Suzuki Baleno VS Renault Megane
- Cheap to buy
- Big boot
- Expensive servicing
- Cheap interior
- Sexy looks
- You can still get a manual!
- More practical than before
- Four-wheel steering adds complexity
- Interior little differentiated from GT
- Rear legroom
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|
More power, more wheelarches, more steering, more doors and more transmissions. Aside from possibly the doors part, it's all sounding pretty rosy for the new third generation of Renault's Megane R.S. hot hatch.
The current Clio R.S. has followed a similar formula to great effect, improving its overall sales figures drastically, but it's fair to say it's lost a certain je ne sais quoi for the purists who've grown to worship the brand.
Selling cars vs brand building is always a tricky balance for car companies, but the previous Megane R.S. is giving the new model a handy head start with Australia being its third biggest market in the world.
Wander down the pit lane at any track day or tarmac rally, and you're bound to come across a handful of previous models. Often more than any other hot hatch, which is a clear sign of approval from those in the know who work their cars hard.
Will the new model build on that legacy? We were among the first to drive the new R.S. on road and track to find out at its Australian launch this week.
|Engine Type||1.8L 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.
The new Megane R.S. is objectively a better car overall, and will probably appeal to more people, but it's not quite as special as the model it replaces.
It will be telling if the expected Trophy R flagship retains the all-wheel steering system, but in base R.S. guise its benefits are questionable.
It's an excellent hot hatch regardless, particularly on public roads, and I reckon it's at its best with the EDC transmission and the Alcantara and Bose option boxes ticked.
Do you think the new Megane R.S. is a step forward or sideways for Renault Sport? Tell us what you think 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.
You can't miss those bulging wheelarches on all four corners, which are needed to cover the 19-inch alloy wheels and tracks which have been widened by 60mm at the front and 45mm at the rear. They cost Renault a lot of money to change over the regular Megane, and no other current hot hatch manages to do it.
The front guards also feature functional air extraction vents and the look is capped with completely different front and rear bumpers and a central exhaust. Unlike most of its rivals, the rear diffuser is able to generate downforce in lieu of a big rear spoiler. The body kit is completed by fatter and lower sills on either side, and other dimensions are largely the same as a regular Megane hatch.
You won't mistake it for just any Megane from the outside, but the interior is a bit more subdued. If you're looking to trade up from the existing Megane GT, the only real changes you'll notice will be carbon-look inlays on the dash and doors and an R.S. logo on the steering wheel.
Aside from R.S. logos on the headrests, the front seats look outwardly similar to the sports seats in the GT, too, but have been treated to specific shaping and materials to balance everyday driving with the extra bolstering required for the track.
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.
Unlike the last generation, the new model is a five-door hatch. This may not be as sexy as the three door, swooping coupe roofline of before, but it makes the R.S. a whole lot easier to live with.
Access is the number one benefit though, as the regular Megane's back seat is somewhat lacking in legroom, which is further compounded by limited toe room underneath the sport front seats.
The other big practicality must-haves are retained though, with two cupholders front and rear and bottle holders in each door. There are ISOFIX child seat mounts in the outboard positions, and it also gets the same 434-litre boot space as a regular Megane hatch, which is pretty decent for its class.
You'll only find an inflation kit instead of a spare tyre though, regardless of whether the Bose audio system is optioned.
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 new R.S. kicks off $1000 higher than the previous R.S. 265 Cup starting point with a list price of $44,990 with the manual transmission. The EDC auto adds $2500, but the overall price list is still among the best value in its class.
It sits below key rivals like the recently revised $45,490 Golf GTI and the 308 GTis $45,990 starting point, and significantly below the identically priced $50,990 Civic Type R and all-wheel drive Focus RS, as well as the Golf R at $56,490.
However, the Renault is still trumped by the i30 N's $39,990 starting point, as well as entry-level offerings such as the $38,990 Ford Focus ST.
Only one Renault Megane Sport trim level is available for now, with the recently revealed Trophy due to be added in around 12 months. How much it will cost is yet to be determined.
