engine||1.0-litre petrol||1.0-litre petrol||1.0-litre petrol|
|Power||112 hp||100 hp||110 hp|
|Torque||170 Nm||170 Nm||200 Nm|
|0-62mph||11.4 sec||10.5 sec||9.6 sec|
|Top speed||124 mph||113 mph||124 mph|
|Fuel economy (combined)||62.8 mpg||60.1 mpg||64.2 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||105 g/km||106 g/km||103 g/km|
|Euro NCAP rating||3 stars (2016)*||5 stars (2017)||5 stars (2014)|
* with optional safety pack, rating improves to 4 stars