Suzuki Baleno VS Kia Rio
- Cheap to buy
- Big boot
- Expensive servicing
- Cheap interior
- Great design and looks
- Awesome multimedia
- GT-Line is good fun
- S and Sport drive experience
- S and Sport lack active safety
- Expensive servicing
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|
Over four generations, the Kia Rio has cemented its place in the Australian small-car landscape.
Now that it’s an established player, though, could it aim for a bigger slice of the small-hatch pie? Could it become one of Australia’s most beloved small-car nameplates?
We’ve driven the entire updated 2019 Rio range to find out.
|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 Rio is a well-designed and spacious hatch with excellent multimedia and a classy cabin.
It’s a shame the S and the Sport, with their dated engine and expensive automatic options, can’t live up to the otherwise fantastic road manners on offer.
That leaves the GT-Line as our pick of the range. With its fun-packed drivetrain and expanded active safety offering, it’s hard to look past as the Rio of choice.
Would you be willing to splash the extra dollars to get a far better 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.
Design is a strong point for the Rio. This generation of car has been imbued with strong Germanic style courtesy of Kia’s skilful design boss.
The boxy shape and well-defined lines make any variant in the range look ready to take on the Volkswagen Polo, and the plastic detail finishes are largely tastefully executed. But it’s a shame about the dorky hubcap-clad steel wheels in the base car.
Inside, the Rio’s cabin is easily one of the best in the segment. It has a primo-looking dash with tasteful patterns and colours. The 7.0-inch touchscreen taking pride of place in the dash lends a modern feel to the unit, and the steering wheel could easily be borrowed from the far more expensive Stinger sedan.
A simple dial cluster and low-seating make the cockpit a reasonably nice place to be in any variant. But as good as it looks, the interior is hard materials galore, so don’t expect stellar comfort for your elbows or knees on long drives.
Manuals make the lack of knee room obvious, as taller folks can be susceptible to bashing their knee on the steering column during clutch operation.
The seats are executed in a tasteful pattern and are reasonably comfortable, but offer hardly any side support, even in the GT-Line.
Other than the GT-Line’s carbon-look touches and bespoke seat trim, there is little difference between the interior design of each variant.
The Rio still easily possesses a better looking and more ergonomic cabin than the Swift, Yaris and Jazz.
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 Rio’s square dimensions lend it a spacious interior, although it is surprisingly bested in this class on boot space by several competitors.
Arm-flailing space and headroom is great for all occupants, but rear passengers get perhaps better legroom than even the driver.
There are well-sized bottle holders in each door, as well as two small ones for front occupants in front of the console box.
Speaking of which, it’s impressive this little car gets a console box at all, because the Jazz and Yaris are left without, while in the Mazda2 it’s a $495 option.
There’s also a decently sized trench in front of the gearknob which houses the USB, AUX and 12v ports. The Rio doesn’t get rear air vents, but it does have a USB power outlet in the back.
Boot space is a decent 325 litres VDA which sounds and looks good, but is bested in this segment by the Honda Jazz (354L), Suzuki Baleno (355L) and Hyundai Accent (370L).
It maxes out at 980L with the rear seats flat, which is almost double the equivalent room in a Suzuki Swift.
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.
Price is everything in such a competitive segment, and so every dollar matters in the small-car stakes.
The Rio range is a three-variant affair, starting with the $16,990 base-model S. The S is unchanged from last year’s model and comes equipped with either a six-speed manual or an antiquated four-speed auto at a $2100 premium.
Standard inclusions on the S are 15-inch steel wheels, a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, a reversing camera and halogen headlights with auto function.
Missing is cruise control or more recent systems like AEB, lane-keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring, or cross-traffic alerts.
It’s worth noting the entry-level variants of the Honda Jazz, Mazda 2 Neo and Suzuki Swift are all cheaper, too. And the additional cost of $2100 for a lacklustre automatic is a particular let down.
The next grade up in the range is the new Sport variant ($17,790). The Sport replaces the previously-mid-spec Si, and it gains 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, a leather-bound steering wheel and gear shift as well as heated and folding wing-mirrors.
The Sport can also be had with a new six-speed torque converter automatic at a $3000 premium. This transmission is better, but it still can't make up for the failings of the engine; but more on that in the Driving section of this review.
Finally, the updated Rio range tops out with the GT-Line ($21,990). The GT-Line replaces the previous top-spec SLi and comes with an overhauled drivetrain and the presence of active safety features which are not available, even optionally, on lower grades.