Out of the box, the new R.S. features an 8.7-inch multimedia system capable of displaying performance analytics including acceleration, braking, and wheel angle. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity is also now built in, as is GPS sat nav.
It also gains R.S. badging, sport seats, a perforated leather steering wheel and shifter, dual-zone climate control, and heated folding side mirrors.
The only performance option at this stage is the Cup pack, which for just $1490 gets you a Torsen limited slip differential, a sharper suspension tune, red Brembos with two piece rotors that lower the unsprung mass by 1.8kg per corner, and a whole bunch of little detail changes under the skin. You can pick the Cup pack visually by its black versions of the standard wheels.
You can also upgrade the standard cloth trim to Alcantara for an extra $1190, add a 10-speaker Bose sound system for $500, and a panoramic sunroof for $1990.
The new 'Tonic Orange' hero colour is stunning, but it and the now classic 'Liquid Yellow' will set you back a further $880, while other metallic hues will cost $600. The only non-metallic colour is actually 'Glacier White', with the rest of the colours made up of 'Pearl White', 'Diamond Black', 'Titanium Grey' and 'Flame Red'.
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's no point having the bulgiest wheelarches in the business if you can't back them up with actual strength, and the new Megane R.S. manages to squeeze out an extra 4kW and 30Nm over the previous R.S. 275.
Technically this new model is the R.S. 280 after its power output in metric horsepower (hp), but the output figure nomenclature seems to have taken a step back this time around in favour of just R.S..
Either way, the new totals are 205kW and 390Nm, with the former reached at 6000rpm and the latter available from a higher than usual 2400-4800rpm.
A twin scroll turbocharger is once again utilised, but the new engine drops from 2.0-litres to 1.8 and is shared with the new Alpine A110 sports car. The Alpine tune is just 185kW/320Nm though, and Renault claims the Megane R.S. spec is the most powerful 1.8-litre motor on the market.
The base engine has been co-developed with Nissan as part of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, but features a specific cylinder head design in Renault form, with a reinforced structure and redesigned cooling passages. It also features plasma-lined cylinder bores like the Nissan GT-R. Previous Megane R.S. owners will be glad to learn that the new engine uses a timing chain instead of a timing belt.
Perhaps the biggest surprise with the new Megane R.S. is that it retains a six-speed manual transmission as its default choice, even though a six speed dual-clutch (EDC) automatic is now available as an option for the first time. This conflicts with the Clio's EDC-only specs these days.
The Megane's EDC is a tweaked version of that used in several other Renault models, but with bespoke gear ratios, shift tuning and strengthening to suit the R.S.'s high torque loads. The weight penalty over the manual is just 23kg.
Gears can be manually selected via the shifter or shift paddles behind the steering wheel, and shift times get faster as you move between 'Comfort'/'Normal', 'Sport' and 'Race' drive modes.
One unique feature is 'Multi Change Down' mode, which will automatically select the best gear for a corner if you hold down the downshift paddle when in Sport or Race drive modes.
The EDC transmission also has 'Launch Mode' to optimise standing start acceleration.
Drive is still sent through the front wheels, but the R.S. now scores four-wheel steering to help with slow speed agility and high speed stability.
The '4Control' system is also seen on the Megane GT, and steers the rear wheels by up to 2.7 degrees to tighten the turning circle at slower speeds, and transitions to follow the front wheels in parallel to effectively extend the wheelbase at higher speeds. This transition generally happens at 60km/h, but moves to 100km/h when Race mode is selected.
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.
Renault claims an eight per cent fuel consumption improvement over the previous generation R.S., which leaves the new model with official combined figures of 7.4L/100km for the manual and 7.5 for the EDC.
As you'd expect with such a specific output, top-shelf 98 RON unleaded is needed, and the 50-litre fuel tank suggests a theoretical range between fills of at least 666km.
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.
Now for the important part.
I always felt the previous Megane R.S. was as if Porsche had been involved, and an assurance that if the Zuffenhausen brand does end up building front-wheel drive models it wouldn't be the end of the world.
