Sen­si­ble, done right

In the Suzuki Baleno, AL­WYN VILJOEN is re­minded of his tough-as-nails lit­tle Bo­er­perd

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING -

The power-to-weight ra­tio is 76,5 kW/ton for the man­ual trans­mis­sion model, and 74,9 kW/ton for the au­to­matic.

I CAME to horses rather late in life and de­spite se­vere blis­ters in ten­der places af­ter horse­back sa­faris in the Shongimvelo Game Re­serve near Bar­ber­ton, I quickly be­came more en­am­oured with all things equine than the av­er­age 12year-old girl.

A favourite horse dur­ing this phase was a lit­tle Bo­er­perd mare. She was tiny next to the gen­tle Friesians and slow com­pared to the re­tired (but still white-of-eye) race horses. But she was also tough as nails and — be­ing al­ways cu­ri­ous to ex­plore new places — a real com­pan­ion as op­posed to a beast of bur­den on the trail.

I was re­minded of that lit­tle mare af­ter spend­ing two days driv­ing along South Africa’s most dan­ger­ous high­way in the new Suzuki Baleno. (See page 7 for the grim high­way de­tails — but not if you also like horses!)

Never mind the me­dia blurb that war­bles on about the Baleno hav­ing “short over­hangs, sculpted flanks and a strong iden­tity that is both in­di­vid­ual and un­mis­tak­ably Suzuki”.

As the photos shows, the Baleno is a no-non­sense hatch with lines that fol­low func­tion rather than de­sign.

And oh my, is it func­tional. The boot packs 355 litres, com­pared to, for ex­am­ple, the new Re­nault Kwid’s 300 litres, there is leg room to spare in front of all five seats. Fold the back seats flat and the boot now swal­lows 756 litres.

Thanks to the pis­tons’ over-stroked de­sign, the 1,4 petrol en­gine also re­turns a bet­ter fuel con­sump­tion in city driv­ing than on the open road.

Over-stroke de­sign means the pis­ton shaft is longer shaft than the width of the cylin­der head (73 mm to 82 mm in this case), and as Archimedes pointed out, with a long enough shaft (and a firm enough place to stand on) you can make enough torque to move the Earth.

In the Baleno these long shafts, vari­able valve tim­ing, mul­ti­point fuel in­jec­tion and some clever map­ping mean you can put­ter along in fourth be­tween the traf­fic lights and gen­tly ac­cel­er­ate when the oc­ca­sion de­mands, all while keep­ing the ref nee­dle at 2 500 rpm.

This is well below the peak out­puts of the 1 373 cc en­gine’s 68 kW and 130 Nm, but as any trucker will tell you, low revs equal low fuel con­sump­tion.

I, for ex­am­ple, got 18,7 km/l in city traf­fic and 18,2 km/l on the N2.

The Swift has the same en­gine, but be­cause the Baleno weighs only 915 kg, it feels that much more re­spon­sive.

You read that right — 915 kg — that is up to 200 kg lighter than other hatches in this price range, putting the Baleno in the same weight group as the stripped-out Mazda MX-5 Spy­der shown at Sema last week (see the oppo- site page). As Suzuki said: “The fo­cus on lightweight con­struc­tion en­sures that the en­gine’s en­thu­si­asm is put to the best pos­si­ble use, en­sur­ing brisk per­for­mance.”

For “brisk”, read a speed well north of 120 km/h, and then there is still a lit­tle pull left in the 1,4 to go even faster.

What im­pressed me most at these to­tally il­le­gal speeds (which we don’ rec­om­mend you do at all, ever), is how planted the Baleno felt.

I would go so far as to say any Ger­man car driver will feel right at home, and the Korean sus­pen­sion engi­neers may want to pay a visit to the Maruti Suzuki fac­tory in New Delhi, which is where the Baleno is built. If they do, they will, how­ever, find noth­ing new. The Baleno rides on pot­hole-crest­ing 183/55R16 wheels bolted to an in­de­pen­dent front sus­pen­sion con­sist­ing of MacPherson struts, coils over oils and an anti-roll bar in front, with ye olde tor­sion beam, coil springs, dampers and an anti-roll bar at the rear.

