Suzuki Baleno VS Holden Astra
- Cheap to buy
- Big boot
- Expensive servicing
- Cheap interior
- Sedan's comfy and composed ride
- Hatch's beautiful styling
- Aussie tuning for sedan and hatch
- No AEB in sedan
- Hatch's storage could be better
- Sedan's rear headroom limited
The fact of the Suzuki Baleno's existence is one of the more puzzling features on the automotive landscape. It's a car that pits itself against all manner of worthy competition - some of it exceedingly so - in the small hatch segment.
People still buy what the industry calls light cars (in ever-diminishing numbers) so perhaps Suzuki thought offering two would be a good idea, as its Swift occupies the same patch of sales ground in this city-sized segment.
In this part of the market, you've really, really got to want it. You need to be stylish, sophisticated and packed with tons of safety gear if you've any hope of so much as laying a fingernail on the Mazda2. Or, let's face it, be dirt cheap to counter Yaris and (the soon to depart) Accent.
The Baleno seems far too tame, timid and, well, blergh. But according to VFacts, Suzuki shifts at least a hundred of these per month, sometimes over 200.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
There are two types of people in this world*. Those who like hatchbacks, and those who prefer sedans.
We're not making any judgments. If you're a sedan fancier, it's your business, and hatchbacks have their leagues of loyalists, too. Whichever way you lean, Holden hopes it has something to please you with hatch and sedan versions of its Astra small car.
This is the mothership of Astra reviews, taking both the hatch and sedan into account to help you make a better decision.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The Baleno is a disappointingly dull car from a company that makes plenty of un-dull cars. I suppose it's prudent for Suzuki to at least try to look like a grown-up, but as this car proves, there's no fun in that.
It will no doubt be dependable and if kept in metropolitan areas, will serve its owners well. But it's lacking in key safety gear, the servicing is a bit on the stiff side and the interior feels cheaper than most of its competitors.
And on top of all that, it feels really old.
Is there anything tempting about the Baleno? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The Astra sedan is a different car to the hatch – but then it's really aimed at different people, perhaps more mature ones. I mean, one of the sedan's paint colours, 'Old Blue Eyes', isn't available on the hatch. This could be a hint.
Either way, the sedan could be a better pick for you because of its more comfortable ride, extra rear legroom and bigger boot.
The hatch is a much better looking car. It's also more refined and stylish inside and out. The hatch comes with a more powerful engine and better handling, but its ride is not as comfortable as the sedan's.
As for the sweet spots for each range. For the sedan it's the LS+ with its great safety equipment at a good price. For the hatch line-up, it's the RS because it comes with the larger 1.6-litre engine, advanced safety equipment, and many of the features on the top-spec RS-V, which is $4500 more.
*But wait, there really are more than just two types of people in this world. There are wagon people, too. And Holden will soon have that covered when the Astra Sportwagon arrives by the end of the year. And that one looks a lot like the hatch.
Are you a hatch or sedan person? Lets us know what you think in the comments section below.
Suzuki says the Baleno's look reflects the brand's 'Liquid Flow' design language, but I'd much prefer it if they had stuck with the angular design of its other cars. Almost all of them are far better looking, or at least characterful.
The Baleno's recent facelift, which is mostly a new front bumper and a headlight tweak, was probably supposed to improve the looks but instead the car now appears to have had some fillers pumped into its cheeks.
It's not an attractive car from the front, with the grille overpowered by the lower fascia's sheer breadth. The rear and profile are fairly anonymous and to ensure its anonymity, there is little in the way of adornment. Looks basic, is basic.
Step in to the spacious-for-its-size cabin and you'll be greeted with the usual Suzuki staples of super-hard plastics, hardy carpets and tough cloth trim.
There is a little curvaceousness to the dash design but it just feels a bit half-hearted until the curves run into the centre console's alien-with-flappy-ears effect. There's nothing wrong with it but it does look dated.
Holden has performed cosmetic surgery to bring them closer together, but they still look like distant cousins at best.
Let's focus on the hatch first. This seventh-generation car looks damn good, but it's near impossible to identify the different levels. The easiest way is to look at the wheels (design and size), while the RS has shiny metal blades on the grille, and the RS-V gets that, plus the same trim around the windows for a posher look.
