Robin Reviews…The (all-new) Suzuki Baleno

Remember when aunties used to say, ‘you are going to be strong when you are big one day’? Well, that analogic principle is a direct application to Suzuki. The Japanese brand dug its roots into the South African market (all the way) back in 2008, where models like the Swift, Jimny, and Vitara did the business. Not two decades later, they’ve grown into that big and strong specimen – not only by expanding their range of value-for-money offerings but also by slaying a ‘Goliath’.

By looking at the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa sales statistics for May, Suzuki sold 4 250 new vehicles. In the form of Toyota and Volkswagen, the usual class-leaders sold a total of 3 998 and 3 939 vehicles, respectively, during that same period, with Suzuki eclipsing them in the process. Many have come eerily close to doing the ‘impossible,’ but it’s Suzuki that currently stands on the mantle.

Models like the S-Presso, Swift, and Vitara Brezza have primarily contributed to this, and now they’ve given themselves room to further add to the tally with the launch of the brand-new Baleno. According to Brendon Carpenter, Brand Marketing Manager of Suzuki Auto South Africa, the brand is looking to sell a cumulative total of 500 units per month, which is 350 or so more than what the outgoing generation sold per month since it launched locally in 2016. It might sound like a tall order from the off, but when you look at the overall package, there is every indication that it will rake in the numbers.

A tasty proposition

Based on market share statistics for the five-door hatchback segment, the R220 000 to R300 000 bracket makes up 43% of sales in South Africa – call it a sweet spot of sorts – and one that is filled with a number of options. The Baleno’s direct rivals are the Hyundai i20 (priced from R285 900), Kia Rio (R283 995), Volkswagen Polo Vivo (priced from R235 200), and (of course) Toyota Starlet (priced from R226 200).

Suzuki already ticked a vital box – coming in as the cheapest of the bunch with their ‘entry-level’ GL model priced from R225 900. Now, you might’ve seen the single inverted comma around entry-level, and that is because even though it is listed as such in the model line-up, it comes with an impressive list of standard features at both ends of the spectrum.

For the most part, entry-level offerings usually come standard with the bare minimum. Still, with the Baleno, Suzuki did a number on the opposition by steamrolling their GL offering with standard nice-to-haves. Here is a quick breakdown of the standard inventory offered on each, followed by retail pricing:

Pricing

GL Manual - R225 900

GL Auto - R245 900

GLX Manual - R275 900

GLX Auto - R295 900

Moving onto what's happening under the bonnet, it's nothing special - that is said in a very good way because the power unit is used in quite a number of existing Suzuki offerings. As is often the case with the introduction of newer models, the engine usually gets chucked in favour of a new (and improved) one. Not in this case. Suzuki has found a purple patch with their K15B 1.5-litre petrol engine, currently used in models like the Ertiga, Jimny, Ciaz, and Vitara Brezza - and now the Baleno. This makes aftersales service and parts supply a dream for customers, a case of one size fits all basically.

Power is rated at 77kW and 138Nm (a 9kW and 8Nm increase from the outgoing Baleno's 1.4-litre engine), where customers can also choose between five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission options. The chassis weighs under a t0nne (955kg to be precise), and this contributes to claimed fuel consumption figures of 5.4-litres/100km (for the five-speed manual) and 5.7-litres/100km (for the four-speed auto).

How does it drive?

Having driven a couple of Suzuki's models, it was a case of 'more of the same' with the Baleno. I knew what to expect with the K15B engine. Suzuki allowed everyone to drive both GL and GLX derivatives, and from behind the wheel, there is virtually no difference in quality. Of course, you get used to features like the premium goodies ranging from the Heads-up Display and 360-view camera in GLX trim, but it's not like you cannot live without it - it's simply just shows what you get for your money. The Baleno is built on the brand's popular HEARTEC platform, where weight-saving measures have been applied to components like the doors, suspension, seats, and brakes. The reduced kerb mass benefits performance by improving the overall power-to-weight ratio.

There is no sway or movement at high speed, and the chassis feels stable behind the leather-clad multifunction steering. After bouts of highway driving, sitting in traffic, and using the air conditioner - which is where this vehicle will primarily find itself, I returned a fuel consumption of 5.9-litres/100km with the manual transmission. Bit of advice - the five-speed manual transmission is a thing of beauty - there's no clunkiness and lag between changes. Did I mention that Hill Hold Assistance also comes standard across the range?

A boot with a capacity of 314-litres is offered and can also be increased to 1 057-litres with the rear seats folded down. The boot itself is very deep and easily housed large bags and goodies.

In addition to the existing Arctic White Pearl and Midnight Black Pearl, customers can choose from a range of body colour options like Celestial Blue Pearl Metallic, Luxe Beige Pearl Metallic, Opulent Red Pearl Metallic, Splendid Silver Pearl Metallic, and Grandeur Grey Metallic. Suzuki also has a wide range of exterior optional extra parts available.

Where aftersales is concerned, the entire Baleno range comes standard with a five-year or 200 000km promotional mechanical warranty, inclusive of unlimited roadside assistance for the same period, a four-year or 60 000km service plan, and a six-year anti-corrosion warranty, and unlimited kilometres.

Now that you’ve got the knowledge, it’s time to shop! Head to gumtree.co.za or your Gumtree app (click for Apple & Android) and don’t forget to use your location settings to find local service information close to home.

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