The GT-Line gains a bespoke body-kit, flat-bottomed perforated-leather steering wheel, carbon-look interior trim, LED DRLs, fog lights and rear light clusters.
All Rio variants score a reversing camera with rear parking sensors.
The range, spanning from $17,790 to $21,990 is a decent one, but the safety and performance improvements of the GT-Line make it our pick of the range, and it's worth spending the extra money for one.
Just be aware that the GT-Line's circa-$22k pricing will put you in a car the next size up fairly easily.
It’s a shame both the S and the Sport do not get any active safety features and are burdened with antiquated (or expensive) automatic transmissions.
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.
There are two engines and four transmissions in the Rio Range. But only one combination is likely to put a smile on your face.
The S and Sport are only available with a 1.4-litre four-cylinder non-turbo petrol engine which produces 74kW/133Nm. That sounds competitive on paper, but in real life it fails to deliver.
Both cars come with the same six-speed manual, but the S can be optioned with an ancient four-speed auto at a $2100 premium. This is an antiquated transmission and not good value.
The Sport is available with a six-speed auto at a $3000 premium. It’s a much better transmission and improves the drive experience, but it's expensive for an auto and cannot make up for the engine’s failings.
Up the top of the range is the much more impressive 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo in the GT-Line.
The GT-Line is not available with a manual and can only be had with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, a first for Kia in Australia.
The engine produces 88kW/172Nm but can make use of its peak torque in a much wider band than the 1.4. Combined with the slick-shifting dual clutch it's a much better combination.
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.
The 1.4-litre manual variants of the S and Sport have a claimed/combined fuel usage figure of 5.6L/100km. The S’ four-speed auto has a claimed figure of 6.2L/100km and the Sport’s six-speed has a figure of 6.0L/100km.
Meanwhile, the three-cylinder turbo offering in the GT-Line with the seven-speed auto has the best claimed figure of the lot, at 5.4L/100km.
In my test of the S and Sport I found a more realistic figure to expect from the 1.4-litre to be between 7.5 and 9.0L/100km. This is generally worse than fuel figures we’ve experienced in cars like the Suzuki Swift and Mazda2.
My test of the GT-Line produced an 8.9L/100km figure, but I was having a lot of fun.
All Rios have 45-litre tanks and drink base-grade 91RON unleaded petrol.
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.
The Rio has some excellent, and some not-so-excellent driving characteristics.
It’s frustrating, really, because all Rios have a nice wide footprint, solid steering and excellent suspension tuned here in Australia.
The downside is the drivetrains in most variants can’t live up to the promise laid out by the rest of the experience.
The outdated 1.4-litre feels breathless until torque starts to arrive somewhere around 4000rpm. In manual versions, this means you’ll be shuffling gears with annoying frequency to try and keep the power up. In the four-speed auto S you’re left with no choice but to be stuck without power, then suddenly too much power, while the six speed in the Sport helps to smooth this out a little.
All 1.4-litre variants feel slow off the line no matter what you do. Overtaking is a chore.
The new 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit in the GT-Line is a different story altogether. It’s an enthusiastic little engine with a wide power band. It does have a small amount of lag to contend with, but it sounds gruff and has a heap more character than most engines in this class.
It’s not quite on the same level as the Suzuki Swift Sport, but performance-wise, it's a rung above competitors from other brands.
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.
All Rio variants carry a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating from 2017 onwards. Although, safety across the range varies geatly.
The entry-level S and Sport have no active safety items whatsoever, even optionally. This is a roaring shame given even base variants of the Swift and Mazda2 have AEB, and it is available as an affordable option on the Toyota Yaris.
The GT-Line, again, is far superior to the others in that it comes standard with city-speed auto emergency braking (AEB), forward collision warning, lane keep assist (LKAS) with lane departure warning (LDW), and driver attention alert (DAA).
Standard fitment across the Rio range is the standard suite of stability controls, six airbags and three top-tether or two ISOFIX child-seat mounting points.
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.
One of the Rio’s strong points has always been Kia’s fantastic seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty. It far outstrips the now-standard five-year warranties offered by other brands.
While other brands are upping the pace, the Rio still has the best warranty in this class.
The same can’t be said for ownership costs, sadly. The Rio only needs to be serviced once a year or every 15,000km, and costs an average of $390.71 per year for 1.4-litre variants, or a significantly more expensive $484.57 per year for the GT-Line.