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Suzuki Baleno 1.0 Boosterjet SZ5

Click to view picture gallery“Think of Suzuki and you tend to
  picture compact 4x4s and nippy
  superminis. Both of which they do
  brilliantly. So it’s easy to overlook
  their practical and affordable Golf-
  sized hatchback, the Baleno...”

IF YOU'VE GOT SUPERMINIS on your mind then your shortlist will no doubt include some of the following names — Corsa, Fabia, Fiesta, and Jazz, as well as the Swift from Suzuki's own stable; all of them economical and good to drive whilst not breaking the bank. Adding 'Baleno' to that list would be a wise move.

Why? Well for a start it's big on three things buyers are after: space, kit and economy. Starting with the last first, it promises to out-do Scrooge when it comes to spending money, especially for fuel.

There are two engine choices, both petrol: a turboed triple-cylinder direct injection 1.0-litre with 109bhp, and a less powerful but larger capacity 88bhp 1.2 four-pot 'mild hybrid' that emits 94g/km.
But it's the triple that seems to be hitting the spot with Baleno customers, and that's what we've be driving this past week. After eight days behind the wheel we can see why they like it so much.

It might have just 998cc
but the Baleno can go
well into ton-plus
territory, to 124mph.
And it’s more than nippy
lower down the scale —
off the blocks to 62mph
takes 11.4 seconds,
so it’s no
tail-end Charlie...”
It might have a mere 998cc but its 109bhp endows the Baleno with a top speed of 124mph. Not that the typical Baleno owner is going to be belting along at three-figures, but it shows there's enough in hand for the Baleno to be a relaxing motorway mile-eater. And while it can go well into ton-plus territory, it's more than nippy lower down the scale — off the blocks to 62mph takes 11.4 seconds so it's no tail-end Charlie.

As a breed, triples can be identified by their characteristic thrum — but don't go mistaking 'thrum' for 'thrashy' because the Baleno's one-litre Boosterjet engine is never that; press the loud pedal and this lively three-pot spins up crisply, but even then it's fairly aurally reserved. Driving through a five-speed manual 'box it feels peppy, it's peak torque of 125lb ft (on tap from 2,000 through to 3,500rpm) delivering ample in-gear grunt; even in fourth and fifth there's good pick up without dropping down a ratio.

When you do need to use the gears at lower speeds, the change action is willing — in fact you rarely notice that you're changing up or down as it's all (clutch pedal and the 'stick') pretty smooth. For the record, if you prefer an autobox you can have one bolted to the three-pot SZ5 — a six-speeder, it adds 1,380 to the drive-away price.

Kerb weights for the Baleno models tip the scales at between 920kg and 980kg (making it the lightest 'B' segment hatchback of its class — in one case by more than 200kg). Which means there's a payback waiting for you at the pumps because officially it could return 62.8mpg — although few owner-drivers would be unhappy seeing a regular 50mpg.

Just to remind you that at MotorBar we don't try to coax the best economy out of a car; out aim is to pin down the actual on-the-road mpg figure that owners can expect — not hope — to achieve. Given our 51.8mpg test average over mixed roads (and in fuel-greedy snow and ice), there's no reason why regular drivers won't be able to consistently hit the mid- or even high-fifties.

The Baleno’s lighter-
than-average weight is
not only good news
for economy — it doesn’t
do its handling any
harm either. If feels agile
and despite the light-ish
power steering you
can punt it with some
Moving on to the 'space' the Baleno is larger than its Swift stablemate, with which it shares a new platform. If you regularly need to fill four seats, each of the Baleno's is accessed easily through a large side door (the Baleno only comes in a five-door bodyshape). Close the doors and you realise just how much room Suzuki has managed to fit inside: there's a fist of headroom up front, plenty of legroom front and back, and more luggage space than usually found in a supermini. Families will be pleased to find that everything fits in — even the family dog between the rear passengers.

