Motoring: Raising the brand’s cachet – Suzuki Baleno 1.4 GLX

If there’s one brand that specialises in simple, affordable, down-to-earth yet fun- (and easy) to-drive hatchbacks, it’s Suzuki.

With only one significant disappointment in recent memory (the since discontinued Splash), each one has been charming and practical.

I’m a particular fan of the compact, fun-loving Swift. A very big fan, in fact. But you don’t need to take my word for it – Suzuki owners love their cars to the point that they voted Suzuki as Brand of the Year in the 2016 Cars.co.za awards.

One vehicle the brand has missed, though, is a larger B-segment family hatchback. The all-new Baleno addresses this … so, is it another class act from Suzuki?

Well, the Baleno immediately comes across as a more mature, elegant model. Its different style is what Suzuki calls “Liquid Flow”. Adding more character to the GLX model are chrome accents that highlight the lines on the doors and rear hatch, as well as gun-metal grey 16-inch alloys, in addition to the blacked-out A-pillars.

Opening the solid-feeling driver’s door (it closes with a confident thump too) reveals an interior with a premium look and feel. Mostly.

Some of the dash plastics are slightly mismatched and the steering wheel is not lined up with the centre of the driver’s comfortable seat.

That’s probably nit-picking, though (and I’m not even sure how many people would notice it if it wasn’t pointed out), because the design is appealing, the buttons and switchgear operate with a pleasant feel and there is plenty of space. Really, the amount of interior room is seriously impressive.

Impressive too is the level of standard kit fitted to the Baleno GLX. It begins with six airbags, strong anti-lock brakes aided by electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and emergency braking assistance (EBA), Xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights, keyless entry and start, and rear privacy glass.

There’s also a 6,2-inch in-car entertainment system, cruise control, automatic climate control and rear park assist. Up ahead of the driver is a 4,2-inch colour TFT on-board computer screen that shows a nifty power and torque graph and other driving data graphs, such as fuel consumption.

This is another Suzuki specialty … with a lightweight tare mass of just 915 kg to move about, the 68 kW/130 Nm 1,4-litre motor manages to strike an ideal balance between useable performance and frugality. How frugal? Suzuki claims 5,1 l/100 km on the combined cycle, and I managed a decent 7,0 l/100 km in mainly town driving.

The motor is smooth and quiet – just like the ride – and drives through a slick five-speed gearbox that is a joy to use.

So, is the Baleno another class act from Suzuki? It has a few shortcomings, but none that detract from the daily drive. Priced at R229 900, with a three-year/100 000 km warranty and four-year/60 000 km service plan, it presents a much more spacious, mature option to the similarly-priced Swift.

Fans of the brand, whose needs might have changed with an expanded family, for example, will love it, and it should attract a fair share of new customers to the Suzuki stable as well. It’s another example of Suzuki’s constantly rising brand cachet.

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