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Suzuki Baleno 2018 review

EXPERT RATING
6.8
It’s entirely possible there has never been a better time to shop for an entry-level new car, what with our budget bangers now cheaper and more cheerful than ever before.

It’s entirely possible there has never been a better time to shop for an entry-level new car, what with our budget bangers now cheaper and more cheerful than ever before.

The new VW Polo, for example, feels like an awful lot of car to be wearing a sub-$20k price tag, while cars like the Skoda Fabia, Kia Rio and Mazda2 offer plenty of bang for limited bucks, too.

Yep, entry-level buyers are absolutely spoiled for choice at the moment. And into that congested fray storms the Suzuki Baleno, one of Australia's cheapest new cars, and one you can drive away in for just $15,490. 

So how does the Suzuki Baleno stack up in the light-car jungle?

Suzuki Baleno 2018: GL
Safety rating
Engine Type1.4L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency5.1L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$13,888

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

If the Swift is the fun-filled youngster of the Swift family, consider the Baleno a slightly older, slightly wiser and slightly more mature brother. At least, as far as its looks go.

Front on, the pair of fog lights and DRLs add a sense of premium to the view, while the blacked out windscreen surrounds give the roof a kind of floating effect, making the Baleno look a little low-slung and sporty.

  • Front on, the pair of fog lights and DRLs add a sense of premium to the view. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton) Front on, the pair of fog lights and DRLs add a sense of premium to the view. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton)
  • You do get a reversing camera to help with parking. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton) You do get a reversing camera to help with parking. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton)

There is no escaping the fact the Baleno has been built to a price point, though - the door trims, for example, aren't just hard plastic, but a particularly thin and gnarly feeling material that almost folds in on itself when you push it.

The big question, then, is how much you care about that stuff, because there are some other really cool things going on in the cabin. The tech offering is sensational, with its big and clear touchscreen that's super simple to use and really rather posh looking.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

The Baleno might stretch a mere 3995mm in length and 1745mm in width, but clever interior packaging means it never feels overly tight in either row of seats.

Up front, the storage cubbies are all small and uncovered, but there is a power source and USB connection in the centre console. There's no central storage bin, but rather a small square that doubles as a single cupholder for backseat riders.

There’s enough clear air between my knees and the driver’s seat to not feel cramped. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton) There’s enough clear air between my knees and the driver’s seat to not feel cramped. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton)

In the back, there’s enough clear air between my knees and the driver’s seat to not feel cramped (I’m 175cm tall), and there’s space between my head and the roof lining, too. But it would be a cruel driver who attempts to squeeze three adults across the back. And there’s little in the way of comforts back there, with no power sources, USB connections or any real niceties.

Boot space is a claimed (and big for the category) 355 litres with the rear seats in place, and 756 litres with the rear seats folded flat.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

The Baleno GL tested here will set you back $16,990 drive-away (for now, at least: the drive-away deal is a special offer) with a four-speed automatic gearbox. The manual is even cheaper, at $15,490 on the road.

That’s peanuts really, given all the stuff you’re getting for your money. There's cruise control, electric windows, central locking and manual air-conditioning, for example. The seats are cloth, of course, but you get a 'leather'-lined steering wheel. Oh, and your 15-inch steel wheels are covered by hubcaps .But you do get dusk-sensing headlights, and fog lights.

An Apple CarPlay-equipped touchscreen pairs with a four-speaker stereo. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton) An Apple CarPlay-equipped touchscreen pairs with a four-speaker stereo. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton)

The technology is bang on for the money, too; an Apple CarPlay-equipped touchscreen (with standard sat nav) pairs with a four-speaker stereo, meaning you can stream music or podcasts, read and send messages and make phone calls from behind the wheel.

There's a GLX Turbo model that pushes the budget out to $22,990 drive-away. It's auto only, has leather and alloys, and gets a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine, unlike this model. More on that below.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   6/10

The GL is powered by a four-cylinder, 1.4-litre petrol engine (the more expensive version nabs the clever, turbocharged 1.0-litre motor). It'll develop 68kW at 6000rpm and 130Nm at 4000rpm.

