Maruti Suzuki Baleno first drive review
Think of a Baleno and the first picture that comes to my mind is the yellow rally car jumping really high up in the air. In fact Team OVERDRIVE's very own Suresh captured the famous click more than a decade back. Production ended a few years later and the Baleno went on to become a cult car. It still is used in rallying - even I experienced one in the INRC and till date, it remains one of my best rally car experiences. Maruti Suzuki makes very different cars today, but they've brought back the Baleno label in the form of an all-new premium hatchback.
Maruti Suzuki finally re-enter this segment. They did start the segment by introducing the Swift way back in 2005. The car was replaced with an all-new model but over the years, the car had lost that premium feel. The i20 and Jazz are a lot more appealing and have proved that larger and more expensive hatchbacks do well in India too. The new Baleno in a way is a larger and more premium Swift. It is Maruti Suzuki's answer to Honda and Hyundai. The car was very recently premiered in Frankfurt and is now ready to go on sale in India.
When I first saw the car's unveil pictures, it did look quite quirky to me. But look at the car in the flesh and it actually looks stylish and has a lot of road presence. The front grille is unlike any other Suzuki model, making it very unique. The chrome outline runs from the grille upwards and integrates neatly into the headlamp. The lamp's shape actually looks more like the Swift. This gives it a Swift-like face in the process. The lamp, however, houses a smart LED daytime running lamp and projector xenon lighting. The lights are very bright and ideal for driving in the dark. The front bumper is rounded but gets sharp detailing at the lip like in the Polo.
The sides make full use of the new Liquid Flow design concept
The sides make full use of the new Liquid Flow design concept. The curvy front fender and the bulge adds a lot of character while the shoulder line flows well from the fender all the way to the rear. The backed out A-pillar looks like the Swift but the rake angle is a lot more. The glass house area is large which, along with the 2,520mm wheelbase, makes the car look longer. 16-inch multi-spoke wheels look elegant and the lower profile tyres goes well with it. The lower variants get larger profile tyres mounted to 15-inch wheels. The windows get chrome outlining and the handles, like the competition, also get the chrome treatment.
The lights are very bright and ideal for driving in the dark
The rear end is smart too. The smaller window and high bootlid elevate the overall presence. The LED lamps and rear spoiler add to the sportiness. Some variants also get a chrome lip spoiler that houses the reverse camera. Overall, the Maruti Suzuki Baleno is a good looker and has what it takes to appeal to a lot of potential buyers.
The centre console looks modern and neatly houses the stereo and climate control switches. Note all-black treatment with slivers of chrome
The interior gets an all-black treatment with silver inserts like the Swift. The design is fresh and the flattish dashboard goes well with the design concept. The centre console looks modern and neatly houses the stereo and climate control switches. The instrument cluster is contemporary and the higher end models even feature a colour TFT multi information screen.
There are various animated graphics designed to offer real time fuel consumption and power output information too. The steering seems to be borrowed from the Ciaz and S-Cross and is good to grip. Steering controls are easily accessible and quite handy. Fit and finish is impressive and on par with rivals. There are enough storage spaces but space offered under the front armrest could have been better. The seats are firm and supportive and good for long drives too. The headrests too are firm while headroom is good even for tall drivers (Hear hear, Lijo).
The seats are firm and supportive and good for long drives too
Move to the rear and you will be impressed with the rear kneeroom. We couldn't measure it but overall space is excellent. There is, however, no rear armrest while leather seats aren't offered even as an option. Boot space isn't highest in segment but more than sufficient at 339 litres. The loading lip is high and is further exaggerated since the boot itself is quite deep.
Another highlight of the Baleno is its ride. The suspension is set up well for Indian roads. The car doesn't crash into potholes or bad surfaces and instead, glides over them. There's also 170mm of ground clearance. We drove over a few bad surfaces and never once did the belly scrape. The steering feel is a lot like the Swift. The electric setup is light at low speeds and weighs up slightly as speeds increase. There is body roll but is controlled and never a concern. High speed stability is impressive though. The new platform is lighter (kerb weight is just 865-910kg, depending on the variant) and more rigid than the Swift's but that doesn't make it a better handler. The Baleno is still a good choice when it comes to dynamics especially when compared to its rivals.
There are various animated graphics designed to offer real time fuel consumption and power output information too
In terms of engine options, the Baleno gets the same proven 1.2-litre K-Series and DDiS DOHC motors. The petrol engine is peppy and rev happy. Power delivery is linear and throttle response is fantastic too. The international Baleno gets the new 1.0-litre turbocharged Boosterjet engine but there is still some time before this new motor makes it to India. The lower kerb weight, however, should make the car slightly quicker than the Swift. The 5-speed gearbox offers precise and positive shifts and is a delight to use. There's also a CVT option offered for the first time in a Maruti Suzuki hatchback in India. The typical rubberband effect exists and is a pain when you put your foot down on the accelerator. It's a typical CVT, so it works best in city and when driven at half throttle on the highway. Triple digit speeds come at 1,500rpm so one doesn't have to give it the beans to extract decent performance from the engine. The fuel efficiency claimed is a best in class 21.4kmpl.
The DDiS unit used doesn't feature a VGT, so power output is not 90PS but 75PS instead. While the motor offers good driveability and best in class claimed efficiency (27.39kmpl), the more powerful motor seen in the Ciaz and S-Cross would have made it more appealing. Besides, rivals like the i20 and Jazz produce more power. That aside, the engine is refined but engine clatter and noise are slightly on the higher side. NVH levels, however, are lower than the Swift. The 5-speed transmission is tuned well and makes good use of the 190Nm torque.
The Baleno offers good features but the comfort features vary with the variant. However, all trims offer standard ABS, EBD and dual-airbags. This is a good move from Maruti Suzuki and all other models should offer the same too. The car will be available in four trim levels, namely Sigma, Delta, Zeta and Alpha in both petrol and diesel variants (For more details, read Maruti Suzuki Baleno: Variants explained). The CVT petrol is only available in the Delta (petrol) trim.
The Baleno is Maruti Suzuki's second Nexa product but that doesn't mean the car has to be priced higher than rivals. We expect prices to be on par with the i20 and Jazz. If it is priced lower, it makes it all the better for the country's largest carmaker. (Team OD: The Maruti Suzuki Baleno has been launched in India at a rather competitive price of Rs 4.99 lakh). The Baleno has officially returned and has all it takes to get the competition worried.
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