Keys still in your pocket (keyless entry with engine start is standard), get behind the three-spoke wheel with its good-to-grip leather rim and you'll like the driving position — it's almost crossover-ish in that you feel you're sitting tall with good views out. A deep windscreen (heated as it happens) ensures a clear view of the road ahead and to the sides, so placing the Baleno accurately is a breeze — and when parking up, the short, upright front overhang and reversing sensors at the tail and rear-view camera make things as easy as can be.

The fabric upholstered front seats are comfortable, as they proved when we were at a standstill on the motorway for an hour after an hour's hard driving in the wintery conditions and with another hour still to go. And, although without seat heaters, they were warm to sit on and doubtless will be equally pleasant to sit on when the sun's blistering the blacktop in the summer. Green-tinted windows and rear privacy glass also help take the sting out of blazing sunshine, plus there's automatic AirCon with a pollen filter.

And plenty of in-cabin storage, too, with a fair-sized glovebox, accommodating door bins that hold large bottles and not just cans in addition to all the everyday 'stuff', several deep open bins-cum-cupholders on the centre console and a central armrest with a box underneath. Naturally there are electrically-adjustable heated door mirrors, power windows with one-touch up/down operation for the driver, and height-adjustable seatbelts.

Whatever the size of their budget, today's car buyers all want the best Comms for their bucks. The Baleno comes well-specced with a seven-inch colour touchscreen infotainment system. It's got everything you need: SatNav, MirrorLink and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, integrated reversing camera with guidance grid, Bluetooth, and DAB radio.

There’s a touch of the
Tardis about the Baleno
as not only is the front
cabin spacious but
there’s masses of room
for feet in the back
as well as enough space
for legs to be properly
The navigation is idiot-proof with full postcode input; the sharp graphics and 3D mapping with landmarks along with clearly spoken directions will get you where you're going without any U-turns.

The touchscreen is zoned into four sections — Listen (media and radio), Call (handsfree phone), Drive (navigation), and Connect (MirrorLink/Apple CarPlay connectivity) — and there are no 'extra' buttons or controls outside the touchscreen; on-screen soft-touch 'pads' are there for your fingertip to adjust things such as sound levels, start voice control (for the SatNav, radio and telephony), etc. Tapping the star in the centre of the display calls up timesaving shortcuts for each zone. Should you prefer, you can for many of these commands, use the remote controls on the multifunction wheel. Those with a merry-go-round social life will be relieved to know that apart from making calls the system also allows the driver to access email and text messages, and more.

Driving data is equally straightforward with, ahead of the driver, two main dials with stand-out blue detailing bracketing a multifunction 4.2-inch colour driver's information screen. Between them these colourful displays boost the cabin ambiance nicely.

You don't expect masses of room in a supermini but the Baleno's rear cabin definitely has a touch of the Tardis about it. Not only is it easy to get into courtesy of wide-opening doors, but once there you sit noticeably higher than those in front so in addition to good views out to the side through deep windows you can also see what's going on through the windscreen.

The backrests are set at a relaxing angle and the seats well padded. Along with masses of foot- and knee-room there's space enough to properly stretch out your legs — a rarity in this class. The outer rear armrests are wide enough to be effective and have padded elbow pads for extra comfort. Three adults can sit side-by-side as even the centre spot is pleasant to use; lose one and a pair of six-footers can travel in comfort. Large bottles can be carried in the door pockets and the pouch on the back of the passenger's seatback will hold a lot more than just a map or magazine. Isofix child seat anchorages and tethers are also fitted.

You can certainly rely
on the brakes — they did
a great job of managing
a full emergency stop
from 50mph when a car
ahead did something
incredibly stupid.
The Baleno, thankfully,
stopped really quickly
in a straight line with
absolutely no fuss — the
only drama was our
tester’s pulse-rate!”
The Baleno's lighter-than-average weight is not only good news for economy but doesn't do its handling any harm either. If feels agile and despite the light-ish power steering you can punt it with some enthusiasm. Even on icy roads it proved predictable, and out of sight the stability control is always watching your back to keep things shipshape; you won't feel it intervening but you might spot the telltale light dancing on the driver's information screen when it does.