It was so direct, tight as a drum and predictable. What you put into it is exactly what it gave back, so the new one has big shoes to fill.
We drove the standard car with the EDC transmission, as well as the Cup pack with the manual transmission around town, and put the R.S.'s money where its mouth is on track with the Cup pack at the Norwell Motorplex in Queensland.
Beyond those fantastic looks, the seats, the steering wheel and the raspy exhaust note are spot on for an R.S.
The steering itself is quite nice, too, no doubt due largely to the front suspension's specific 'independent steering axis' steering knuckles, which move the steering axis 13mm closer to the hub face on each side to reduce torque and bump steer.
You'd expect it to ride like a rollerskate based on the 35 series rubber at each corner, but the ride comfort is actually quite livable.
This continues right through the spectrum of road conditions, with the crashiness that some hot hatches suffer over big bumps absent. This is likely due to its hydraulic compression stop dampers, which effectively puts a dampening bump stop within each shock absorber to create second stage dampening instead of a sudden thud. The new R.S. is proof that you don't have to be harsh to be fast.
The EDC transmission's tune is much nicer than in any other Renault I've experienced, regardless of drive mode, with responsive automatic shifts and quick manual shifts when needed. The manual is also fine, but the fat gear lever doesn't feel as mechanical as I'd like in a driver's car.
The new engine's smaller capacity makes itself known around town, with max torque not available until 2400rpm. Most current turbos manage this sooner, but it's worth noting that the new engine does manage to deliver peak torque 600rpm earlier than the previous 2.0-litre. Once you're underway though, it feels every bit of its 205kW/390Nm.
The 4Control all-wheel steering is largely undetectable under general driving conditions, but when it does become apparent (when you're having fun), it's pros also bring a few cons.
If you're heading through a bunch of corners of varying speeds, which let's face it, most twisty roads do, it's mildly annoying how the all-wheel steering shifts between modes, particularly if it happens mid corner. Think of it as a variable wheelbase and you'll get an idea of what I mean.
The torsion beam rear suspension on the other hand feels fine, and a more complex independent set-up would certainly push the new model's 34-57kg weight gain much higher. For the record, the manual weighs 1427kg, while the EDC is 1450.
The Norwell Motorplex circuit may be dead flat, but its surface is quite bumpy and therefore handy for performance testing a road car.
Once again, the new R.S.'s fundamentals seem fine, and the Cup's stiffer suspension didn't make it skittish on the circuit.
It puts the power down brilliantly through the Torsen diff and 245-section tyres, allowing you to get on the power much earlier and its amazing how it hauls for a 1.8 litre in a near-1.5 tonne car. The official 0-100km/h acceleration claim with either transmission is an impressive (for a front driver) 5.8s, which is also in line with the previous generation's Trophy R ultimate incarnation.
Those 355mm front Brembos reign it in nicely too, retaining a consistent feel after five or so laps of Norwell where we saw 155km/h along the back straight.
The all-wheel steering's effects are more obvious on the track, with quite a few of the corners straddling the 60km/h transition point in all modes aside from Race. The long sweeper straddles the 100km/h transition point in Race, so that's hardly the solution. You're effectively switching wheelbase lengths depending on which corner you're in, and often mid-corner.
It isn't drastic or dangerous, but it adds another dimension to your judgement of corner speeds that would take some getting used to.
Salvation is likely at hand though, as I learned after our drive that it's possible to turn off the 4Control system via the Perso drive mode that allows elements to be adjusted independently. We can't wait to give that a crack.
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 variants are equipped with front, side and curtain airbags that extend to the back seat, plus the usual suite of stability and traction control functions and front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.
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 detail you should be aware of is that Renault Sport models have dropped back to a three year warranty as of May 1, 2018. Kilometres are still unlimited, but all other Renault passenger models carry a five year term.
Service intervals are a decent 12 months or 20,000km, and the first three services are capped at $399 each.
If any reliability issues arise, you'll likely find them on our Megane R.S. problems page.