It wasn’t Hermès or Chanel, but Mary Poppins’ trusty carpet bag was guaranteed to have anything you could possibly need in it – from a spoonful of sugar to a lamp and even a hat stand. The new Suzuki Baleno is just as magical – it’s affordable, compact, and there is seemingly no end to the long list of features it can pull out of the bag. 

In a time of soaring fuel prices and run-away inflation, affordability is the name of the game, but the Suzuki Baleno is proof that opting for a smaller car doesn’t mean having to miss out on some of the nice-to-haves that you’d usually find in more expensive models. In fact, Suzuki has made sure that there are more standard features squeezed into the new generation Baleno than ever before – and not just on the top-of-the-range models. 

Nips & Tucks

Both ranges – the GL (in auto or manual) and the more premium GLX (also available in auto or manual) – benefit from some exterior nips and tucks, which sees the previous Baleno’s “Liquid Flow” design philosophy updated with a mix of organic and dynamic lines ala a new “Crafted Futurism” concept. The result? Not a massive difference in its individual parts compared to the 2019 facelifted model, but overall a more modern look. 

However, you will notice more of a difference in the interior, which is characterised by a more premium feel than one usually expects in this class. Suzuki has cleverly used piano gloss black elements and satin silver accents to contour and add interest to the cabin, while soft-touch materials and improved seats add a touch of luxe. There’s even lock-stitching, usually only found on more expensive vehicles. The 7” infotainment system (9” in the GLX models) now sits atop the multi-layered dashboard but in no way detracts from the cabin’s overall feeling of spaciousness; the Baleno is easily one of the roomiest cars in this class. 

The Baleno is powered by a 1.4-litre petrol engine (as is the new Toyota Starlet, but more on that later). On paper, its 77 kW of power sounds a little on the “min” side, but our launch drive through the winding roads of the KZN Midlands proved otherwise, where we found it surprisingly sprightly. This is primarily due to Suzuki’s engineers shaving off a significant amount of weight to give the Baleno a best-in-class power-to-weight ratio. The Baleno now weighs on average 10% less than its competitors, which results in better performance as well as better fuel consumption, with Suzuki claiming a miserly 5.4 l/100 km for the two five-speed manuals and 5.7 l/100 km for the four-speed autos. 

Battle of the Specs

It’s no secret that Suzuki and Toyota have entered into a joint venture, agreeing to share select tech and manufacturing facilities. One result of this is that both the Baleno and the new Toyota Starlet (coincidentally launched on the same day here in SA) come from the same factory in India and share the same engine and outer shell, with minor differences in exterior styling – and more significant interior ones – differentiating the two. But, things hot up when it comes to their respective specs list.

The Baleno 1.5 GL and the Toyota Starlet XS share 90% of the same specs, but the Baleno is cheaper (by about R13,000 for the manual and R15,00 for the auto), and comes with the added benefit of standard cruise control, a heated rear window and a reverse camera! When you compare the top-of-the-range versions, things get even more interesting. Again, the Baleno comes in cheaper (by about R17,000 for the manual and R19,000 for the auto), but you’ll get a surround-view camera on the GLX to the Starlet XR’s rearview one and, most impressively, a head-up display, which is a first for this segment. The Baleno also offers longer warranty and service mileages. 

Last Word

Though the Starlet was only launched here in 2020 (compared to the Baleno in 2016), it has proven the more popular of the two, most likely due to brand loyalty, Toyota’s more extensive dealer network and personal aesthetic preferences, but with Suzuki’s specs, potential buyers in this segment would be remiss not to seriously consider the new Baleno. It’s a magic bag of specs and a sweet spoonful of affordability all in one!

Report by Nicky Furniss | Images © Suzuki Auto South Africa

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