Suzuki Baleno VS Holden Barina
- Cheap to buy
- Big boot
- Expensive servicing
- Cheap interior
- LT looks cool
- Good headroom
- Decent boot
- Not fun to drive
- Underwhelming engine
- Feeling its age
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|
The Holden Barina is a nameplate that is arguably better known than many of the others in the company’s line-up. It has been around longer than Trax, Equinox, Colorado, Trailblazer, Spark… in fact, longer than everything but Astra and Commodore.
The current-generation Barina itself has been around for a while, too: it launched way back in 2012, and it’s fair to say the market has moved on a long way since then. But so has the Barina, following a refresh late in 2016 - and it remains one of the roomier offerings in the segment, and one of the keener-priced cars, too.
In fact, it managed to run eighth in terms of sales in the declining light-car segment in 2017… and yet, with nearly 4000 cars sold, there are still plenty of people interested in the Barina model.
So, does it still stack up?
|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.
Would I recommend you buy a 2018 Holden Barina? In a word, no. There are better light cars out there for close to the money - cars that are more modern, more sophisticated, more refined, more efficient and better equipped.
At this point in time the Barina still has its place - if you just need a cheap set of wheels, I guarantee you will be able to score a good deal. But if it were me, and it was my money - but I had to buy a Holden - I’d be checking out the slightly smaller Spark (and saving a few bucks in the meantime) or trying to stretch the budget to the larger Astra.
Is the Barina due for replacement? Let us know 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.
The Barina isn’t the most intriguing or attractive offering in the segment - that mostly has to do with the fact cars it competes against have changed quite a bit in the six years since the current-gen Holden launched.
There are more attractive rivals, but I think the update in late 2016 was definitely worthwhile. And in high-spec LT guise as you see here - with those stylish 17-inch alloy wheels standing out against the boxy silhouette of the Barina - it’s quite handsome. In fact, the LT for me is an 8/10, and the LS is a 6/10, so I’ve taken the average here.
The changes included new enclosed headlights with LED daytime running lights (DRLs) rather than the old ring-type headlights, a new grille, new front and rear bumpers, and revised tail-lights.
The interior isn’t quite as nice too look at, with loads of hard plastics of varying textures and qualities, while the ‘leather’ on the seats is unconvincing. It is pretty spacious, though..
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.
The Barina has one of the larger interiors of the segment, thanks in large part to its high roofline. It measures a close-to-its-peers 4039mm long and 1735mm wide, but at 1517mm tall, it isn’t far off compact SUVs.
There is really good headroom front and rear, and the driver’s seat has height adjustment - meaning taller drivers can lower themselves in pretty nicely, but the passenger front seat doesn’t have height adjust, and it sits quite high.
The media system is a 7.0-inch touchscreen with two USB ports (one to connect, one to charge - both located in the top glovebox) and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming - and you get that system in both variants. The screen is supposed to have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but when I connected my iPhone it wouldn’t show up the mirroring screen… which was annoying, because there’s no sat nav.
The driver-info display may be a monochrome thing, but it is super handy to have a digital speed readout, and you can keep an eye on other key bits of info, like fuel use.
Back-seat legroom is adequate, but not exceptional - behind my own driving position (I’m 183cm tall) my knees were hard-up against the seat. You could fit two adults in the back pretty comfortably, but three would be hard work. If you tend to transport younger passengers, the dual ISOFIX and three top-tether child-seat anchors will come in handy.
Storage in the back is poor - there is no rear door storage at all, only one map pocket and no fold-down armrest. There’s just a single cup holder in front of the middle seat.
Up front there are two cupholders between the seats, and there are large pockets in the doors but they aren’t formed to hold bottles, so your fizzy might go flat from shifting around. The dashboard console is quite small, and there’s no covered armrest between the seats - but the driver gets a van-style armrest.
The biggest issue I have with the cabin is that the steering wheel is huge - like, it’s the same one used in the old Commodore, and it’s way too large for the Barina’s cabin - and the gear-shifter is oversized, too. Smaller features would make for a more spacious cockpit, and it’s a bit too easy to accidentally put it all the way down into M for manual mode, rather than D.
The boot of the Barina is fairly good for its size at 290 litres (VDA), and that expands to 653L with the back seats folded down in 60/40 formation - it’s a good cargo hold, albeit with a large, deep load lip, and there’s a space-saver spare under the floor.
There are some other little things that are good: the fact the electric windows have auto-down (and auto-up on the fronts). And some things that aren’t: the masses of hard, cheap-feeling plastics; the knobs and dials that don’t feel great to turn; and the seats are pretty uncomfortable.
