Driven: Suzuki Baleno 1.5L GLX Manual - So much sense in this package
On Sunday 04 March 2018, I caught a flight from OR Tambo to Cape Town International Airport with a few of my colleagues. We had a project to work on in Cape Town for about three weeks. So, while en route, as usual on these journeys, during the "cabin crew prepare for landing" moment, I start wondering about the car that I will be driving for the next few weeks because for corporate, the booking is into a group and not a specific vehicle.
So, we got to the airport, picked up our bags, and headed to the "blue" car rental company. The group we booked into was Group B at the time, which is mostly manual transmission budget hatches. As usual, I am very problematic with the car rental company, I always ask them to go to the back and check all the cars available before I pick whatever is "better" in my opinion.
Tip: On trips like this, don't get an early flight on a Sunday because you are going to get leftovers as weekenders have not yet returned the cars you "want." Okay, so there were only two options on the table that day, both from Japan, one was a Suzuki Baleno, and one was not a Suzuki.
I asked for Baleno's keys because the "Not-Baleno" is always a residual no matter which airport you go to in South Africa, that surely tells a story. Not that I expected much from the Suzuki Baleno anyway because at the time I had never given it a second look on the road.
Got to the car at parking lot number whatever, it was a lower-spec GL variant in Grey. I honestly did not like the design of it, especially the lower-spec. I did the usual scratch and dent inspection, checked the spare wheel, and all was good. Got in, put in the key, and started it, sounded like any other 1.4L naturally aspirated engine, put the gear into one and started moving, put the gear into two, gear three then gear four, and I was like "Woah, what the ****, I've enjoyed changing gears before, but this is pure satisfaction."
I never forgot that feeling ever since I lived with that car for a few weeks. Before I carry on, if you are asking yourself why I remember the experience vividly, it's because we had two of these cars and one of my colleagues crashed the other one and wrote it off, but they were fine, so it was not so sad, worry not.
Fast forward to 2022, Suzuki launches the second-generation Baleno and unlike when I first started noticing the first generation, this one was a first-time hit in my eyes.
We are going to focus on the vehicle we had on test which is the 1.5L GLX Manual. Looking at it, you will be greeted by a wider-looking face than the previous model with these three-claw Day Running Lights (DRLs) inside the headlight clusters on each side of the grille. The grille features the shiny S logo that talks well to the chrome trim covering the grille. Shifting your eyes down below the grille, you will see the fog lights also have this chrome trim on top. With all the front exterior lights on, you will realise that Suzuki did not miss, they are all LEDs and the DRLs remain lit with the headlights to create a distinctive look even in the dark.
Its side profile is not entirely different from the previous model as it features the same structure and the top-spec GLX still features chrome window trim and door handles. This also matches with the 16-inch polished chrome rims fitted on this variant. It is when you look at it from the rear that you see it's not far off from the previous generation model. The two-step design with a chrome spoiler under the rear windscreen and on top continues. The taillights continue with their distinctiveness also featuring the three-claw design effect.
Visually the Baleno has never been more appealing than it is now with this new generation.
If there is one place where this vehicle has stepped up it is inside. I have not been a fan of Suzuki interiors for some time, I always thought about the kind of plastics chosen and the interior design does not inspire one to choose it for keeps but for functionality and budget. This one though, I applaud Suzuki for its thoughtfulness; the leather-covered multifunctional steering wheel looks great with the grey plastic cover on the inside of the bottom part that matches with the dashboard and the center console bits. The main infotainment screen looks plush and in no way, near the "after-market" look it was giving in the previous generation. The graphics in the screen with its dark mode match the 3D analog gauges in the instrument cluster, it looks pleasing to the eye. Turn around and find the cloth seats, leather would have been great, but I was not bothered much. In the rear, you are met by rear air vents and USB A and C charging ports (Nice touch and not usual in this segment).
My gripe with it started with the interior lighting, the button's illumination is orange, yes, I have seen it appear worse than it does in here, but I am sure some ice blue or white could have created a better ambiance than this classic-looking orange. All the interior lights are normal bulbs, honestly, a little sacrifice of putting LEDs in this area could have added to the premium(ness).
Well, it offers a decent number of specs and features for a vehicle costing less than its competitors, this spec level GLX manual will set you back only R281 900 and it comes with a few things that will make you think again before you scratch it off the consideration list. To name a few: Keyless entry with stop/start, Auto headlights with follow-me-home function, puddle lamps, heads-up display, footwell lights in front, AVM (360-degree camera system with kerb assist on the fly), auto-dimming rearview mirror, etc.