The cabin is also good looking, but regardless of grade, doesn't have the premium feeling the car's exterior looks suggest. Don't get me wrong, the RS-V's interior is cool and stylish, but the use of glossy plastics and a lack of contrasting colour cheapens the vibe.
All Astra hatches have the same dimensions - 4386mm long, 1807mm wide and a height of 1485mm, which is a smidge longer than the Corolla and a bit shorter than the Mazda3. The RS-V auto is the heaviest at 1363kg.
Now the sedan. Holden has styled the front to look more like the hatch but I don't think it's fooling anybody.
The sedan's cabin is also different to the hatch's. We're talking completely different, from the steering wheel to the temperature controls. I'm more of a fan of the hatch's interior styling than the sedan's relatively basic look.
The sedan is 30cm longer than the hatch at 4665mm end-to-end, it's shorter in height though, standing 1457mm tall (-28mm), but is exactly the same width at 1807mm across.
Here's some excellent news - there is plenty of space in the Baleno's tiddly sub-four metre frame. The awkwardly-proportioned body has delivered good space for front and rear passengers who would be happier on more comfortable seats, but for city driving, they do just fine.
If you're up to around 180cm tall, there's enough space for you and your legs in the back and headroom is adequate.
Storage is a limited to a couple of open trays but you can put your phone in the same place as the USB port. You get two cupholders at the front and if you don't mind losing the rearmost of your storage trays, the back seat passengers can share it as a solitary cupholder. Each door has a very handy bottle holder that will secure a 1.5-litre vessel.
The boot is a good size for the segment at 355 litres to begin with and 746 with the 60/40 split fold rear seat folded down.
This could be the clincher if you're wondering whether the hatch or sedan is roomier. And the answer may not be the one you expected.
So, in one sentence, the Astra sedan has more rear legroom, but less rear headroom than the hatch, while the sedan's boot is bigger, but I'd pick the hatch if I was using it to move house.
The first bit makes sense. The sedan has a longer wheelbase, meaning more legroom for passengers in the back. Even me, and I'm 191cm tall. In the sedan I still have about 5cm of space between my knees and the driver's seat set to my position, but I can only just squish my knees in when I'm in the hatch.
But in a cruel twist of design fate the roofline of the sedan is lower than the hatch's, and my head skims the ceiling.
The sedan's 445-litre boot is 85 litres bigger than the hatch's (360L), but I'd choose the latter to move house because it has a larger cargo opening. Fold the hatch's back seats down and you could slide a coffee table in, which is not going to happen in the sedan.
The sedan has better cabin storage areas, with four cupholders (two up front and two in the back), bottle holders in all the doors, and a decent-sized centre console storage bin. The hatch gets bottle holders in all the doors, and while there are two cupholders there aren't any in the back. The hatch's centre console bin is small, but there is a driver's side pull-out bin.
Price and features
For $16,990 drive away, Suzuki opens the range with this GL. That scores you 15-inch steel wheels with less than fetching hubcaps, a six-speaker stereo, air-conditioning, reversing camera, remote central locking, cruise control, sat nav, auto halogen headlights, power mirrors and windows, and a space-saver spare.
A 7.0-inch touchscreen that you can find in almost every Suzuki handles the sat nav and entertainment duties. It's not a bad piece of hardware except it doesn't have a proper volume knob, but more than makes up for that with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Then ruins it again with tinny sound. You can't have it all, I suppose.
Let's start with the hatchback. There are three grades of Astra hatch: the entry-level R lists for $21,990; then there's the mid-spec $26,490 RS, and at the top-of-the-range is the RS-V for $30,990. These are all prices with a manual transmission, and it's another $2200 on top if you want an automatic. There's a sort of bonus level, too – the 'R+' which is an R with advanced safety equipment, but costs $1250 more.
There are three grades to the Astra sedan range, too – but wait, they don't align with the hatch line-up, and even have different names.
The sedan kicks off with the LS spec at $20,490, if you opt for the manual gearbox, or $21,490 for the auto. Standard features at this level include 16-inch alloy wheels, auto headlights, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with reversing camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, as well as rear parking sensors.
There's an 'LS+' grade for another $1250 which adds advanced safety equipment, LED daytime running lights and a leather steering wheel.
