Suzuki Baleno VS Mini Cooper
- Cheap to buy
- Big boot
- Expensive servicing
- Cheap interior
- Unique looks
- Cool cabin
- Great on-road dynamics
- Low on standard advanced safety equipment
- Limited rear legroom
- Small boot
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|
I want to hug you. Or maybe we could just high five if you’re uncomfortable with the whole hugging thing. Why? You’re looking at buying a Mini Hatch or Convertible, that’s why. And that’s not a decision somebody makes lightly.
See, Minis are small, but they’re not cheap; and they’re so different looking that if they were a fish many people would throw it back if they caught one. But for those brave enough to buy a Mini the rewards these little cars will give you in return could make you a fan for life.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium 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’re buying a Mini Hatch or Convertible because they look unique and are fun to drive, then you’re doing it for the right reasons. But if you need a small family car then think about the Countryman or something bigger in BMW’s range like an X1 or 1 Series – these are the cousins of Minis and share the same tech but offer more practicality for similar prices.
The sweet spot in the Hatch and Convertible range is the Cooper S, whether it’s the three-door hatch, the five-door hatch or Convertible.
Are Minis the coolest small prestige car out there? Or overpriced and ugly? 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.
There are those googly eyes, the tiny flat bonnet, the snub nose with that angry mouth grille, those wheel-arches which eat way up into the body and are filled with wheels, and that little bottom. It’s tough and cute all at once, and still has stayed so true to the original look that if you were to push somebody from 1965 into a time machine and take them to 2018, they’d get out and say "that’s a Mini".
The original three-door Mini was less than 3.1m long, but over the years the Mini has grown in size – so the Mini still mini? The new three-door is 3.8m end to end, 1.7m wide and 1.4m tall – so yes, bigger but still mini.
The Hatch comes with three doors (two front and the boot’s tailgate) or five doors, while the Convertible is a two-door. The Countryman is Mini’s SUV and the Clubman is a wagon – both of these are yet to be given the update.
That update is super subtle, however. Visually the only differences between the latest Hatch and Convertible and the previous models is that the mid-spec Cooper S and top-grade JCW have the new LED headlights and Union Jack tail-lights. The entry-level Cooper has halogen headlights and regular tail-lights. That’s it – oh, and the Mini badge’s styling has been tweaked, almost unnoticeably.
On the outside the differences between the grades is obvious. Reflecting its more potent performance the JCW gets the biggest wheels (18-inch) and an aggressive-looking body kit with a rear spoiler and JCW dual exhaust. The Cooper S looks pretty mean, too, with its centre dual-exhaust and 17-inch wheels. The Cooper appears tamer but still cool with its chrome and black grille and 16-inch alloys.
Step inside the Mini Hatch and Convertible and you’re entering either a world of pain or world of awesomeness - depending on who you are - because it’s an extremely stylised cabin full of plane cockpit style switches, textured surfaces and dominated by the large circular (and glowing) element in the centre of the dash housing the media system. I’m quite fond of it all.
Seriously, can you think of another small car on the road which is as quirky as the Mini Hatch and Convertible but also prestigious? Okay, the Fiat 500. But name another one? Sure, Audi A1, but what else? Right the Citroen C3 and (now defunct) DS3. But apart from those can you name any? See.
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 name of this car is a bit of a clue as to how practical the insides are.
In the three-door, five-door Hatch and Convertible the car feels roomy up front, even for me at 191cm tall with good head, leg and elbow room. My co-driver on the launch was my size and there was plenty of personal space between us.
Can’t say the same for the back seats – in my driving position the front seat back is almost up against the rear seat base in the three door and the second row of the five-door isn’t much better.
Now you need to know that the three-door Hatch and Convertible have four seats, and the five -door has five seats.
Boot space is tight, too, with 278 litres of cargo capacity in the five-door Hatch, 211L of luggage space in the three-door, and 215L in the convertible. In comparison, the Audi A1 three-door has 270L of boot space.
Cabin storage for the Hatch includes two cup holders up front and one in the back of the Cooper and Cooper S Hatch, and two in the front and two in the back of the JCW. While the Convertible has two up front and three in the rear. Top down driving can be thirsty work.
There’s not much in the way of other storage places, apart from the glovebox and map pockets in the seat backs – those door pockets are only large enough to slide in a phone or your purse and wallet.
As for power connections Coopers have a USB and 12V in the front, while the Cooper S and JCW have wireless phone charging and a second USB port in the front armrest.
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.
If you’d read the section above (Did you? It’s exciting and full of sex scenes), you’d know that the Mini Hatch and Convertible come in three grades – the Cooper, Cooper S and JCW. What I didn’t point out up there was that while this is true for the three-door Hatch and Convertible, the five door is only available as a Cooper and Cooper S.
So how much do Minis cost? You’d heard they can be expensive right? Well, you heard right.
For the three-door Hatch line the list prices go: $29,900 for the Cooper, $39,900 for the Cooper S and $49,900 for the JCW.
For the five-door Hatch you’re looking at $31,150 for the Cooper and $41,150 for the Cooper S.
The Convertible costs the most with the Cooper listing for $37,900, the Cooper S for $45,900 and the JCW for $56,900.
That’s way more expensive than a Fiat 500 which starts with a list price of about $18K and tops out at $37,990 for the Abarth 595 Convertible. But the Mini is more prestigious, higher in quality and far more dynamic performance-wise than a 500. So, unless it’s just about the looks it’s better to compare it to Audi’s A1 which begins at $28,900 and maxes out with the S1 at $50,400.
