► Biggest small Suzuki driven
► Shares platform with Ignis & Swift
► Roomy and well specified
There’s been a lot of updating going on in the Suzuki range in the last couple of years. There’s been a new Swift, a new Ignis and the return of the Baleno name, replacing the Liana.
So, the range now starts with the tiny Celerio, then there’s the quirky Ignis, the Swift supermini and the Baleno hatchback. Above the Baleno there are the bigger, all-wheel-drive crossovers, the Vitara and the SX4. All major on value, with the engineering focused on getting the basics right.
The Baleno – available from 13 grand, and sometimes less when Suzuki whips out one of its frequent special offers – is closer to 208, C3, Corsa and Polo than 308, C4, Astra and Golf on size and price.
Suzuki’s styling has got pretty keen of late, and the level of equipment fitted as standard is often pleasingly high. But there’s nothing premium or sophisticated about the Baleno; it follows the usual Suzuki pattern of feeling primarily functional and tough, even though there’s some modern technology in there.
So the question is, does a brand new but essentially traditional hatchback make sense at a time when so much of the competition is going crossover or premium or both?
But it looks so dull…
Entirely a matter of opinion, of course… but yes, it’s vying with the SX4 to be the frumpiest and least elegant member of the current Suzuki line-up. There’s a lot of 2007 Fiat Bravo going on here, and this is not an asset when potential buyers would also be scanning the likes of the DS3.
But put such superficial concerns aside and the Baleno has a lot going for it, starting with the fundamentals of its construction. A lot of ultra-high tensile steel is involved, giving an enviable combination of rigidity and lightness.
The engines are also good. It’s a line-up familiar from the rest of the Suzuki range: 1.2-litre petrol fours, with or without the negligibly useful mild hybrid system, and this 1.0-litre turbocharged triple – a fine example of using the precision made possible by modern injection and turbocharging to create an efficient engine that doesn’t offer a huge amount of grunt but makes it readily available.
There are four spec levels, all of them involving a helpful but not extravagant amount of driving aids and infotainment; this SZ5 comes with climate control, cruise control, DAB and more.
What’s so good about it?
That’s easy: it’s fun to drive. Yes, it only has 110bhp and a five-speed gearbox (although a six-speed auto is also available), but it weighs next to nothing considering it’s pretty roomy for two adults and three kids.
And, crucially, it’s been set up by ride and handling engineers who know what they’re doing. They’re not building a car for an imaginary race track, so there’s a decent quality to the ride, but nor are they compromised by unnecessary ground clearance and the concomitant high centre of gravity. Similarly, the steering isn’t razor sharp, but it’s responsive, predictable and well attuned to the rest of the car.
The downside of the simplicity, lightness and lack of clutter is that it’s loud when you’re pushing the engine hard – a full house of wind noise, engine noise and tyre noise – and too many of the interior surfaces are hard plastic.
Like a lot of Suzukis, this is a practical, unpretentious car that’s good value and, on its day, good fun. Unlike some other Suzukis it’s a little light on sparkle, and won’t win any awards for image or novelty.
But if you don’t care about that, and give top priority to transporting yourself and your (small) family around in a fuss-free, easygoing way, then this modest, unassuming hatchback is well worth a second look.
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