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.
The entry-level LS Barina has a list price of $14,990 plus on-road costs for the manual, or $17,190 plus on-roads for the automatic. But realistically, you should be able to bargain and pay $15k drive-away for the manual and $17k drive-away for the auto - or maybe less: I’ve seen dealers listing LS autos at $15k drive-away. And Holden is also promoting a free servicing plan for three years.
The same can be said of the LT automatic tested here, which has a list price of $20,390 plus on-road costs. I wouldn’t expect to shell out more than $19k on the road for this spec, because sales are hard to come by in this part of the market - especially when you can potentially get a bigger and better Astra for similar cash.
Let’s look at what each version of the Barina has in terms of standard specifications.
The LS has 16-inch alloy wheels, auto halogen headlights with LED daytime running lights, a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (supposedly!), plus a reversing camera and rear parking sensors.
The LT model trades up to 17-inch alloy wheels, plus it adds keyless entry and push-button start, a leather-lined steering wheel, 'Sportec' fake leather trim and heated front seats.
There are six different hues to choose from, and only 'Summit White' is included at no cost. The other options - 'Nitrate Silver', 'Boracay Blue', 'Absolute Red', 'Son of a Gun Grey' and 'Mineral Black' - will cost you an additional $550.
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.
Powering the Barina is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which produces 85kW of power and 155Nm of torque. There’s the choice of a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic, and the Barina is front-wheel drive.
The outputs of the engine are decent for the class, but the weight of the Barina - a porky 1248kg - means it doesn’t feel as sprightly as some competitors, many of which are below 1100kg.
There is no high-performance model - the Barina RS that came out in 2013 lasted a few years, but was axed in 2016.
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.
Because the Barina doesn’t have a downsized turbo engine like some rivals, it is claimed to use a relatively high 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres for the manual model (LS only), while the auto version (in LS and LT guise) is said use even more, at 7.5L/100km.
At the very least the fact the Barina can run on regular unleaded (91RON) means filling up will be a little cheaper.
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.
There are elements of the drive experience in the Barina that are fine, but not one part of it sets a benchmark for the segment. And in a class where almost every car is at least a little bit fun to drive - think the Mazda 2, Skoda Fabia, Volkswagen Polo, Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, Peugeot 208, Suzuki Swift... I could keep going, but I'd prefer to drive any of those every day. Heck, even a Toyota Yaris or Hyundai Accent excites me more than this.
If all you do is potter from home to work, or home to the train station, there’s a good chance this will be fine as your means of conveyance. But if you’re the sort of person who wants a car they can enjoy, the Barina mightn’t be for you.
The LT model with its larger wheels may look pretty good, but the ride is fouled by those rims. And while the grip from the Continental ContiPremiumContact 2 tyres is genuinely good, the steering can be slow and heavy at times, and there’s a lot of road noise on coarse-chip surfaces.
Those wheels are nice and might be acceptable in a sporty hatch, but the performance doesn’t match up - the 1.6-litre engine is a little bit gutless at times, with its lack of torque meaning the six-speed automatic transmission is quite busy shuffling through the gears. That’s not unusual in this class, but the engine isn’t very refined, and can get trashy at high revs.
The transmission is not only busy, but it can be clunky when shifting, too - I noticed a few times when it was going between second and third gears.
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 fact the Barina is still marked with a five-star ANCAP stamp is potentially a bit misleading - the car was tested way back in 2011 for 2012 models onwards, and the strictness of testing has changed markedly over that period.
As a result, the Barina range still features the must-have inclusions you would expect - a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, and six airbags.
But in a world where auto emergency braking (AEB) can be had in cars from just $14,190 (the Kia Picanto), the Barina lacks that latest tech. No Barina can be had with AEB, even as an option, and you can forget lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring or any of those other nice technologies that could prove life-saving. It’s a ‘no’ for front sensors as well.
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.
Holden has rolled back that limited-time seven-year warranty, with the standard old three-year/100,000km plan in place once more. There is the option of extended warranty, with up to six years/175,000km available.
Holden requires the Barina to be serviced every nine months or 15,000km, which is reasonably lenient - some competitors require maintenance visits every six months/10,000km.
The costs are covered by Holden’s 'Know Your Cost Servicing' plan, with the first and second services priced at $249, the third and fourth at $349, while the fifth drops back to $249. No matter which way you look at it, it’s more affordable than a lot of competitors.