A week of snow and ice (thank you, Beast from the East!) prevented us from pressing the Baleno as hard as we usually would but nonetheless it performed very well in the treacherous conditions, including on one very dicey downhill motorway exit lane that was veneered with black ice — thankfully the external temperature is always on show in the top corner of the trip computer and with it indicating minus five we were pre-warned.

When we did get a chance to safely up the pace the Baleno served up a drive that made easy-going of all roads from country lanes to peak-time motorways. Ride comfort is forgiving enough given the state of our roads. All-in-all it does a very respectable job of getting you from A to B without any upsets.

And you can certainly rely on the brakes — they did a great job of managing a full emergency stop from 50mph when a car ahead did something incredibly stupid. The Baleno, thankfully, stopped really quickly in a straight line with absolutely no fuss — the only drama was our tester's pulse-rate!

The Baleno also offers more room for you and your passengers' luggage than other superminis — lift the high-rising fifth door and you'll be able to load up to 320 litres (that's usefully more than the boots of some cars even from the class above). Fold down the back seats and this expands to 756 litres (they sit flat and merge seamlessly with the boot floor); load to the roof and you'll be able to fit in 1,085 litres.

Very versatile too is the dual level boot floor: it folds across its middle so it's easy to lift the 'lid' and store quite large items in the full-width and full-length underfloor compartment. Alternately it can be set to its lower position, adding extra litres of space and several inches of depth to the boot.

“The Baleno offers more
room for you and your
passengers’ luggage
than other superminis;
lift the high-rising fifth
door and you’ll be able to
load up to 320 litres —
that’s usefully more than
the boots of some cars
even from the class
And then there's a third way — with the second row seatbacks down the removable boot floor can be folded in two and used as a luggage board to divide up the boot widthways, creating either a two-section or a single larger corral within the boot for custom luggage requirements. And while you might not be expecting a 'tiny' triple to tow much at all, the Baleno is stronger than you think — it will haul up to a braked 1,000kg.

The SZ5 is extremely well equipped for the money and features several so-called 'big car' features such as adaptive cruise control and Radar Brake Support with autonomous braking.

It was undoubtedly this that saved our bacon in our emergency stop situation because RBS continually radar-scans ahead for any risk of a collision — alerting the driver both aurally and visually of the need to brake.

Ignore its obvious hints and, if a collision seems unavoidable, it will apply the brakes automatically. Reassuringly, the radar technology enables it to work even at high speeds, as well as in darkness, and in rain or other bad weather. You can also set the warning threshold distance at Far or Near using a button on the dash (best do as we did and set it to Far for a longer safety gap).

Along with a four-star EuroNCAP safety rating come six airbags, HID projector headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED rear lights, auto lights, tyre pressure monitoring, and front fog lamps.

Welcome news financially if you're not into changing your car every time the registration mark updates or when the next fashion trend hits the showrooms, is that the Baleno's contemporary look won't give away its age anywhere near as quickly as its styled-for-the-moment rivals.

Fronted by a rather distinctive shield-like grille with high-set cut-in headlights whose LED daytime running lights link neatly with the upward curving tips of the chrome accent bar underscoring the grille, and sculpted doors with easy-to-grasp chromed door handles bracketed by a set of multi-spoked 16-inch alloys housed in subtly flared and noticeably flat-cut wheelarches, the Baleno is agreeably easy on the eye.

'Decent' has had some bad press recently (as too has 'nice') but it's still a meaningful word, so when we say that the Baleno is a decent drive it's most definitely a compliment. It's also very spacious given its four-metre footprint, with plenty of room for people and their luggage. Add to that 50mpg and a generous equipment tally and you have a supermini that you'd be wise not to overlook. ~ MotorBar
Suzuki Baleno 1.0 Boosterjet SZ5 | 15,999
Maximum speed: 124mph | 0-62mph: 11.4 seconds | Test Average: 51.8mpg
Power: 109bhp | Torque: 125lb ft | CO2: 105g/km