Honda Civic VS Suzuki Baleno
- Looks are good (or bad)
- Suspension and steering are both terrific
- Plenty of legroom in the rear seat
- CVT drones at pace
- Standard safety lacking on base models
- RS is noisy on the wrong road surfaces
- Great infotainment
- Zippy at low speeds
- Expensive-looking front end
- Lack of standard safety kit
- Cheapest feeling cabin plastics
- Gearbox noisy at speed
If you think the new Civic Hatch looks a little lower-slung than its sedan sibling, that can likely be attributed to the crushing weight of expectation placed on its little metal shoulders.
See, this 10th-gen Civic might be the most important car Honda has ever made. While most manufacturers were pouring funds into their SUV ranges, Honda was diverting a huge chunk (heavily tipped to be a whopping 35 per cent) of their research and development budget into the Civic, using the evergreen nameplate as a key pin in their Australian comeback.
And with that much riding on it, it had to be good. In sedan form, which launched here last year, it mostly lived up to the hype, with Honda shifting more than 800 units per month. And with the Civic hatch finally touching down in Australia, Honda is hoping to add 1000 sales to the tally.
So the question now is, does this new hatch version shine, too?
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
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.
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?
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Energetic and engaging (if not quite sporty), the Civic hatch is quiet and comfortable around town, but it can more than hold its own on a twisting backroad, too. It’s looks will either appeal or not, but a lack of comprehensive safety equipment on the cheaper models is sure to ruffle some feathers.
For us, the cheapest way into the turbocharged engine forms the pick of the bunch, so we'd call the VTi-L the sweet spot.
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.
The word 'polarising' is usually a thinly disguised way of saying 'lots of people don’t like it'. And the all-new Civic sedan was, well, very polarising. A glance at this new hatch version shows it hasn’t strayed too far from that design approach, either.
It’s as understated as a snakeskin suit in all grades, but nowhere is it quite so busy as in the RS trim level, in which the sporty trimmings jump out from every possible angle. Strangely, though, we quite like the way it looks, and it's undeniably an individual in the small car segment.
Inside, Honda has produced the comfortable and tech savvy interior that was missing from the outgoing model, but the sense of well executed semi-premium fades as you approach the spartan rear seat.
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.
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.
The Civic hatch is surprisingly spacious in the cabin, where up front the two seats are split buy a central bin housing two of the fattest, deepest cupholders we’ve ever seen (that would be America’s 'Big Gulp' influence on the Civic’s design), along with a hidden USB and power source that sits behind the centre console, hiding the ugly chords while you’re plugged into touchscreen unit.
The back seat, is plenty spacious in the longer and wider hatch - which also sits on a 30mm longer wheelbase than the outgoing car - with more shoulder, leg and knee room for backseat riders.
Which is just as well, as there’s not much else happening back there, with no air vents, power outlets or USB points on offer, with just the two cupholders housed in a pulldown divider that separates the rear seat.
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.
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.
Price and features
Thanks to what Honda refers to as its “One Civic” philosophy, this new hatch lineup perfectly mirrors the sedan range that was launched here last year, with the only major change being the ‘Ring-burning Type R, which will be hatch-only when it arrives later in 2017.
And that means the five-strong Hatch range kicks off with the entry-level VTi ($22,390) before stepping up to the VTi-S ($24,490) and the VTi-L ($27,790). Next up is the sport-sprinkled RS ($32,290), before the range tops out with the high-flying VTi-LX ($33,590).
Entry-level shoppers will make do 16-inch steel wheels, fabric seats and single-zone climate control, but there are some nice and premium-feeling flourishes, like LED DRLs, a 7.0-inch touchscreen that’s now Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-equipped and a second colour screen in the driver’s binnacle for your trip information.
Stepping up to the VTi-S adds 16-inch alloy wheels, integrated LED indicators in your wing mirrors and proximity locking and unlocking, along with some clever safety stuff we’ll come back to under the Safety heading.
Along with a better engine (more on that in a moment), springing for the VTi-L will earn you 17-inch alloy wheels, twin-zone climate control and automatic windows in both rows, while the sporty-flavoured RS adds LED fog and headlights, along with a hearty dose of sporty styling courtesy of a bumper kit, skirting and a liberal splashing of piano black highlights.
Inside the RS gets leather trimmed seats, a better 10-speaker stereo and and a standard sunroof, too.
Finally, the range-topping Civic - the VTi-LX - gets satellite navigation, and a fairly comprehensive suite of safety kit.
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.
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.
Engine & trans
Like the sedan version, there are two engine choices on offer, with the cheaper option a 1.8-litre petrol engine, good for 104kW at 6500rpm and 174Nm at 4300rpm found in the VTi and VTi-S trim levels.
The better option, though, is a perky turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol engine that will push 127kW at 5500rpm and 220Nm at 1700rpm to the front tyres.
Both engines are partnered with a CVT automatic transmission, with or without wheel-mounted shifters, depending on the trim level.
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.
Fuel use is pretty impressive across the board, with the 1.8-litre engine sipping a claimed combined 6.4-litres per hundred kilometres, while the turbocharged version needs just 6.2 litres on the same cycle.
Emissions are pegged at 150 and 142 grams per kilometre of C02 respectively.
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.
Honda struggles a little in explaining exactly what its new 1.5-litre turbo-powered Civic is.
Is it a hot hatch? Nope, the incoming Type R will handle those duties. Oh, so it's a warm hatch, then? Not really - it's mechanically identical (same engine, gearbox and suspension) to the other, top-tier Civics. In fact, only the brand of tyres seperate the RS from the more luxurious VTi-LX.
"We would say it's a 'sporting hatch'," says Honda's head honcho, Stephen Collins.
And sporting it is, with its clever turbocharged 1.5-litre engine a willing and perky unit, delivering plenty of oomph all over the rev range and with no noticeable, soul-destroying lag in its power delivery.
The steering, too, has a sporty flavouring, it's super direct, and offers such crisp direction changes that you have to pay keen attention driving, as even the slightest input will see you steering out of your lane. And while the ride is a little crashy through bumps, it pays you back with composed cornering antics that see the front wheels hanging on to the tarmac for much longer than you might expect.
But the best trick of the 1.5-litre engine is that it doesn't require much accelerator to make it move, which means there's never too much strain on the CVT auto in town. And, given the auto is both loud and intrusive when you ask too much of it, that can only be a good thing.
Like most CVT 'boxes, it's quiet and composed in city driving, but loud and with a tendency to surge when you start to test it. So much so that heavy acceleration requires a kind of lucky dip as to when to back off the throttle, with the Civic continuing to accelerate for a moment or so even once you get off the gas.
Happily, then, the 1.8-litre models are much easier to classify. They're the cheap ones.
It's a a simple, honest and hardworking engine that feels both slower and slower to respond than its newer, turbocharged sibling, but is more than capable of getting up to speed, even if it struggles to add pace from the mid-range onward.
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.
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.
While some of its key competitor are throwing safety functions at all trim levels, with Honda it’s still sadly a case of you get what you pay for.
The entry-level VTi, for example, makes do with six airbags (front, front-side and curtain) and a 180-degree reversing camera, opting for the VTi-S, VTi-L or RS adds front and rear parking sensors and Honda’s cool 'LaneWatch' (with activates a side-mounted camera when you indicate, beaming an image of the lane running alongside the lefthand-side of the car up onto the 7.0-inch screen).
The entire Civic range was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.
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.
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.