The compact hatch perfect for those on a tight budget
Sometimes bland favours the brave.
Not everyone has deep pockets for a flashy prestige sports car or a hulking SUV.
Basic, reliable transport is often the measure of success for many, which is among the reasons for the recent arrival of Suzuki’s updated compact Baleno hatch.
This small runabout aims to deliver bang for buck. Starting at $16,990 drive-away for the base models with a manual gearbox, the best value is the top-shelf GLX which you receive $10 change from 20 grand.
Gone from the range-topper is a three-cylinder turbo, replaced by a cheaper to maintain four-cylinder naturally aspirated engine.
There aren’t too many bells and whistles, although buyers looking for smell-of-an-oily-rag transport would appreciate its attributes.
Across the dash and doors is a liberal use of plastics — at sub $20k you’d hardly expect crystal and ivory.
Highlighting its positioning is the row of six buttons below the stop-start button: only one is used. Operationally it’s as simple as a rugby league convention. There is a toggle for fan and temperature, while the stereo controls are all within an intuitive touchscreen.
Smartphone mirroring apps Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard features and they are started by plugging into the sole USB port in the dash. Those apps essentially replicate what you have on your phone for ease of music, podcast and messaging access and the “hey Siri” or Google voice commands work seamlessly.
Suzuki has come to the five-year unlimited kilometre warranty party, matching most mainstream manufacturers after sitting on three years. Capped price servicing is available for those returning to the dealer, with intervals long compared to other Suzuki models every 15,000km/12 months. Average service costs over five years are $327.
These new GLX models come with LED headlights, new alloy wheels and redesigned grille and bumpers. Colour options include red, blue, white, silver and grey — metallic hues cost an extra $595.
There’s no official rating from Australia’s safety rating agency, but in Europe the Baleno gained four stars in 2016. That result was aided by the fitment of autonomous emergency braking, which isn’t available on the hatch in Australia.
The Baleno is bereft of the latest safety gadgets, such as radar cruise control, blind spot warning or lane keeping assist. Instead there’s six airbags and basics such as stability/traction control, anti-lock brakes and reversing camera. The rear parking sensors are an additional $380, plus labour cost for dealer fitment.
Interior space is impressive given the dimensions. The Baleno doesn’t feel claustrophobic with a high roof line and it managed to handle our family of four.
Seats, covered in hard-wearing trim, offer reasonable support.
The driver has a tachometer and speedometer flanking a 4.2-inch digital display.
While there is no digital speedo, there is a digital speed display when using cruise control along with options for engine outputs, fuel consumption and driving range. There is even a g-force meter … we dare say the only time the Baleno would generate any major scale measurement would be in neutral and pushed off a cliff.
There are two cup holders in front of the shifter and a nook for phones and other gear, but it can be awkward to access with two takeaway cups in use.
Swallowing the weekly grocery shop can be achieved by the surprisingly large boot, and the rear pew folds 60-40 by pulling seat-top toggles. We managed to fit two bikes with one seat remaining upright.
Hard-working, the four-cylinder does a reasonable job. Highway travels proved unchallenging despite some constant engine buzz, and errands around town were handled easily courtesy of easy parking and reasonable shifts from the four-speed automatic gearbox.
The steering is light and unencumbered courtesy of a kerb weight of less than one tonne, which can result in the Baleno feeling skittish in strong winds above 100kmh.
Call for rapid acceleration or attack a hill and the four-potter gets angry. Push the rev range above 4000rpm and the driver quickly hears the limit is approaching.
Fuel efficiency is a trump card of the Baleno and a road trip helped achieve average consumption of 5.3-litres for every 100km — that’s nearing hybrid figures.
Chasing the land speed record is not on the agenda, I’m looking for Japanese reliability and low running costs along with hatchback flexibility.
Shades of grey was exciting, this is more beige on a budget.
Kia Rio S $18,490 drive-away
Refined little offering with a 74kW/133Nm 1.4-litre 4-cyl under the bonnet, backed by a seven-year warranty. Not quite as spacious as the Suzuki, but it has sex appeal.
VW Polo 70TSI Trendline $21,990 drive-away
More expensive but the driving benchmark in the genre. Powered by a 70kW/175Nm 1.0-litre 3-cyl turbo engine, it too features strong space and flexibility attributes.
Little fanfare is required. Roomy and a handy commuter, the Baleno is a quiet achiever for those chasing cheap motoring.