£12,999 - £17,349 Price range
55 - 65 MPG
The Suzuki Baleno is designed to appeal to families looking for a more practical alternative to the company’s Swift hatchback. To fit the brief, it’s slightly longer and wider than its smaller sibling, yet shares the same rivals – including the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa and Hyundai i20.
Swelled exterior dimensions mean the Baleno is surprisingly practical for its size, with room for adults on the back seat and a class-leading boot capacity. Five doors come as standard so there’s no need for rear seat passengers to squeeze behind those in the front.
Baleno buyers, Suzuki reckons, will value comfort over cornering thrills and as a result the car’s not as keen to corner as the Swift. Weighing 200kg less than a Fiesta, it nevertheless feels nippy particularly if you choose the turbocharged 1.0-litre petrol engine. It’s cheap to run, but Suzuki also fits the car with a super-frugal 1.2-litre petrol that sips fuel even more carefully.
As with the Swift, the Baleno has a high-set driving position that gives you a good all-round view, but can feel a little bit upright if you like to feel part of the car. A rear-facing camera means the Baleno is very easy to park.
The dashboard design is also common to Suzuki’s other models. In terms of design there’s little to excite you with none of the Ford Fiesta’s flare or VW Polo’s pleasing simplicity. It also lacks the VW’s generous use of soft touch plastics, but we’ll wager that the Baleno’s inners are hard wearing and durable. While it does little to inspire, the dashboard is clearly laid out and operating it quickly becomes second nature.
To help the Baleno appeal to those looking for a practical family car, it comes as standard with sat-nav operated via a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system that can understand the kind of pinch and swipe gestures used to navigate your smartphone.
Suzuki Baleno passenger space
With plenty of adjustment for the seat and steering wheel, it’s easy to get a comfortable driving position, and the front-seat passenger is also well catered for. It’s in the back where the real surprise can be found, though, where there’s plenty of room for taller adults and more space than you will find in a Skoda Fabia, which isn’t exactly cramped in the back.
Suzuki Baleno boot space
The impressive rear-seat space has done little to dent boot space. The Baleno boasts a 355-litre capacity – more than the Corsa (285 litres), Fiesta (290 litres) and i20 (326 litres) and even nosing it a litre ahead of the Honda Jazz mini MPV. The boot opening is large and Suzuki has fitted a false floor that makes the load bay almost completely flat, so it is easier to load long heavy items when the 60/40 split-folding seats are folded away.
With Suzuki aiming the Swift at heart-on-their-sleeves types who want spirited handling, it’s the Baleno’s job to sweep up family car buyers who see comfort as a bigger priority. Said buyers will be happy to read, then, that the Baleno is a match for the kind of broken road surfaces that have become the preserve of the British motorist.
Combine these bumps with corners, though, and the Baleno is a less accomplished handler than, say, the Ford Fiesta and theres none of the chuckable feel that makes the Swift such an eager B-road companion. Much of this is down to the steering, which is accurate and light in town, but low on the feel needed to safely push the car to its limits.
That’s not to say the Baleno isn’t fun. Go for the throughly modern 1.0-litre petrol and it feels rather spritely in fact – the Suzuki making the most of the more-than-200kg weight advantage it holds over the Fiesta. A five-speed manual gearbox comes fitted as standard, but its long throw is enough for some testers to recommend going for the auto with the same number of gears.
With the Baleno aimed at families looking for affordable transport for four, you could imagine the 1.2-litre petrol would prove the most popular model being, as it is, cheap on fuel.
However, the 1.0-litre model is a better bet if you plan to do a lot of motorway driving or will regularly fully load the car. With help from a turbocharger, it produces 110hp and 125Ib ft of torque. Getting from 0-62mph takes about 12 seconds and the Suzuki will skip to a top speed of 124mph.
The nippy nature is helped no end by the Boosterjet’s raspy engine note that encourages you to sample its 5,500rpm peak power. There’s enough go in reserve for the motorway and, although the Baleno was never built with mile munching in mind, only wind noise will really disturb passengers at a fast cruise. It is also cheap to run – fuel economy sits at 62.8mpg and CO2 emissions of 103g/km.
Suzuki will offer the Baleno with two trim levels. Basic models come with sat-nav, a reversing camera, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth, electric front windows and air-con as standard. Top end versions cost about £2,000 more, but the added equipment you get justifies the additional outlay – your extra investment adding useful items such as rear electric windows and climate control, as well as adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking that should prevent the car from being involved in an low-speed accident.
Suzuki has a habit of launching models that are sized to split established classes – something the Baleno does rather well. It’s bigger than the Ford Fiesta it’s priced to compete with, but smaller than a Focus. As a result buyers get more interior space for their money and a decent level of standard equipment, too.
While the frugal 1.2-litre petrol makes sense if you want to save the pennies, it’s a little mediocre compared to rival offerings. The 1.0-litre petrol adds a welcome doze of pizzaz to the lineup and makes the Baleno a more complete package to boot.