The compact car market is as large as it is varied but if you really sift through what’s on offer there is real value to be had. If you’re looking for the leader in the small hatchback ‘Space Race’ then the new Suzuki Baleno has to be one of the frontrunners. Launched in Ireland over the summer, the new Suzuki Baleno joins the Celerio and Swift in Suzuki’s small car line-up. It’s compact on the outside, but the Baleno is stunningly spacious inside for a car with a sub-€18,000 starting price.
But let’s rewind a bit. Suzuki bill the Baleno as a more rational choice for buyers looking for extra interior space and a larger boot capacity from their compact car, but who may not be looking to move up in size to a Suzuki Vitara or S-Cross.
The new Baleno sits on an all-new platform and it is an attractive, if slightly unusual presence in the metal as winning at the Space Race on the inside has design constraints on the outside. But certainly viewed straight on or from the back and the Baleno holds a good deal of distinction.
The interior is not as upmarket as the chrome and LED light tech on the outside might suggest, and Suzuki has opted for the strong, hard plastic, durable look. A simple design is punctuated with some tech and spec highlights like a large centrally mounted touchscreen that’s standard across the range with Bluetooth, Mirrorlink, Apple CarPlay access, and a sat nav, along with 16” alloy wheels, air con, electric mirrors and front windows, remote central locking, auto lights, front fog lights and rear privacy glass. That’s a lot of equipment for a ‘base’ model. The higher of the two trim levels, SZ5, has even more with Radar Brake Control, keyless entry and go, electric rear windows, and adaptive cruise control – equipment we are more used to seeing on larger, more expensive cars.
But the real draw here is the rear seating space, which is phenomenal for a small hatchback. This is a really comfortable car to sit in as a rear seat passenger and would shame some of the cars from the class above. Even the middle seat space is decent. The boot is 320 litres, which is on the upper end of what is common in this class, though practicality is hindered slightly from a highish load lip.
There is no diesel option for new Baleno but Suzuki’s brand new three cylinder ‘Boosterjet’ turbo petrol engine with 110bhp more than makes up for it for power mixed with excellent frugality. Emissions of 105g CO2/km put the car in this configuration in tax band A3 (€190 per year). The claimed economy is 63mpg, but I was happy to return 52mpg during my time with the car.
A 1.2-litre petrol ‘mild hybrid’ Baleno with 89bhp is also available but the Boosterjet is so much more fun. It’s ultra-responsive and whirrs positively across town, country and motorway driving. The Baleno weighs in at less than a tonne and the lightweight construction is immediately apparent on the road. The Baleno is pleasingly nifty and agile, exactly how a small car should be. The steering is light making it an ideal companion for town and city driving, and out on bigger roads the Baleno responds quickly to inputs, and the feedback that is reaching your fingertips is quite pure and rudimentary. If you want to extract more fizz from the Boosterjet and put a bit more pressure on the Baleno through corners, there is noticeable body roll and the car begins to lean and feel a bit top heavy. But the saving grace is that the Baleno hangs on well from its skinny tyres at the front so it’s easy to work through it. There is some harshness over rougher bits of road surface, but being quite softly sprung means the Baleno is mostly a smooth, comfortable drive.
With pricing starting at €17,995, there are cheaper small cars than the Suzuki Baleno on the market, and those with cooler styling and plusher interiors. But if space and spec is the currency you measure value by, then the new Baleno is a winner. The Baleno would be well capable as a small family car, and if you carry rear passengers a lot there really is not much better out there at this price range for sheer leg waving freedom in the back. It’s fantastic that Suzuki has developed a three cylinder turbo petrol engine for their new Baleno and not just stuck with a traditional non-turbo unit as the enthusiasm and frugality of which this engine goes about its business makes the Baleno impossible to ignore. The Suzuki Baleno may look pretty innocuous from the outside, but underestimate this car at your peril!
Model Tested: Suzuki Baleno 1.0L Boosterjet SZ5
Price: €19,495 (Range starts at €17,995)
Engine: 1.0-litre turbo petrol
0-100km/h: 11.4 seconds
CO2 Emissions: 105g/km
Motor Tax: €190 per year