High in quality, but a bit light-on for standard features for the price is typical for prestige cars and the Mini Hatch and Convertible are no exception.
The three-door and five-door Hatch and the Convertible in the Cooper grade come as standard with cloth seats, velour floor mats, three-spoke leather steering wheel, a new 6.5-inch touch screen and updated media system with 4G connectivity, sat nav, reversing camera and rear parking sensors, wireless Apple CarPlay and digital radio.
The Hatch has air-conditioning, while the Convertible has dual-zone climate control.
As mentioned in the design section Coopers come with 16-inch wheels, single exhaust tip, a rear spoiler for the Hatch, while the Convertible gets an automatic folding fabric roof.
The Hatch and Convertible in Cooper S form pick up cloth/leather upholstery, JCW steering wheel with red stitching, LED headlights and Union Jack pattern tail lights, and 17-inch alloys.
The Convertible also gains dual-zone climate control.
Only the three-door Hatch and Convertible models are available in the JCW grade, but at this level you’ll get lots more in the form of an 8.8-inch screen with a harman/kardon 12-speaker stereo, head-up display, JCW interior trim, cloth and Dinamica upholstery (‘eco-suede’), stainless steel pedals, and front parking sensors.
There’s the JCW body kit too, along with the upgrade in brakes, engine, turbo and suspension which you can read all about in the Engine and Driving sections below.
Personalisation is a massive part of owning a Mini and there’s a billion ways to make your Mini more unique from colour combinations, wheel styles and accessories.
Paint colours for the Hatch and Convertible include Pepper White, Moonwalk Grey, Midnight Black, Electric Blue, Melting Silver, Solaris Orange and of course British Racing Green. Only the first two of those are no-cost options, however, the rest cost only $800-$1200 more at the most.
Want bonnet stripes? Of course you do – those are $200 each.
Packages? Yep, there’s a stack of them. Say, you’ve bought a Cooper S and want a bigger screen, then the $2200 Multimedia package adds the 8.8-inch screen, harman/kardon stereo and a head-up display.
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.
This is simple. The Cooper is the least powerful with its 100kW/220Nm 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine; the Cooper S is the piggy in the middle with its 2.0-litre 141kW/280Nm four-cylinder while the JCW is the hardcore one with the same 2.0-litre engine but tuned to make 170kW and 320Nm.
All are turbo-petrol engines and all Hatches and Convertibles are front-wheel drive.
Okay, this is where it gets a bit messy - the transmissions. The Cooper, Cooper S and JCW hatch come standard with a six-speed manual, but optional is a seven-speed dual-clutch auto on the Cooper, a sports version of that auto on the Cooper S and an eight-speed auto on the JCW.
It’s the other way around for the Convertible which comes standard with those autos as you step up from Cooper to JCW, with an optional manual gear box.
How fast is the hardcore one? The three-door JCW can do the 0-100km/h sprint in 6.1 seconds which is quick, while the Cooper S is half a second behind that and the Cooper is a second behind that.
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 Cooper’s three-cylinder turbo petrol is the most fuel-efficient engine in the range, with Mini saying you should see 5.3L/100km in the three-door Hatch, 5.4L/100km in the five-door and 5.6L/100km in the Convertible using an automatic transmission.
The Cooper S’s four-cylinder turbo according to Mini should use 5.5L/100km in the three-door Hatch, 5.6L/100km in the five-door and 5.7L/100km in the Convertible.
The JCW’s four-cylinder is the thirstiest of the pack, with Mini claiming that in the three-door you’ll use 6.0L/100km while the Convertible will need 6.3L/100km (you can’t get a JCW five-door Hatch).
Those figures are based on driving on a combination of urban and open roads.
During my time in the three-door JCW the trip computer recorded and average of 9.9L/100km and that was on mainly country roads.
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.
I’m yet to drive a Mini that wasn’t fun, but some are more fun than others. At the launch of the updated Hatch and Convertible I piloted the three-door in Cooper S and JCW form, and the five-door Cooper.
You can’t go wrong with any of these from a driving perspective – all steer precisely and directly, all feel agile and manoeuvrable, all are easy to drive and yup, fun.
But the Cooper S’s bump in power over the Cooper adds the grunt to match the great handling, making it my pick of the bunch. I drove the three-door Cooper S, and to me this is the quintessential Mini – plenty of grunt, great feel and the smallest of the family.
Stepping it up several notches is the JCW, which is sniffing around in high-performance territory with its powerful engine with its JCW specific turbo and sport exhaust, bigger brakes, adaptive suspension and bigger brakes. I drove the three-door Hatch in the JCW grade and loved shifting with those paddles, the barks on the upshifts are awesome, and the crackles as you step down though the gears is, too.
The eight-speed dual-clutch transmission in the JCW is a beautiful and fast thing, but the seven-speed sports auto in the Cooper S is mighty fine, as well.
There wasn’t a chance to steer the Convertible this time around, but I’ve driven the current generation soft-top before, and apart from the lack of roof making it easier for somebody my size to climb in, the ‘indoor-outdoor’ driving experience adds to the fun factor.
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 Mini Hatch was given a four-star ANCAP rating in 2015 (that's four out of five), while the Convertible has not been tested. While both Hatch and Convertible come with the usual safety equipment such as traction and stability control, and airbags (six in the Hatch and four in the Convertible), there is a lack of standard advanced safety technology. The Hatch and Convertible don’t come with AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking) as standard, but you can option the tech as part of a Driver Assistance pack.
For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX points and two top tether anchor points in the second row of the Hatch and Convertible.
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.