Driven - April 2017

Suzuki Baleno Driven Review

Long term test on the Suzuki Baleno in South Africa

Rewind to 1997 – Britney was fresh on the scene, George Clooney was Batman, Tony had just become Prime Minister and I had just learnt how to walk. These were all iconic events in their own right and while the world was marvelling at Mike Tyson biting off Evander Holyfield’s ear and some new book about a wizard named Harry was flying off the shelves, Volkswagen had just launched the Golf Mk. IV and the turd that was the first A-Class had just arrived, much to everyone’s dismay. “What a time to be alive” said nobody while looking at the A-Class’ obliquely mounted engine, a design so revolutionary that not a single car makes use of it some 20 years later.

One thing that was quite cool about the late 90’s, however, was how laid back the world was, relatively speaking, of course. Vehicle safety consisted of ABS for those who could afford it and motorists had only just started noticing the seatbelts in their cars, but atrocities such as the Daewoo Lanos and Hyundai Atos were also considered to be “fun and affordable” which we can all agree were complete lies. Living life on the edge was relatively simple, but being mollycoddled was a bit more difficult. Here we sit in 2017, however, and it seems as though the inverse is true – pampering and protecting has become the norm while wrangling a crocodile or playing with fireworks are just a few of the activities that are now frowned upon as they are either too dangerous or unfriendly to someone and their hamster.

I enjoy living life on the edge, which is why I switch the traction control off whenever I drive my boosty MINI in the rain – familiar, but frightening. It gives one a sense of what it would be like to share your own garden with a hungry lion. I do this, though, because it is difficult to find a car these days that exhibits what can only be described as old fashioned motoring. By this, I do not mean no seatbelts and oil leaks, but there used to be a sense that the human was integral to the operation of the vehicle, something that seems to be missing from almost everything built after 2010. I say almost, though because the Suzuki Baleno is the air-freshener in the change room that we have all been waiting for.

Launched towards the end of 2016, the Baleno is slightly larger than a Polo, but a lot cheaper than a Polo. Obviously it feels a bit cheaper too, but not bad cheaper – it’s good cheaper.

Having been handed the keys to a whole Baleno 1.4 GLX for the month of December, I wrapped the MINI up and left it in the garage, promising myself that no matter how tempted I was to take it for a spin, I’d turn to the Baleno for my thrills. A lot to live up to, then, but I was confident in the not-so-little Suzie’s abilities given the praise that the Baleno received when launched here in South Africa.

A supple ride, comfortable seats and a delightfully tactile steering wheel were a few of my favourite interior features while the silver plastic that swooshes its way along the dashboard was not. Bluetooth connectivity, a CD player, front and rear electric windows, cruise control and a trip computer all come as standard on the GLX model we had, as do the LED daytime running lights and BiXenon headlamps. So all in all, a wonderfully specced vehicle which, despite its compact dimensions, certainly has enough space for 5 as we discovered on our Christmas day jaunt to Rustenburg. The entire Whittle family, Christmas ham and all, piled into the Baleno and off we went.

Having embarked on much the same route, solo, the day before to Hartebeespoort damn, I was intrigued to see how the Baleno performed 5-up. Unsurprisingly, a sterling performance was delivered, achieving an average of 4.4 l/100km there and back. Thankfully, the 1.4-litre N/A four-cylinder petrol motor isn’t only good at sipping fuel, and has quite a bit of poke should you plant your foot and stir the gears properly. Power delivery is somewhat more akin to that of a 1.6-litre motor, despite the engine’s power figures of 68 kW and 130 N.m.

The Baleno is rather handsome and exhibits some interesting exterior design elements such as the swishy headlights with integrated DRL’s and flat bottomed taillights, but from certain angles it does look a bit…funny. A friend of mine’s mum even went so far as to describe it as being “beautiful” but her car history consists of a pistachio green Nissan Micra and an old-shape Murano so I wouldn’t listen to her. Our test unit was finished in Ray Blue metallic which does well to highlight the vehicle’s many chrome accents.

Priced from R199 900 (R229 900 for our test unit) the Baleno offers a good value for money product which won’t unnecessarily mollycoddle you, but it won’t leave you sitting at the edge of your seat either. It comfortably establishes itself in the “good old-fashioned” category, but without being old fashioned – something that few cars are able to do these days. It’s honest, it’s fun to drive, incredibly spacious and punches well above its weight, and while not even the ‘range’ reading on the trip computer allows you to live life on the edge – it reads ‘- – – ‘ once you hit 30 km of range – it was definitely able to feed me sufficient driving thrills for a whole month.

The Baleno’s challenge was simple – keep me away from the MINI for a month, and it did. Good job Suzuki.