Suzuki Baleno VS Mazda 2
- Cheap to buy
- Big boot
- Expensive servicing
- Cheap interior
- Big boot
- Good safety spec
- Smarter looks
- Not very comfy
- Engine not terrific
- Annoying mirrors
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 Mazda2 range has recently seen some big changes, with the facelifted model aiming to offer customers a different sort of car to what it was before.
It’s more expensive - prices are up by as much as 25 per cent! - but there’s a lot more standard equipment, some new trim levels, and all of them also get the G15 alphanumeric label… but it’s a carryover engine for this facelift, the first major update since 2015.
It’s an intriguing move from Mazda Australia to increase the entry price point by such a big amount because it’s essentially still the same old Mazda2 sedan underneath it all. And it’s not like this part of the market is flush with competitor offerings - there’s no more Hyundai Accent, the Kia Rio sedan is dead, there’s no Ford Fiesta sedan, Honda isn’t going to sell the new City model, you can’t get an MG 3 sedan, or a Kia Picanto sedan… in fact, there’s no other light sedan on the market anymore.
But there are some slightly larger sedans that are close on size, and in some grades even undercut the updated Mazda2 sedan when it comes to price.
So, does the most urban-friendly sedan on the Australian new car market still make sense?
|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.
If you need a brand-new city-sized light sedan, your only choice is the Mazda2.
But if you can deal with a slightly larger car, you’ll get a more comfortable, enjoyable and spacious experience by choosing a Kia Cerato or Hyundai Elantra, both of which you’ll probably get for less money than this base model Mazda2 G15 Pure.
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 Mazda2 sedan has always been one of those cars that packs more in than you’d think - especially the boot. We’ll get to that in the next section.
But let’s cover off what has changed from the pre-facelift model to this one, because you may have noticed it looks a little different.
That’s because it has revised front and rear bumpers, which are cleaner and simpler than before, and the grille now has a mesh finish rather than the plastic beam section of its predecessor.
The rear does, too, with the new back bumper design and tail-light finish making it appear a little more contemporary.
It carries off its size pretty well. The Mazda2 sedan is 4340mm long (on a 2570mm wheelbase), 1695mm wide and 1495mm tall.
The cabin of the Pure model has seen some cosmetic adjustments, but the overall design remains the same. Check out the interior pictures to see what we’re talking about.
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.
If you’re choosing the Mazda2 sedan over the hatch, you’re effectively stating that your prioritise boot space in your life. And good for you, because the Mazda2 sedan has 440 litres (VDA) of cargo capacity. The luggage capacity can be expanded by way of 60:40 split-fold rear seats, too.
It’s easily large enough for the CarsGuide pram, and also managed to fit all three of our suitcases (124-litre, 95-litre and 36-litre) in though any more than that and the gooseneck hinges for the boot-lid could make for some issues actually closing the boot. The aperture is a very good size, and it’s not hard to load things in because it’s a nice low opening, too.
The seat trim of the Pure model is brown cloth, which will either tickle your fancy… or not. The trim is fine, and so is the perceived quality of the fit and finish. There are simple ergonomic instruments like manual dials.
There’s a nice leather steering wheel, but there is no digital speedometer, no head-up display, and no centre console bin or armrest. There is a pair of cupholders, a small centre bin in front of the shifter, and a small cubby at the back of the console which could be used as a cup holder for rear seat passengers.
The 7.0-inch media screen is looking small by today’s standards, and while I applaud the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, I had issues with it every time I drove the car. It wouldn’t connect first time, requiring me to: a) wait the 10-20 seconds for the screen to load; b) plug the USB in; c) wait for it to say “Apple CarPlay failed”; d) unplug and reinsert the USB. Then it was fine. But sheesh I’d get sick of that quick.
The interface - using the rotary dial - is annoying. Touchscreens should be touch-capacitive when using smartphone mirroring. The reversing camera is also a bit low-res in its display.
The back seat isn’t overly spacious. With the driver’s seat set in my position (I’m 182cm tall), my knees were hard up against the seat in front, and my head was brushing the ceiling. That’s despite good toe room and decent cabin width.
Rear occupants don’t get bottle holders, there’s only one map pocket, and there’s no centre armrest. Unlike up front, where the door arm-rest pads are soft, they’re hard in the back. There’s no rear seat air-vents, and the transmission tunnel eats into space more than it probably should in a car of this size.
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.
As referenced above, the Mazda2 entry price point is up considerably compared to the pre-update version, thanks to the ditching of the entry-level Neo model.
How much has the price gone up? $5500. That’s a huge price hike for a vehicle in the most coin-conscious segment of the market.
The result is a base model G15 Pure version of the Mazda2 - in both sedan and hatch body-styles - for $20,990 plus on-road costs (also known as RRP / MRSP). And that means it’d be about $24,000 drive-away. It’s essentially the equivalent of the old mid-spec Maxx model, but more expensive.
Oh, and that’s for the six-speed manual, which only a few per cent of people buy. The six-speed automatic - as tested here - is $22,990 plus on-road costs. Or about $26,000 drive-away. For the base model. Eep. However, if you’re in the market, check Autotrader and you’ll probably find decent deals.