The $25,790 LT gets all of the LS+ features and adds 17-inch alloys, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, proximity unlocking, auto parking, sat nav and rain-sensing wipers.
At the top of the pile, the $29,790 LTZ has all of the above, plus 18-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, climate control air con, and heated, leather-trimmed front seats.
Depending on the grade, the hatch costs $1000 to $2000 more than the sedan.
Engine & trans
You'll not need to hold on to your hat in the Baleno. The 1.4-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder musters up 68kW at 6000rpm and 130Nm 2000rpm earlier. It's not a lot, but at 915kg, the Baleno isn't doing too badly.
There's an old relic in the transmission department. Power reaches the front wheels via a four-speed automatic transmission. There aren't many of those left in circulation on new car forecourts.
You can't buy a Baleno with the plucky 1.0-litre turbo anymore, which is a bit of shame.
The Astra hatch comes with a choice of two petrol engines. A 110kW/245Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo powers the R grade, and a 147kW/300Nm 1.6-litre turbo four sits in the RS and RS-V.
All Astra sedans come with just the 1.4-litre engine.
Buyers have a choice of a six-speed manual (when paired with the 1.4-litre engine torque is 240Nm) or six speed automatic.
CarsGuide test pilot Stephen Corby drove the Astra R grade and pointed out that Holden notes a 0-100km/h time for the base car of "n/a", which pretty much says it all, while our RS and RS-V hatch drivers, including me, found the 1.6-litre to have good acceleration (claimed 0-100km/h in 7.8s).
The six-speed auto in the RS-V hatch is slow and emotionless, while the six-speed manual's short gear ratios keep the turbo going hard.
When it comes to the sedan engine, that 1.4-litre, while competent, doesn't impress the socks off me. But (with socks still well and truly on) it does suit the nature of the sedan far more. The hatch needs a gruntier powerplant to suit its sporty styling and firmer suspension. Lucky there's a 1.6-litre that delivers more mumbo.
Suzuki says you'll get 5.4L/100km on the combined cycle, which isn't too far off reality, our time delivering around 6.6L/100km. Which was remarkable in itself given how much throttle you have to use to move along.
Another bonus is that even though the fuel tank is just 37 litres, you won't spend half your life filling up.
First the hatch. Sure, the 1.4-litre engine is the least powerful but it also uses less fuel, with Holden's claimed combined cycle figure being 5.8L/100km in manual and automatic. The 1.4-litre also only requires cheaper 91 RON fuel. The 1.6-litre engine needs 95RON, and the official figure is 6.5L/100km in the manual and 6.3L/100km for the auto. You'll 52 litres of it to fill the tank.
These are low claims and the stop-start tech would help achieve those figures. Our own driving found real-world consumption is higher, with the RS recording 8.6L/100km on the dash computer, while the manual RS-V scored 7.1L/100km.
After 250km in the RS-V auto the trip computer was reporting 10.2L/100km. I also found the fuel gauge needle moved towards empty faster than rivals I've driven. I don't think the Astra's efficiency is the core issue here, more my driving style, and it could be down to the Astra's 48-litre fuel tank, which is three litres smaller than the Mazda3's, and two litres less than the Corolla and i30's.
The sedan returns similar mileage, with official (combined cycle) fuel consumption for the manual sitting at 5.8L/100km, and the auto at 6.1L/100km. The trip computer in our automatic LS reported 8.2L/100km after a little more than 100km of country road driving.
Most Suzukis are fun to drive even if they're on the slow side. The Jimny bounces around like a fat puppy full of sugar, the Swift is a good laugh and the Vitara is quite handy. The Baleno fails to be any of these things, but it's not all bad news.
The first thing you'll notice is the very light steering that makes a high-pitched noise when you turn it.
The second thing you'll notice is the whine coming from the transmission or somewhere very like it, no matter how much throttle you have on. It shifts smoothly enough, though, which isn't very often given the lack of gears.
It's not often I yearn for a CVT, but that might be the better transmission for this car. Yes, I just checked outside for airborne pigs, too.
The Baleno does feel like it teeters a little on its skinny, high profile tyres. It's not a car to drive with enthusiasm, but if you're happy enough with its almost-lively off-the-mark acceleration, which then fades away rapidly, you'll be perfectly happy.
