Hatchback segment hit by lightning
Suzuki has launched its Baleno hatch to take on the B-segment of the market, writes Lerato Matebese
Suzuki’s automotive arm has been building compact city cars for a number of years. In fact, I reckon this is the company’s main forte. However, there have been some medium-sized vehicles that were relatively good, chief of which is the now defunct Kizashi sedan, which offered a great package and took the fight to the previous generation Honda Accord.
The Jimny SUV is an epic little conqueror that dukes it out with the best of them off the beaten track, while the Vitara and Grand Vitara have been laudable packages, even though the latter is now getting long in the tooth.
The Swift and Celerio have left an endearing impression on me with their easygoing, well packaged city car personas. Now Suzuki SA is taking aim at the B-segment hatch market with the launch of its Indian-built Baleno (meaning flash or lightning) hatch, which is built on a new platform. It is said to be some 110kg lighter than the smaller Swift and is aimed at buyers who may have been considering the Swift hatch, but were put off by the small (210l) boot capacity.
The Baleno offers a bit more in the form of a bigger boot measuring 339l while the overall cabin space feels more generous, even for rear occupants. In case you were wondering, the Baleno is not a replacement for the Swift as the latter will have an all-new model coming to the market at some point, although details are not yet available.
The design of the Baleno is contemporary with modern elements up front such as LED daytime running lights, while the overall silhouette will not look out of place among some leading models in the segment.
Launched in Port Elizabeth, the Baleno is available with just one engine — a 1.4l four cylinder petrol with 68kW and 130Nm, channelled through either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic in the instance of the flagship specification model. Speaking of specs, there are two on offer — the GL and a more kitted out GLX.
At launch we drove the GLX in manual flavour and for me it was the compliancy of the suspension that stood out, while the engine felt peppy, but then again we were at sea level, so it will be interesting to see how it fares at the rarified reef altitude.
The five-speed manual got the work done, shifting positively through the gears while overtaking required a shift or two into a lower gear to do so.
While a 1.0l turbo petrol unit is available in other markets, it is not being considered for SA at this point, which is a pity when models such as the Volkswagen Polo have an all-turbo range. Pricing, I gather, is the prime reason that our market is not getting the turbo variant.
Value for money
The cabin finishes are particularly good and are similar to those found in the Swift, which means perceived and tactile quality are more than average. However, the six-inch after-market infotainment system is rather finicky to operate with some buttons a touch too small to use while on the move.
That aside, the model is well equipped with electric windows all-round, a multifunction steering wheel, climate control, ABS brakes and dual airbags. It is, without a doubt, well equipped and will appease buyers looking for a good quality, value for money proposition B-segment hatch that is slightly left field.
It is priced from R199,900 for the 1.4 GL to R244,900 for the 1.4 GLX automatic and all models come standard with a four-year/60,000km service plan.
The Baleno enters a competitive segment that is populated by models that have established themselves over the years, so it will be interesting to see how it sizes up against rivals. Price wise, however, it manages to undercut most vehicles in the segment, which could well be its main drawcard, assuming that its prices remain in place.
A raft of new models in this segment will make their debut in 2017 though, the Kia Rio being top of mind, while the next generation of the Polo is likely to make its debut in Geneva and is touted to use a new platform and be stacked to the hilt with new technology for the segment. It is also likely to move upstream in price, too, leaving the Vivo to bridge the gap.