Suzuki Baleno VS Skoda Fabia
- Cheap to buy
- Big boot
- Expensive servicing
- Cheap interior
- Looks sporty
- Fun on a good road
- Good ownership prospects
- No paddle-shifters
- Some slow-speed lurch
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 Skoda Fabia range has been updated and facelifted. You mightn’t be able to tell just by looking at it, but there are broad-reaching adjustments across all models.
We’re in the sporty looking, high-spec Monte Carlo. It isn’t quite a hot hatch - rather, it has the makings of one, but instead makes do with a downsized turbo engine and a dual-clutch auto transmission without paddle-shifters. Shock, horror.
Even if it doesn’t hit the highs of some closely-priced go-fast compact hatches, the Fabia Monte Carlo offers some food for thought in this tough-fought segment.
|Engine Type||1.0L 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.
I like the Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo, but I’d have to love it if I was going to own it - especially considering I now live right in the guts of the city. If I still lived up in the Blue Mountains, it would make a bit more sense… but should that be the case for a city car? Arguably not.
Would you buy a Skoda Fabia? 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.
The redesigned front end of the Skoda Fabia is barely different to the model that preceded it, but trainspotters will note slightly redesigned headlights and a different bumper and grille. Those headlights include integrated LED daytime running lights, and there’s the option of full-scale LED headlights - but you have to pay for them.
In Monte Carlo spec you get sportier bodywork, including a black rear spoiler and black lower body kit, plus black 17-inch wheels with grippier Bridgestone Potenza rubber, and Monte Carlo badges on the B-pillars and door sills. Over lower grade models it also has front fog-lights and LED tail-lights.
There are changes inside the cabin, too, with different seat trim and a flat-bottom steering wheel. Check out the interior pictures to see if it’s to your taste or not.
I think it’s a sporty looking little hatch, with enough design flair to suit its compact dimensions. The Fabia hatch is just 3997mm long (on a 2470mm wheelbase), 1732mm wide and 1467mm tall.
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 cabin of the Fabia is compact. Admittedly, it’s a compact car on the outside too, but while most of Skoda’s other models manage to make you feel like you’re in something larger than you are, the Fabia - aside from its high roof and therefore very good headroom - is a little cramped.
Rear seat legroom and shoulder space is among the worst in the class, for instance - but if you’re not hauling 182cm-tall adults like me around in the back, then that mightn’t matter too much to you.
Youngsters will be comfortable in the back, and there are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchors and three top-tether points as well. Yep, it’s a five-seater.
There are bottle holders in all four doors, and a pair of map pockets on the front seatbacks, too. No cupholders in the rear and no centre armrest, either, and up front the cupholder situation could be better - there are two, but they are shallow and smaller than the standard Keep Cup. But hey, you get an umbrella hidden in the glovebox, and there’s a little rubbish bin in the driver’s front door pocket, too.
The materials used are on the cheaper side, with hard plastics on the doors and dashboard. But there are padded elbow rests on the doors and the small adjustable centre console cubby, and the carbon-look panel that runs across the dash is nice. The cloth seat trim looks great, too.
Boot space is good for the class, with 330 litres of cargo capacity with the rear seats up and 1150L with them down.
Not big enough? You can get a Fabia wagon - and as a Monte Carlo model if you’re completely sold on the look - and in that guise you’ll get a much bigger boot (530L/1395L).
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.
It’s small, has some touches of luxury and sportiness, and is definitely no Toyota Yaris.
So, with an asking price of $25,490 drive-away, what other cars could you be shopping it against? How about a Mazda 2 GT auto ($23,680 plus on-road costs), or a Volkswagen Polo Comfortline auto ($21,990 plus on-roads), or if you really want something a bit more sporty, then maybe a Suzuki Swift Sport auto ($27,490 plus on-roads).
There are some other shortcomings for a car at this price point: you don’t get keyless entry or push-button start, for instance, and there is no leather seat trim, heated seats or built-in sat nav (add $950 if you want that). A panoramic glass roof will set you back $1000, too.
As has been the case in previous years with Skoda models, there are several packs that customers can choose to add to their car to boost the specification levels.
On the Monte Carlo model, that includes the Vision Pack (priced at $1400) consisting of full LED headlights, auto lights and wipers, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and additional safety spec in the form of blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert - our car was fitted with that pack.
There’s also the Tech Pack ($1800), which includes keyless entry and push-button start, rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, climate control air-con, driver fatigue detection, DAB+ digital radio and dual USB ports in the rear.
Add both those options to the price and you’re approaching VW Polo GTI money…
The Fabia is available in an array of colours, including the choice of a black roof finish. You can choose between white, grey, blue, black and red, but green is reserved for non Monte Carlo models.
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 Fabia Monte Carlo is what Skoda calls the 81TSI engine - a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol producing 81kW of power and 200Nm of torque.
It has a standard-fit seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission, and like the lower-grade version, is front-wheel drive. There are no paddle-shifters, which might seem a bit of a silly concern - but after driving it, I found myself wishing there were.
Sadly, there is no manual version, which is a shame.
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.
Claimed fuel economy is 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres, which is very good. But in the real world, you can bank on using about double that in city driving. Plus you’ll need to factor in that the engine requires 95RON premium unleaded petrol, so filling up will add a few extra bucks.
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.
On the right stretch of road, the Fabia Monte Carlo has handling as good - if not superior - to some pint-sized hot hatches. It holds the road beautifully, turns with grace and ease, and feels balanced and controlled in the twisty bits.
The engine revs freely, the transmission shifts smartly - only let down by a lack of paddle-shifters. The whole experience feels nice, and if you only deal with higher-speed driving that happens to involve a mountain climb on the way to work, then: a) you’re luckier than you know; and b) you’ll be happy with a Fabia Monte Carlo.
But the big issue here is that this is a city car, and that’s where it stumbles and fumbles most.
The transmission is the real problem - it is hesitant, reluctant, downright dumb at times. Combined with some turbo-lag from the three-pot turbo engine, traffic lights can actually be nerve-wracking, as there’s not really a ‘regular’ feel to the way the car will take off. Sometimes it’ll jump away from the lights, other times it will lag and lurch.
The ride is reasonable in town, but sharp edges can upset things. And while the steering is a lot of fun in its weighty, direct attitude, that heft can be a tad annoying when you’re trying to park it.
All in all, the drivetrain feels a bit like old-Skoda-by-way-of-VW, and it simply isn’t as well considered as the equivalent VW if you just drive around town.
What a damn shame there isn’t a manual Monte Carlo, because it would easily negate all these concerns.
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.
No Fabia model comes with adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert or blind-spot monitoring as standard, but those are optionally available (see the pricing section above).
There’s no lane keeping assist or lane departure warning system on the Fabia - standard or optionally.
Where is the Skoda Fabia built? The answer is Skoda’s home country - Czech Republic.
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.
Skoda offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty on its models putting it on par with rivals, though it was one of the earlier adopters of the long warranty program.
Skoda offers the choice of either following a capped price servicing plan (out to six years/90,000km) or buyers the option to pre-purchase three years/45,000km or five years/75,000km of servicing in a service pack.
The latter allows you to roll the maintenance costs into your finance, which is nice, and the costs area $760 for three years, or $1600 for five - which works out to a discount of $317 and $885 if you pre-purchase rather than follow the standard capped-price plan.
Follow the capped price path and you will find costs of maintenance are on the high side for such little car, at: $291, $351, $435, $622, $435 and $351 respectively.