This new Suzuki’s name, which sounds like something you’d come across in a supermarket on holiday in a place like Greece or Spain, actually appeared on a model they sold in the UK in the mid-90s. The all-new Baleno is a smallish car that sits between the Swift and the S-Cross in Suzuki’s range, the Celerio still the tiniest. Having so many compact cars on sale might seem a bit strange but Suzuki’s plan is for the Swift to grab the attention of younger drivers and the new Baleno to get your uncle Brian and aunty Barbara all in a fluster. After driving one for a week, though, I reckon the Baleno is also a great car for young and newly-qualified drivers in the cushy position to look for something fresh out of the showroom, especially with the 1-litre Boosterjet engine, which is fun all the way while keeping insurance down.
Looks-wise, the all-new Baleno is a bit of a blender, making you neither drool with excitement nor puke in disgust. Not all young drivers like to shout and stand out, Suzuki’s new car still looking pretty attractive, though, with nice 16-inch alloys, LED lights at the front and back, bits of shiny chrome here and there, tinted windows and a spoiler. If you want a bit more of a sporty dose, the Baleno is available in more confident colours like red or blue.
Inside, unless you’re as tall as Peter Crouch or as big as Peter Kay, the new Baleno is a deceptively roomy car. The front seats are more like KitKat®’s to sit on than marshmallows but are comfy even on long journeys and there’s decent leg, shoulder and headroom in the back. It’s just a shame the rear headrests dig into your shoulders. The Suzuki’s 320-litre boot is 30 litres larger than the Ford Fiesta’s and more or less the same as a Hyundai i20 or SKODA Fabia, and the Baleno’s has a secret floor, which is really handy for storing the crown jewels or any other valuables you’ve got like an iPad or expensive trainers.
In SZ5 spec’ as tested, the Baleno comes with more or less everything except the kitchen sink, from keyless entry and start, reversing camera, a 4.2-inch colour LCD trip computer, Bluetooth, DAB digital radio, electric rear windows, auto climate control, nice and bright HID headlights and electric wing mirrors. It’s a safe car for young and newly qualified drivers, too, with radar brake control, radar cruise control, ESP and six airbags. The standard Baleno has been given a 3-star safety rating by EURO NCAP but this increases to 4 stars if you choose the Safety Pack, and it’s in group 11 for insurance.
Like most cars these days, there’s a largish colour touchscreen in the centre of the dash and apart from it being positioned slightly too far away for people with short arms and attracting a million fingerprints within seconds, it’s a very good system. It’s a shame the voice control system couldn’t even understand commands spoken in clear BBC English, but the sat nav is truly excellent, really easy to use, with very handy traffic and ‘points of interest’ functions making finding the nearest petrol station, burger joint, gym, cinema or car park a doddle. Okay, it’s not up to VW and Audi levels of posh-ness, but the new Suzuki Baleno’s interior quality can’t be sniffed at as it’s sturdy, built-to-last and comes with plenty of kit for its weeny price.
Suzuki has the habit of producing cars that all have some hidden gem or other. In the new Baleno’s case, it’s the 1-litre, 3-cylinder petrol Boosterjet engine, which is brilliant. They’ve worked overtime to make the car as quiet as possible and the overall driving experience is so refined and hushed when you’re parked up with the engine running or driving in lower gears that you could probably hear a field mouse breathing. Just because the Baleno’s Boosterjet engine makes it feel quite mature around town, it’s definitely not boring, though. Press the accelerator pedal and the 111PS 3-cylinder engine bursts into life, sounding nicely throaty and actually quite naughty at times. We’re a brand that puts safety foremost but still realise that young and newly qualified drivers don’t want to drive a car that’s about as interesting as a dishcloth. The new Baleno’s modest 0-62mph acceleration time of 11.4 seconds means it’s not overwhelming in the right hands and the 170Nm of pulling power combined with the car feeling as light as a bag of potatoes thanks to weighing just 980kg mean that Suzuki’s latest addition is fun to drive.
Most modern cars have 6-speed manual gearboxes, so the Baleno having five gears means that it’s not as quiet as it could be at motorway speeds, but the gearbox has a lovely shift action to it so there are no notches to put newly qualified drivers off. After covering more than 350 miles in the Baleno, over a mix of different roads, I averaged 58.5mpg which is pretty impressive and not embarrassingly short of the economy figure Suzuki publish in their bumph. Less experienced drivers can’t stand clutch pedals that seem determined to catch them out, but the Baleno’s operates faultlessly, making it very difficult to stall. The steering feels quite heavy whilst doing slow manoeuvres in town and doesn’t give you much feel or feedback but it’s not awful, and the front and rear disc brakes do an excellent job of stopping the car safely without being spongey or grabby.
Styled on the shy side, the all-new Suzuki Baleno is more for introverts, but that’s fine. The gadgets, entertainment, comfort and safety stuff included in the package shame quite a few of its supermini and compact hatchback rivals, it offers plenty of room for four people and it’s also a safe car, which is important for young drivers. It’s available with a mild hybrid but the spotlight is on the 1-litre Boosterjet version, combining a surprisingly addictive and soulful little engine with reasonably good handling and reasonably cheap fuel consumption. We know all things are relative and many young or newly qualified drivers can only afford second hand cars, but for those looking for their first new or maybe even replacement small hatchback, the Suzuki Baleno Boosterjet SZ-5 is well worth test-driving at a relatively competitive £13,999.