If you want the top-spec G15 GT sedan, it’s $25,990 plus on-roads (pushing $30k on-the-road).
There are some pretty impressive inclusions to justify the increases. There are new 15-inch alloy wheels, a system called G-Vectoring Plus (a torque vectoring system designed to improve cornering behaviour), plus there’s LED headlights, hill start assist, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors.
The Pure model misses out on a few things compared to the GT sedan, which has traffic sign recognition, a surround view camera, front parking sensors and adaptive cruise control.
Instead, the Pure has regular cruise control, and a lot of the new additions are safety-focused: it has auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
It also debuts the aforementioned smartphone streaming tech of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which the Mazda2 hasn’t had up until now. The media screen - which is touch capacitive at a standstill and has a rotary controller to use at speed - also has six speakers, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, digital radio and optional sat nav.
Just to add a little bit of context to the value equation here, if you can deal with a slightly larger car, you could get into a Kia Cerato or Hyundai Elantra for similar or less money. And that’s what I’d suggest you do.
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.
Under the bonnet of the Mazda2 - no matter which model you choose - there’s the brand’s newly monikered G15 SkyActiv engine. It’s a 1.5-litre gasoline (hence the G15) four-cylinder unit, with 82kW of power (at 6000rpm) and 144Nm of torque (at 4000rpm). Those outputs are up 1kW/3Nm over the pre-facelift car.
There’s no hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric, turbo-petrol or LPG version of the Mazda2 sold in Australia… or anywhere else, for that matter. You can get it as a diesel in some markets, but not Australia.
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 claimed fuel consumption for the Mazda2 G15 auto sedan we drove is 5.3 litres per 100 kilometres.
On our test, which included a range of driving with plenty of traffic snarls, some arterial road cruising, and a short stint of 110km/h freeway motoring, we saw an indicated 7.0L/100km on the car’s trip computer, while our at-the-pump calculation was higher than that, at 7.4L/100km.
The fuel tank capacity for the Mazda 2 sedan is 44 litres.
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.
With compact dimensions, the Mazda2 sedan is one to consider if you really need a sedan. I don’t know why you’d really need a sedan, and if you’re an urban-dweller you’re likely going to be more naturally drawn to hatchbacks because they’re generally shorter and therefore easier to park.
But if you’re a sedan fancier, then the Mazda2 is just about your only compact choice.
It needs to be said, though, that there are more comfortable cars than the Mazda 2, especially around town.
The suspension of this little car is seemingly designed to offer a sporty experience, which is at odds with the intent of the car. It’s very firm, lacks composure over repetitive lumpy bumps and the suspension is very noisy in that situation too.
It isn’t crashy, but it can lack body control and composure, and at times I felt it was skittering over pockmarks, and it didn’t instil much confidence.
It’s better at higher speeds, and if the road is smooth. And if that’s your user case - or if you simply don’t care much about ride comfort - this could be just fine for you.
There’s no doubt that stiff suspension does help the Mazda2 feel a bit more sporty than it actually is, because it handles direction changes quite well, and as we’ve come to expect of Mazdas today, the steering is direct and sporty feeling. It doesn’t suffer mismatched weighting, either, meaning it feels like when it should and gains heft when you’d expect.
The engine is eager enough, but the throttle requires a bit more management than seems necessary - and that’s actually more to do with the transmission’s logic than anything else. At times when you think you’re pressing hard enough, you might find the engine is labouring, so you press harder on the accelerator and it kicks down and pushes you away with vigour. It’s just not as easy to make smooth progress in normal driving as I’d like.
There is a ‘sport’ mode for the transmission that ultimately solves that problem because it stops the auto gearbox from shifting up to a higher gear (to save fuel), but do you really wanna be in ‘sport’ mode all the time? I know I don’t.
One of my biggest urban driving gripes is Mazda’s insistence to only fit the passenger-side mirror with a convex lens. The driver’s side mirror isn’t convex - and that means other road users can be hard to discern, and to be honest the car’s blind-spot monitoring system saved us from side-swipes a couple of times this week.
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 Mazda2 has been around for quite a while. It scored the maximum five-star ANCAP crash test rating back in 2015, but the criteria has evolved somewhat since then.
However, it must be stated that Mazda has been proactive in updating its safety spec levels across its entire range, and the Mazda2 is no exception.
Standard safety equipment includes auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection (but not cyclist detection), plus all models get a lane departure warning system, lane keeping assistance, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, and even low-speed rear AEB.
The Mazda 2 - be it sedan or hatch - has six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain), and it has dual ISOFIX child seat anchor points and but only two top tether points (outboard).
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.
Mazda Australia has a five-year capped price servicing campaign for all of its models, too, but the service intervals are shorter than competitor brands, too - yes, the company’s cars require servicing every 12 months, but the distance interval is 10,000km - meaning if you do a lot of distance, you might find yourself heading back to the dealer well before the 12-month period is up.
Servicing costs are reasonable, with the average cost per visit working out at $312 over five years/50,000km, not including consumables.
Mazda backs its cars with five years’ roadside assistance.
Worried about Mazda2 problems, reliability, faults, engine issues, transmission problems and other common complaints? Check out our Mazda2 problems page.