It's not very quiet, though, with plenty of noise passing through the trademark thin sheetmetal and sparingly damped shell. It's light, but you can hear why - there's not much sound-deadening to weigh it down.
On the open road the Baleno further reinforces its credentials as a city car - it wanders around on the tyres, the steering loses all its feel and the wind noise means you have to turn up the volume to either drown it out or make yourself heard.
Three CarsGuide reviewers drove three different versions of the Astra, and it's pretty clear the R didn't impress in the same way the RS and RS-V did. While the chassis felt great, the issue was put down to the 1.4-litre engine, which had to work hard while the automatic droned on.
I took the RS-V on my 150km country road test loop and found the chassis to be taut and well balanced, and by the feel of the firm dampers, set-up for more sporty driving and handling rather than comfort.
The RS-V's 18-inch rims, with low-profile 225/40 R18 92W Bridgestone Turanza rubber mean you'll feel almost every crack and bump in the road. Great grip, but the ride isn't comfortable.
The six-speed automatic doesn't match the 1.6-litre engine's perky personality, in that it's slow to change gears. Shift paddles on the steering wheel would add more connection to the driving experience.
Vani's RS-V was a six-speed manual and she loves how quickly that gearbox responds. All all our testers agree the steering is accurate, but artificial and light, although the sport mode gives it more weight, along with changing the throttle response to be sportier.
While the hatch has sporty styling and a firmer ride, Holden has tuned the placid-looking sedan's suspension to be comparatively supple. It's a far more comfortable drive.
I had seat time in each grade. The LS with the manual is the most enjoyable to drive - shifting is easy, the gear ratios are nicely spaced and I could get more out of that 1.4-litre engine.
Being tall and all arms and legs, I found I had to drive with the middle armrest up – my elbow kept bumping into it otherwise when shifting. The clutch also has a high return position.
The auto-only LT and LTZ ride just as comfortably as the LS manual. Steering on all grades has been tuned for Australian roads, and it feels accurate, well weighted and smooth. I've driven far fancier cars with steering that isn't anywhere near this good.
Cabin insulation is also impressive in the sedan – the hatch on the other hand has a fair bit of noise intrusion.
And that engine? Well, you're not going to win any drag races, but the comfortable ride and smooth steering, combined with looks that don't promise land speed records means it's far more suited to the sedan than the hatch.
Even with two well fed Holden employees and myself on board, the sedan didn't once feel like it was running out of puff, even on steeper hills.
The Astra sedan doesn't have the handling ability of its hatch sibling, it also has a ridiculously large turning circle of 11.9m (the Mazda3's is 10.6m), but it just skims in at seven out of 10 thanks to that great steering feel, and well-tuned suspension, keeping the ride comfortable and composed.
Sadly, the Baleno is not among the frontrunners for safety features. It does arrive with six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls and a reversing camera but misses out on every advanced safety feature we expect to see at least one or two of, such as AEB.
There are two ISOFIX points and three top-tether restraints for the baby and child seats.
The Baleno does not have an ANCAP safety rating.
The R+ hatch adds a safety pack which includes such as AEB and lane keeping assistance.
The LS+ sedan is $1250 more than the LS and comes with suite of safety gear including lane keeping assistance, lane departure warning and forward distance indicator.
You'll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top tether points for child seats across the back row in the sedan and hatch.
Suzuki has joined the mainstream market herd with a five year/unlimited kilometre warranty for private use (ie not Uber) but there isn't even a solitary year of roadside assist.
Happily, since we last drove the Baleno, service intervals on the 1.4-litre have improved to 12 months/15,000km (rather than the previous 10,000km) and the company also offers five years of capped pricing up to 90,000km.
Services come in between $239 and $499, unless you've somehow covered 90,000km inside the five year window, and then it blows out to $649. That last figure aside, you can expect to pay $1635 over five years (or $2045 if you go nuts on the mileage). It's not especially cheap.
The Astra hatch and sedan are covered by Holden's three-year/100,000km warranty.
Servicing is recommended every 15,000km or annually. The Astra also comes with Holden's life-time capped-price servicing. You'll pay $229 for each of the first four services, then $289 each for the next three before stepping up higher as the car ages.