Auto Trader verdict:
With an interior that’s more spacious than most of its rivals’, a list of standard equipment that shames most other superminis’, and a couple of economical petrol engines, the Baleno has a lot going for it, especially with some attractive finance offers available, too. It’s very much worth a look if you’re after a something a little more practical than the average supermini, but we can’t wholeheartedly recommend it due to a couple of shortcomings, most notably its shortage of ride comfort and below-par interior quality.
What is it?
The Baleno is a new supermini from Suzuki, but before you say, ‘Hang on, don’t they already make the Swift?’, let us explain. Suzuki is only too aware of the fact that its dealers lose a lot of potential customers because they find the Swift too small, but aren’t willing to move up into one of the company’s bigger SUVs. So, the Baleno is the company’s solution to the problem: a slightly longer supermini with much more room inside, both for passengers and for luggage, and which will sell alongside the Swift.
At a fraction less than four metres in length, the Baleno is almost identical in size to the Skoda Fabia and Hyundai i20, but customers have only a small range to choose from: the Suzuki comes in just two very well equipped trim levels (both have six airbags, air-conditioning, sat-nav, Bluetooth and DAB radio), and with a choice of two petrol-powered powertrains – a ‘mild hybrid’ 1.2-litre four-cylinder unit or a more powerful turbocharged three-cylinder 1.0-litre unit. Prices start at £12,999 for an SZT-trimmed car with the 1.0-litre engine, but our first experience of the new model came in the £1000 dearer SZ5-trimmed car.
What's it like?
Really rather good, actually, and the positive impressions begin with the way it looks. It’s a very smart little thing, with plenty of chrome detailing on this range-topping SZ5 model – on the door handles, grille and bootlid, for example – as well as 16-inch alloy wheels.
Admittedly, when you step inside, you can’t help but notice the swathes of hard, cheap-feeling plastic, along with some pieces of trim (the console around the gearlever and handbrake, for example) that flex in your hand, but what’s much more impressive is the amount of space at your disposal.
There’s plenty of head- and legroom for those in the front seats, and given the car’s relatively small dimensions, there's a surprising amount of space in the back. Even with a couple of six-footers installed up front and with their seats pushed well back, there’s enough legroom in the rear seats for another couple of adults in the back seats. And, unless they’re well over six feet tall, they’ll have no complaints about the headroom, either. Fitting three across the rear bench would be a squeeze, as the centre seat is narrower than the outer two, but not an utter impossibility.
True, the boot is a little less impressive – in particular, the high sill and narrow opening make loading and unloading rather tricky – but the overall capacity of 320 litres is more than you’ll find in a Ford Fiesta or Vauxhall Corsa. All in all, it means the Baleno is one of the UK’s most spacious and practical superminis.
It’s also one of the more economical petrol-engined superminis, with the three-cylinder engine averaging more than 60mpg. And, if our brief drive is anything to go by, it's capable of getting not far short of that in typical everyday driving.
In fact, the engine is one of the best aspects of the new car, and such is its general refinement on the move that you’d never realise it was a three-cylinder unit. As long as you keep it revving at more than 2000rpm, it responds nice and keenly, and while it’s not quick, it’s plenty quick enough for everyday use. It’s certainly much less hard work than the 1.2-litre engine, which (despite its extra cylinder) doesn’t respond as keenly and feels less willing and refined by comparison.
Around town, the Baleno is very much in its element, with that little engine whisking you from one junction to the next, and the light steering making easy work of manoeuvring. However, even at these modest speeds, you soon notice one of the Baleno’s shortcomings: the road surface doesn’t have to deteriorate very much before the ride comfort follows suit. In fact, over some of the mangled Tarmac that covers far too many of our city streets, the Baleno can make a real meal of ruts and ridges. Worse still, it doesn’t get any better once you escape the city limits, and it's only once you’re on decent main roads or motorways that things smooth out again.
The handling, too, is a little disappointing, and certainly not a match for the likes of the Ford Fiesta. Despite the apparent firmness of the suspension, there’s still plenty of body roll through bends. That, combined with the lack of feel and inconsistent weight to the steering, makes for a car that doesn’t encourage you to press on. Instead, the Baleno is a car that responds better to a more restrained style of driving.
Should I get one?
The Baleno’s big selling points are its extensive standard equipment and spacious cabin, so this is a car that will appeal to people who buy with their head rather than their heart. Put it this way: you’ll struggle to find another supermini that offers so much space and equipment for such an affordable price.
However, if you’re rather less rational and want a car that tugs more strongly at your heartstrings, then you should probably look elsewhere. Although, if you explain that to a Suzuki dealer, they may well just point you in the direction of a Swift.
A very capable supermini that does a good job in most areas, and worth a look if you’re after a less obvious supermini choice Hyundai i20
Cracking value for money, as well as easy to drive and affordable to run. Granted, it has a few flaws, but it should still be near the top of any supermini buyer’s shortlist Ford Fiesta
A class-leading supermini boasting fine handling, good looks and decent practicality. Hugely popular, and deservedly so