Overall, the number of features offered are almost unseen at this price point and that is one of this vehicle's selling points.
How does it drive though?
There are two sides to this story, one side is a normal drive that does not require a lot of effort from the car in getting to where you need to get to. If you are an early person, who is never late for appointments, get in drive it in no hurry, and cruise along the highway, you are going to get the best part of this vehicle. It drives so well because of its transmission; it makes you feel like you are in a premium vehicle. I memorized the feeling that the Baleno gave me years ago with its transmission and this 5-speed is still one of the best you can shift, it feels so soft and the clutch is so well calibrated that it's not easy to stall it.
Well, I said there are two sides, if you are going to push this and want to fly everywhere because you are late or think you can outpace everyone, you are in for a tough time. You will feel it if you need all the power and torque from a standstill that it needs a turbo because it's going to scream so uncomfortably that you will stop pushing that accelerator and at the same time it's not outpacing cars around it. This four-cylinder 1.5L naturally aspirated engine brings out 77kw and 138nm of torque, I know cars that are slower than this one but this engine revs will make you feel like you are hurting it so much that you have to feel sorry for it by starting slowly from every standstill. As expected in this segment, the insulation is not the best either because most of the interior materials are plastic which brings engine and wind noises into the cabin. I usually counter this with the sound system but Suzuki, this sound system needs to be properly set up, especially with 6 speakers, halfway through the volume and already it has a scratchy throat.
The steering wheel response is not something you will be fond of, especially when in a hurry. Find yourself in an area where there are many traffic circles, add speed humps to that and you will feel how much you are working in there. It is not a vehicle that you can play with on quick exits on traffic circles and fun punches from speed humps because the steering wheel needs quite a lot of input before it responds to where you are really pointing the car and you need more torque for those punchy pick-ups.
This is as sensible as a vehicle can be. One thing I realised though Suzuki did not try to make it in any other way than it is, they are giving you what you need, a budget vehicle that has all you need plus nice-to-haves for the price of "all you need."
I don't think I ever reviewed a car and created a segment or specific paragraph with a bold heading that talks about fuel consumption. I really had to on this one though; Suzuki claims 5.2L to a 100km distance and well well, no matter how much I pushed this car, the worst consumption would be 5.3L to 100km. Midweek after being with the car for a few days and after doing 449km of extra-urban travel from almost a full tank that the car came with, it was left with 71km of range. It has a small tank, 37L in capacity, however, it does not make you panic as you will not always find yourself by the petrol stations all the time.
Is it safe?
The GLX variant comes with dual front airbags, front side airbags, and curtain airbags. It also has ABS with EBD, hill hold assist, brake assist function, and an electronic stability program. The previous generation Suzuki Baleno scored a 4-star Euro NCAP rating back in 2016 and a concerning Zero Star rating from Latin NCAP. Some of the main contributors to the Latin NCAP results appear to be because the one tested had two airbags, no electronic stability control, and no emergency braking assist and some of these features were available in the European market. With the current generation GLX having these features, one can only wait for it to be tested to know the "stars."
This car competes with the likes of VW Polo, Renault Clio V, Hyundai i20, and Mazda2 to name a few, and all those cars' lower spec variants cost just around or above the top-spec Baleno GLX A/T which comes at R301 900. That's clearly going to be how it responds to whatever competition can offer as they can put up a fight based on superior power figures from their turbo-charged engines, but when it comes to value for money, Suzuki has a lot to offer while taking less from your pocket.
The pricing for all variants is as follows:
Baleno GL MT - R231 900
Baleno GL AT - R251 900
Baleno GLX MT - R281 900
Baleno GLX AT - R301 900
The Suzuki Baleno comes standard with a 4-year or 60 000km service plan at 15000km intervals and a 5-year or 200 000km warranty.
This is easy to see, it's just in the open, Suzuki wanted to give us a vehicle that is easy to live with, easy to drive, has minimal maintenance costs, is durable (no turbo), one-to-edge competition with pricing vs features and they did just that. I am this close, this close to saying there is no reason not to buy this car. Yes, it is not perfect, but it makes so much sense to buy this for everyday use.
Pen: Sebuwa M
Photos: Sebuwa M