But just by adding light­ness, this proven sus­pen­sion set-up works like a charm.

The steering is elec­tri­cally as­sisted, load­ing up nicely in the cor­ners, while stop­ping takes place quickly thanks to ABS brakes that com­prises discs all round on the GLX. (The GL has front discs and rear drums.)

All Baleno mod­els also come with EBD and EBA. Dual front air bags are stan­dard too, while GLX mod­els also get side and cur­tain air bags.

Other safety and se­cu­rity-re­lated fea­tures in­clude an alarm/im­mo­biliser sys­tem. Re­mote cen­tral lock­ing is also stan­dard and in the GLX, I re­lied to­tally on the bumper sen­sors to avoid park­ing scrapes while my mir­rors were cov­ered in droplets.

Now, I can see you are still stuck back there on “In­dia” and I know what you are think­ing, but go wash your mind with soap, for the in­te­rior of the Baleno is clad in the lat­est in soft plas­tics, all of which are pleas­antly tac­tile. In fact, I dare you to hold the satiny rub­ber steering wheel and not feel like stroking it.

The Baleno has proven wildly pop­u­lar too since its launch last year.

Charl Grob­ler, man­ager of sales and prod­uct plan­ning at Suzuki SA, said In­dia has bought over 100 000 units in just 12 months since the launch, with 60 000 back or­ders and a 33-week wait­ing pe­riod. “The Baleno is cur­rently ex­ported from In­dia to more than 30 mar­kets around the world, in­clud­ing Ja­pan, Europe and Aus­tralia,” Grob­ler said.

He deems the Baleno the ideal hatch for in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies seek­ing the ex­tra com­fort and con­ve­nience of a larger hatch­back, but who don’t want to give up the agility and ef­fi­ciency of the Swift.

I think a few young ones and a lot of pen­sion­ers may also want to go prod the Baleno’s wheels with their Zim­mer frames.

For this is sen­si­ble mo­tor­ing done right. There is no turbo be­cause this means more mov­ing parts and more things that can go wrong, and Grob­ler is jus­ti­fi­ably proud that Suzuki South Africa’s war­ran­tee claims stand at less than one per­cent for all their cars.

But best of all is that Colin Chap­man “just add light­ness” ethos that went into the de­sign, which de­liv­ers a power-to-weight ra­tio of 76,5 kW/ton for the man­ual trans­mis­sion model and 74,9 kW/ton for the au­to­matic. So you get bul­let­proof re­li­a­bil­ity and that ea­ger, re­spon­sive han­dling, which is what re­minded my of my lit­tle Bo­er­perd.

The prices for the three Baleno mod­els on sale are also all­right, start­ing at just un­der R200 k for the GL and go­ing up to R230 k for the GLX with the fivespeed man­ual trans­mis­sion. An au­to­matic gear­box adds an­other R15 k.

We rec­om­mend the GLX man­ual. You can recog­nise the GLX mod­els by their rooftop spoil­ers, or the 6,2-inch colour touch screen they have in­side.

This af­ter­mar­ket sys­tem in­stalled at the fac­tory is very user friendly, but I would have liked the four speak­ers to have put out at least dou­ble their Watts.

Oh, and I never have and never will like the stop-start but­ton on new cars. But those are my only nig­gles in what I will say again is sen­si­ble mo­tor­ing done right.

A three-year or 100 000 km warranty, as well as a four-year or 60 000 km ser­vice plan are stan­dard. Ser­vices are at 15 000 km/12 month in­ter­vals.

PHOTO: CAR MAG­A­ZINE

De­signed in Turin, Italy, and built in In­dia, even for dis­cern­ing Ja­panese driv­ers the Baleno just adds light­ness for a re­spon­sive drive that is made even more en­joy­able by my 18,7 km/l fuel con­sump­tion.

PHOTO: QUICKPIC

Good de­sign means the Baleno’s boot swal­lows 355 litres with­out com­pro­mis­ing the leg room up front.

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