REVIEW | Why Suzuki's got-it-all Baleno is unjustifiably overlooked in the market

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2020 Suzuki Baleno
2020 Suzuki Baleno

• The Suzuki Baleno first came to market in 2016.

• The car is a B-segment contender, but with a size similar to some C-segment offerings.

• The Baleno is powered by a 1.4-litre petrol engine.

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As the 2020 festive season dawned upon us, Suzuki South Africa delivered a Baleno 1.4 GLX manual for use over this period. As expected, the team had no qualms driving this stalwart for a few weeks, given that the Baleno had held a soft spot among the Wheels24 team since its local debut back in 2016.

In Suzuki South Africa's product lineup, the Baleno is one of three hatchbacks; running alongside the Celerio and Swift. But the Baleno caters to the buyer who wants more space and sprightly better performance than offered by its siblings. As such, the B-segment car is 3995mm long and has a wheelbase that is, at 2520mm, 70mm longer than the Swift's. According to the Japanese automaker, the car's size puts it on par with several rivals from the market's C-segment.

It is a good thing, because the healthy diameters translate into a cabin that can easily fit five passengers in comfort. The deep boot's load capacity is rated at 355L, but can expand to a maximum of 1085L when the boot cover is removed and the rear seats folded flat.

Suzuki Baleno
2020 Suzuki Baleno

GLX makes it count

The Baleno, in GLX guise, is kitted with a host of features to make it count in a sea of competitive rivals. Luckily, Suzuki South Africa prides itself on delivering well-specified vehicles without the need to break the bank. As such, our test unit is decked like a Christmas tree with standard features that will make most cars look pale in comparison.

Users are greeted by a seven-inch full-colour touch screen that plays home to various multimedia functions, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. This includes connecting your cellphone to the system via Bluetooth or AUX, as well as a USB port for external music devices. New Bluetooth devices can only be connected once the vehicle has come to a complete stop, which is a bit of a hassle when passengers take over DJ duties.

Furthermore, all the windows are electrically operated, and access to the vehicle and starting the car can be done without a key. A rearview camera forms part of the package, as does rear park distance control. The GLX is also fitted six airbags and front fog lights to differentiate it from the GL model.

Suzuki Baleno
2020 Suzuki Baleno

It's frugal. Very frugal

The Baleno can pride itself on one crucial aspect: fuel-efficiency. Over the last few weeks, the car covered more than 1000km running around Town and returned a scarcely believable 6.1-litres/100km. Granted, our journeys included plenty of city driving and a heavy foot, but the fuel return is a win, nonetheless. However, we do believe that Suzuki's claim of 5.1-litres/100km is well within reach.

How Suzuki went about achieving such stellar figures requires a simple formula: low weight with a lively engine that does not wail under pressure. The 1.4-litre naturally aspirated engine offers 68kW and 130Nm, all sent to the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox. Add the 915kg weight into the equation, and suddenly it makes sense why the Baleno is so 'light' on its feet.

We did find, though, that the car is prone to a sudden change of direction under strong winds, and that the gearbox's feathers must be ruffled a bit to extract optimal performance. Regardless, it was the car the team gravitated towards more times than not.

Suzuki Baleno
2020 Suzuki Baleno

In summary

As of December 2020, the Baleno 1.4 GLX manual retails for R259 900. And while it may seem like a fair amount of money, it 1) compares very well against its rivals and 2) offers an extremely well-equipped package that few cars in its segment can match.

Sadly, the problem is that while Suzuki has made huge inroads into the South African market over the last 12 years, buyers are just not 'believing' in the Baleno. Unjustifiably so, because Suzuki's reputation in South Africa has garnered widespread trust and has the automaker - in a Covid-struck 2020 - registered its highest-ever sales figure in October: 2032 new vehicles sold, placing it as the sixth best-selling automaker.

The Baleno might not count among the first vehicles that spring to mind when mentioning Suzuki, but behind the scenes it packs a formidable punch.

Suzuki Baleno
2020 Suzuki Baleno
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