Sensible, done right
In the Suzuki Baleno, ALWYN VILJOEN is reminded of his tough-as-nails little Boerperd
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.
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.
Good design means the Baleno’s boot swallows 355 litres without compromising the leg room up front.