Last week I was invited down to an overcast and windy (duh) Port Elizabeth to sample Suzuki's newest offering for the South African market, the all-new Baleno, the 5th completely new model to hit our shores since 2015. As you can see from the pics, the Baleno is a compact hatchback and it joins a few similarly sized cars in the manufacturer's lineup. The Baleno sets a first for Suzuki, while they have long been making cars in India under the Maruti Suzuki banner, this is the first model produced in India that's been exported to be sold in Japan. That alone tells you that the build quality of this car exceeds the expectations you may have after seeing the affordable pricing. The Baleno was first unveiled at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show, which isn't that long ago, and since then the car has collected 13 awards. Actually, a day after the launch I received notification that the car snapped up another award, so the tally should stand at 14 now. In and among those awards, the Suzuki Baleno was voted as Irish Small Car of The Year for 2017 when it beat 42 new models to the title. The most recent saw the Baleno take top honours in the ‘Small Car’ category at the 2016 Scottish Car of The Year Awards held in Edinburgh by the Association of Scottish Motoring Writers. The competition in Europe compared to SA is like comparing a street fight to a UFC match, so that's really great going. The car is killing it in sales too, in India alone over 100,000 units were shifted in just 11 months.
Suzuki is the undisputed king of small cars, they have a fair amount in their lineup and this one slots in between their bread and butter model, the Swift, and another relative newcomer, the Ciaz. This makes it a sort of A-B segment car; a kind of A segment size with a B segment specification list. The Baleno also sees some new tech compared to other Suzukis, like the new generation platform that's 15% lighter and 10% more rigid, which improves braking, handling and efficiency. This puts the kerb weight at just 915kg, a full 110kg lighter than the 1.4 Swift, which is a smaller car. Impressive. The Suzuki also has best in class luggage space with a big 355-litre boot, and on the occupant side there's also enough space for it to be a class leader there too. The Baleno has new features over other models like a TFT instrument cluster, HID projector headlights with LED daytime running lights and rear combination LED taillights. On the infotainment front the Baleno has something that's been my only little bugbear with new Suzuki models - a good touchscreen head unit with all the modern functions needed.
Here in SA we will have access to two models, the GL with a 5-speed manual 'box and the GLX, the latter being the range-topper that offers the extra choice of a 4-speed automatic transmission. The GL has colour-coded mirrors and door handles, remote keyless entry, an MP3/CD player with USB & Bluetooth, steering-mounted audio controls as well as the usual array of convenience features like aircon, power steering, electric windows and electric mirrors. Safety features on the GL include ABS, EBD, BAS and dual airbags - a non-negotiable for me. Stepping up to the GLX we find all the same, but with additions like 16-inch alloys, a rear roof spoiler, the aforementioned HID headlights and taillights, indicators incorporated into the mirrors, a push button start, automatic climate control, cruise control, rear PDC and a total of 6 airbags.
It's a great package and with Suzuki targeting young singles, young couples and young families, the Baleno is set to do well. The pricing will be attractive to that target market, and with many not wanting to follow the crowd, the Baleno offers a really good alternative to the likes of VW's Polo and Ford's Fiesta. The Suzuki Baleno 1.4 GL MT starts at R199,000, the Baleno 1.4 GLX MT is set at R229,900 and the auto version, the Baleno GLX AT comes in at R244,900 - all prices inclusive of VAT. The new Baleno is also covered by Suzuki's standard 3-year/100 000km warranty and a 4-year/60 000km service plan with services coming in at 15 000km or 12 month intervals. As for the drive, it's surprisingly good. again, better than the pricing would suggest. I'll delve into the finer details when it comes time for a full road test. Until then, know that Suzuki is on to a winner here with yet another good, honest, typically Suzuki offering.