Suzuki Baleno VS Kia Picanto
- Cheap to buy
- Big boot
- Expensive servicing
- Cheap interior
- Fun and funky styling
- Good suspension and steering
- Added safety features and tech
- Carry-over engine feels outdated
- Four-speed transmission grates outside the CBD
- Elements of interior feel cheap
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 Kia Picanto is a cheap car. There's no two ways about it. But that doesn't mean what it used to mean.
There was a time, not so long ago, when our cheapest cars sported panels forged from old Coca-Cola cans, were as technologically advanced as a shoe horn and would offer all the structural integrity of an Easter egg should you ever have had the misfortune of being in an accident.
But this new Picanto isn't any of those things. For one, it's nice to look at. Plus, it's filled with clever safety things like a reversing camera and rear parking sensors. And it will mirror your smartphone so you can play your music or display navigation instructions up on the 7.0-inch screen inside.
So it's cheap, then, but not really 'cheap' at all.
|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 Kia Picanto is now less cheap and more cheerful, adding the technology and safety stuff sorely missing from the outgoing model. For us, the pick has to be the five-speed manual, squeezing the most bang from the little engine.
Could Kia's new Picanto be your next city car? Tell us what you think in the comments 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.
It's as perky as your morning cup of coffee, the Picanto. The car's designers - it was a shared job between teams in South Korea and Germany - set out to broaden the car's appeal by strengthening its character relative to the outgoing model, ironing out the sharp crease that ran the length of the body, and making the grille bigger and wider.
We quite like the look of it, especially viewed front-on, which starts narrow at the headlights before widening as it descends into the gaping, whale-shark-mouth grille.
There's a few other blink-and-you'll-miss-them changes, like a redesigned boot handle, C-shaped tail-lights and a new number plate housing. But overall we think it looks rather fetching.
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.
Kia has robbed Peter to pay Paul here. Provided, of course, Peter is riding in the back seat and Paul is sitting up front.
While the Picanto's length and width hasn't changed, it is 5mm higher, and it sits on a 15mm longer wheelbase. And while those numbers seem microscopic, Kia has used them to shake up the interior set-up, adding head, shoulder and legroom for front seat passengers, but stealing a little space from those riding in the back seat.
But the true Tardis is the boot, which now offers up 255 litres (+55 litres) of luggage space with the rear seat in place, and a genuinely impressive 1010 litres (+140 litres) with the 60/40 split rear seat folded flat.
Front seat passengers share two cupholders, and there's a USB, aux and power connection in the dash, along with room in the doors for bottles. Sometimes it's the little things you appreciate, too, like an integrated phone holder under the multimedia screen that's big enough to house one of those new jumbo-sized iPhone Plus smartphones so it won't slide around the cabin when you're plugged in to the USB point.
The backseat is a little barren, though. There's a single seat pocket and a single cupholder for your backseat riders to Hunger Games over, and that's about it. There are no pockets in the doors or pull-down dividers, either, but you do get automatic window controls.
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.
You're not exactly spoiled for choice with the Picanto, with a single trim level (S) on offer, which can be had with an automatic transmission or manual gearbox.
The pricing is slightly mysterious, with an official starting point of $14,190 for the manual version, but with Kia hinting heavily that it will actually be $13,990 drive-away in any of its dealerships. The automatic, however, is a little more straightforward, wearing a simple $15,690 drive-away price tag.
No matter, there's no escaping that it's a price-led offering. The seats are cloth, the 14-inch wheels have hubs caps on them and the interior plastics are rock hard. But there have been some key, and critical, updates inside. The new 7.0-inch touchscreen, mounted high above the dash, is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto equipped, and that means, provided you have a smart phone that's in range, you get standard satellite navigation.
Among the other new stuff is cruise control and automatic headlights, which are tacked onto the (actually, pretty extensive) standard feature list of the outgoing model. So, power windows in both rows, halogen DRLs and keyless entry all still appear, along with a rear fog light, electric (and heated) mirrors and a 2.6-inch driving display screen housed between the traditional dials in the instrument binnacle.
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.
Just the one engine available, a carry-over 1.25-litre petrol unit that will produce a non-pulse-quickening 62kW at 6000rpm, and a slightly improved 122Nm at 4000rpm. It's paired with a new five-speed manual in the cheapest model, or a four-speed automatic in the more expensive version, with both sending power exclusively to the front wheels.
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.
It's impressively frugal. Sipping a miserly 5.0 litres per hundred kilometres on the claimed/combined cycle in the manual car, and 5.8L/100km in the automatic. But even after some, well, vigorous driving on a twisting backroad, the number was still only sitting on 5.8L/100km in the auto, and 4.8 in the manual.
Emissions are pegged at 117 grams per kilometre of C02 in manual vehicles, and 134g/km in the automatic.
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.
Because the last car was really only a case study, Kia never bothered to subject it to the local suspension and steering tuning process it puts the rest of its cars through. But this new Picanto has undergone the full treatment, and the results are very good. If it's not the most dynamic-feeling car in its segment, it's got to be damn close.
But those changes are let down a little by the largely carry-over engine-gearbox combination. The engine feels lethargic on anything steeper than a gentle climb, and the four-speed automatic being fidgety and loud when you've got your foot pinned. Which you will have. A lot.
Things are so much better in the new five-speed manual version, though, where you can wring every ounce of power out of the engine, but Kia tells us the market for self-shifting is miniscule. But if it was us, we'd be taking the cheaper manual every day of the week.
Better still, wait for the incoming sportier version, powered by a clever turbocharged three-cylinder engine (74kW/172Nm) paired with a five-speed manual 'box. Kia confided it's already got a sportier suspension tune waiting and ready for the Picanto - and now they just need the car, which they're pushing for by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, though, the cloth seats are comfortable, but lacking much in the way of bolstering - which becomes pretty apparent when you start pushing it into bends - a task to which the Picanto is surprisingly well suited.
But by far the biggest and most positive change is the new screen perched above the air vents in the centre of the dash. It's big, clear, easy to use and, most importantly, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto equipped, unlocking a world of easy - and free - navigation for budget minded shoppers.
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.
When we drove the old car, we pointed out a lack of key safety kit now generally expected to be present and accounted for, but this new model addresses most of those concerns.
There are six airbags (dual front, front sides and curtain bags) and rear parking sensors, like the old model. But new for 2017 is a reversing camera, a new brake-based torque vectoring system and what Kia calls 'Straight Line Stability' - designed to keep the car tracking straight under heavy braking. Kia is also pushing to introduce AEB sometime this year.
The Kia Picanto is yet to be evaluated by ANCAP in Australia.
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.
Kia's ownership offering really can't be beat, and the Picanto is covered by the brand's seven-year/ unlimited-kilometre warranty with capped-price servicing and roadside assistance for the duration. Which is not just very good, but the best in the Aussie industry.