The Suzuki Swift is a lovely little thing but access to its rear seats and the boot space it offers isn’t the greatest. Suzuki understands this, which is why it has produced the Baleno, a car that it hopes will retain all of the joie de vivre of its smaller sibling in a slightly larger package.
Practical, yet awkward
It almost works. Rear-seat legroom is as good as anything in its class and far better than most; I could sit behind myself, as it were, and at a lofty 6-foot plus that’s no mean feat. Boot space too is commodious, with 320 litres on offer with the rear seats upright, and a gargantuan 756 litres with them folded.
So the Baleno is a very practical car, but it isn’t necessarily the most attractive. The ‘Liquid Flow’ design is said to “evoke an energetic mass of liquid in motion”, which might be the case, but it looks a bit awkward to my eyes. Still, there’s no denying it’s a thoroughly modern design although it does look every centimetre of its 3.99 metre length.
It’s what’s inside that counts
Things get better when you climb inside. The Baleno might not be up to VW or Audi levels of plastic quality but it’s easily good enough that no one will discount on account of the fit and finish. I was very pleasantly surprised by how high-end it felt inside, although I was less impressed by the seat height; despite seat height adjustment – which is always better at raising the driver than lowering them – I felt like I was perching on, rather than sitting in, the car.
Equipment levels are high, and few buyers will find anything to complain about. The base model SZ-T come with six airbags, 16-inch alloy wheels, HID headlights, air-conditioning, sat-nav, DAB radio with Bluetooth, ear privacy glass, and electric windows.
The SZ5 adds automatic air-conditioning, a 4.2-inch TFT display, LED rear lights, adaptive cruise control and radar brake support plus rear disc brakes. The cost to step up to this model is £1,000, which I think is a worthwhile upgrade for the braking system alone. (It is also slightly cheaper to insure as a result.)
A meaty engine
The engine, a three-cylinder, one-litre turbocharged Boosterjet engine, is a lovely thing. It revs and revs and is accompanied by a delightfully throaty soundtrack. It’s meaty too, with decent torque and sufficient mid-range urge to make overtaking at sensible speeds a simple matter of changing down a gear or two through the five-speed, slightly rubbery gearbox and mashing the throttle.
In this respect I was irresistibly reminded of my old VW Golf GTi that sported exactly the same output. That’s high praise for a car that’s intended as an everyday runabout rather than a sporting hot-hatchback.
The lack of a sixth gear might be a deal breaker for anyone who covers a lot of motorway miles though, as the Baleno can sound quite busy at higher speeds.
Offering real fun
It handles well, too. Despite the front end feeling a little under-damped - a situation not helped by slightly woolly, lackluster steering - the Baleno offers real fun for the enthusiastic driver. I spent a very enjoyable morning and afternoon ripping through the countryside of Northern Ireland and enjoyed every moment of it, helped enormously by the car’s low weight.
The Baleno is the first car to use a completely new Suzuki platform; the result is a stiff but light car that revels in enthusiastic driving. However, it was in the city that it came into its own, with its compact width and instantaneous throttle response turning the Baleno into a very effective town car.
Suzuki also produces a ‘mild hybrid’ version of the Baleno. A four-cylinder 1.25-litre petrol engine is mated to an integrated starter generator (known as ISG) that boosts the engine’s power under acceleration and generates electricity under braking.
I tested it briefly and couldn’t detect it at all, which is probably a good thing. Suzuki claims that the benefits of the ISG system include reduced fuel consumption, but my time with the car was too short to verify this.
A car by an underrated manufacturer
In summary, the Baleno worked best for me with the three-cylinder Boosterjet engine. I’d step up to the SZ5 trim level too just for the adaptive radar braking, in which configuration the Baleno is a compelling offer.
The predicted residual values are very good, enabling Suzuki to offer some very low PCP prices: with a 10% deposit, for example, a Baleno can be yours for £199 a month.
Awkward looks aside, it’s not the best car in its class to drive but it does offer a level of equipment – safety and otherwise – and rear-seat space that elevates it to the upper echelons of its class.
That it comes with the unburstable Suzuki feeling is a lovely bonus; Suzuki is one of the most underrated manufacturers in the UK, something I struggle to understand.
Power – 110bhp
Torque – 125 lb ft0-62mph – 11.4 seconds
Top speed – 124mph
Kerb weight – 950kgs
Official average fuel consumption – 62.7mpg
CO2 emissions – 105g/km
VED class – Band B
Warranty – 3 yrs/60,000 miles
Price – £13,999
Price as tested - £14,429
The Suzuki Swift is smaller, but better to drive. If you don’t need the extra rear-seat legroom then it’s a far nicer car.
The best of the rest
The Ford Fiesta is the best-selling car in its class for a very good reason.
The VW Polo doesn’t offer the same interior space as the Baleno, but if a premium interior is important to you then the German car like almost nothing else.