Which, let's face it, isn't a whole lot of power. But remember, it tips the scales at just 915kg, so there isn't much weight to pull around. That power is channeled through a four-speed automatic, sending power exclusively to the front wheels.

That GLX Turbo I mentioned before? The 1.0-litre turbo triple in it produces 82kW and 160Nm, and has a six-speed auto.

How much fuel does it consume?   8/10

Good news on that front: the Baleno will use a claimed 5.4 litres per hundred kilometres on the combined cycle (5.1 litres should you opt for the manual transmission) which is good. And better, the 37-litre tank happily accepts cheaper 91RON fuel.

Emissions are pegged at 126 g/km of C02, or 118g/km if you choose the manual ‘box.

The GLX Turbo uses 5.2L/100km.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

A zippy little city car can be lots of fun when done right, and the cheapest Baleno definitely qualifies on that score.

The trick to these cars is to keep things simple, but responsive. Nobody wants to be darting around city traffic in something that feels as lively as a wet tea towel, and while you could never accuse the little Baleno of being sporty, it does feel perky at slow speeds - which is actually more important in the city.

So that tiny engine delivers its power when you need it, pulling cleanly away from traffic lights all the way to about 30km/h. The power then Christopher-Skase-vanishes as you approach the speed limit, but by then you've mostly settled back into the flow of traffic.

It behaves exactly as you might expect a car at this price point to behave.

The ride is pretty good, too, erring on the soft side, so it's not sending every bump in the road rattling into the cabin too often, but feeling connected enough to the road below to ensure you know what's happening with the tyres. The cabin insulation could be better, though, as you do get plenty of noise from the outside world.

Downsides? Well, the four-speed gearbox is a bit of a letdown. It's plenty loud, making a harsh-sounding drone when you are too aggressive with the accelerator. And the steering, which works in the city, is confusing when you find yourself on a twisting road. It feels like it's winding on the lock in stages, so there can be plenty of little steering corrections when you're pushing it through corners.

In short, though, it behaves exactly as you might expect a car at this price point to behave, provided you spend most of your time in the city.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / 100,000 km warranty

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   6/10

A fairly limited package, I’m afraid. Expect six airbags (front, side and curtain), along with a reversing camera and the usual suite of traction aids, including traction and stability controls.

You’ll also find two ISOFIX attachment points in the backseat, and a hill-hold function to stop you rolling back when setting off on a slope. But that’s it. No AEB, parking sensors or any other high-tech safety equipment is on offer here.

It is yet to be ANCAP tested, but a 2016 crash test by Euro NCAP served up a disappointing three-star (out of five) result for this Indian-built hatchback.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   6/10

The Baleno is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty which is, frankly, not long enough. Especially given its obvious Korean competitors are offering five- or even seven-year warranties as standard. Compounding the issue is its six-month, 10,000km service intervals.

Suzuki’s capped-price servicing program does limit your maintenance costs, and the easiest way to explain it is that every fourth service is a major job, wearing a circa-$450 price tag, The three minor services leading up to it are $175 each. Then the cycle repeats.

Verdict

The city-car segment is stacked to overflowing with quality contenders, all wearing dirt-cheap price tags. And that's what makes this Baleno a bit of a tough sell. It's perky and fun from behind the wheel, sure, but the safety package and short warranty dents its appeal.

Would you choose the Suzuki Baleno over one of its competitors? Let us know in the comments section below.

Pricing Guides

$14,990
Based on 148 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$13,888
Highest Price
$19,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
GL 1.4L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $13,888 – 13,977 2018 SUZUKI BALENO 2018 GL Pricing and Specs
GL (QLD) 1.4L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $10,230 – 14,080 2018 SUZUKI BALENO 2018 GL (QLD) Pricing and Specs
GLX TURBO 1.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $15,777 – 19,990 2018 SUZUKI BALENO 2018 GLX TURBO Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
6.8
Design7
Practicality7
Price and features7
Engine & trans6
Fuel consumption8
Driving7
Safety6
Ownership6
Andrew Chesterton
Contributing journalist

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