The Maruti Suzuki Baleno is the undisputed king of premium hatchbacks when it comes to volumes. But with the arrival of the 2022 version, has the best-seller also become the best car in the segment?
You may or may not be a fan of Maruti Suzuki or the Baleno, but facts are facts. With over one million units sold in just six years – nearly 15,000 units per month! – this premium hatchback is the absolute king of the hill. And in case you don’t already know, the Baleno is also the cash cow of Maruti Suzuki’s NEXA showrooms. Without it, Maruti’s premium chain of outlets would have been nowhere near as popular or successful as it is today.
The case I’m trying to make here is that a lot is riding on the Baleno’s shoulders. So, after nearly half a decade of dominating the market, Maruti Suzuki has given its premium hatchback the most comprehensive update since its market launch in 2015. Why, you ask? Well because Maruti wants the Baleno to continue its reign at the top for another five years or more. Sure, the outgoing version was still flying off the shelves, but, then, Maruti Suzuki says that it’s targeting to achieve even higher monthly sales with the ‘new-age’ Baleno. In short, the company wants a bigger share of the premium hatchback pie, for its current market share of 25% seems to be no good for Maruti Suzuki's management.
Now, if there’s one thing that we know, it’s that irrespective of how it feels from behind the wheel, the 2022 Baleno will continue to sell like hotcakes. However, if you are curious to know if the updates have made the Baleno an even better proposition than before, our first driving impressions should help.
Is it an all-new model?
A tricky question to answer. Maruti says that everything on this 2022 model is brand new, which means that it’s the second-generation model of the hatchback. However, when you take a closer look at the spec sheet, everything appears to be more or less the same. The overall dimensions are roughly the same, the wheelbase is identical at 2,520mm, the 1.2-litre K12N dual-jet engine develops the same power output and torque, and so on. On the surface, it does appear to be a heavy makeover of the outgoing version – and that’s the case indeed.
The Baleno rides on the same Heartect platform, albeit it’s the fifth generation of the architecture. Similarly, a lot of effort has gone into strengthening the entire platform – the new model weighs around 30 – 40kgs more than earlier – and the suspension has been completely overhauled. The brakes are now bigger too. Similarly, the exterior and interior of the car have been revamped. In fact, Maruti claims that it has invested over ₹ 1,150 crores in this update! So, while it may seem like the same old Baleno with a nose job, there are a lot more changes under the skin.
Upping the Ante
While the overall silhouette and profile of the Baleno are largely unchanged, it looks remarkably more stylish and handsome now. There are a lot of design updates, and they are all very tastefully done. The front-end is flatter and wider, thanks to its new honeycomb-pattern grille, with a layer of chrome at its base, and a new pair of wraparound headlamps.
The headlamps get LED projector lamps and a unique three-element LED Daytime Running Lamp pattern. The bumper is new, and it’s been sort of pushed back. There’s a subtle use of chrome on the front bumper, which also houses new projector LED foglamps.
The side profile is unmistakable and the most unchanged. However, the design of the 16-inch alloy wheels is new, and the car has sharper and more prominent shoulder and character lines, as well as a chrome strip that runs at the base of the windows. At the back, you’ll find a new pair of C-shaped LED taillamps, a chrome strip, a new tailgate, and a re-profiled bumper.
On the whole, the styling of the new Baleno makes the car look fresh and more premium now. Personally, I find the rear three-quarter design of the new Baleno to be the most attractive – it looks so sleek.
Like the exterior, the cabin also gets comprehensive updates, including an all-new triple-layered dashboard layout. The top layer is black, followed by a metallic grey element in the middle, and the lower section is finished in light blue – in direct sunlight, however, it looks quite dark. The blue theme continues on the soft-touch door pads and seats.
Surprisingly, even in the top-spec Alpha variants, the seats aren’t leatherette or ventilated. They do, however, offer more side support now. A sliding driver armrest has also been added for added comfort.
The biggest update, however, is the new 9-inch Smartplay Pro+ touchscreen infotainment screen, which is brilliant to use. The touch response is crisp, and the interface is quite intuitive. It gets Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, albeit it’s not wireless. Plus, there is no physical knob or buttons for volume controls. On the upside, the AC vents and controls are new, and the buttons are chunky and easy to use. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is new for Baleno and comes directly from the Swift’s parts bin.
On the tech front, the Baleno now comes loaded with some interesting features. The top-end variants get a 360-degree camera (which, surprisingly, is of good quality), a head-up display, auto-dimming IRVM, an Arkamys surround sound system, Alexa voice commands, cruise control, and more. But it still doesn’t get a sunroof.
Overall, the cabin of the new Baleno now feels more upmarket and feature-rich. Having said that, the plastic quality in some areas, especially below eye level, is still not the best. As for the build quality, the car does feel a bit sturdier than before, especially its front doors.
Same, same but SO different!
Since Maruti Suzuki has bid farewell to diesel engines a long time ago, the Baleno continues to be powered by the 1.2-litre four-cylinder K Series engine. And, in this department, we have zero complaints, for this little wonder is a powerhouse. In fact, in our cover story last month, we rated it as the best petrol engine under 20 lakh rupees!
As you’d expect, the new dual-jet engine is supremely refined. During cold starts, it does sound a little gruff, but it gets better and smoother as the operating temperature rises. It’s a rev-happy unit and loves to be redlined. The performance is brisk, and it picks up pace in a linear, albeit exciting, manner. It even produces sporty noises. The low-end is still slightly weak – during our drive in Goa, we struggled to keep up the momentum around some uphill corners in 2nd gear – but the mid-range is strong, and it responds really well to part-throttle inputs. At high revs, it does tend to run out of steam, but there’s no sudden loss of power or performance – it rather tapers off slowly.
What’s more, you won’t mind working the gearbox because the 5-speed manual transmission has short, precise, and slick throws. Clubbed with a light clutch, the gearbox combo is simply effortless and makes driving this car a real joy. But if you are looking for an automatic, well, the CVT is now gone – instead, you get an AGS or automated manual transmission (AMT). We didn’t get to experience it during the drive, but we will soon get behind the wheel of one and bring you a report.
All told, for a car of Baleno’s size, the 1.2-litre engine feels absolutely perfect. More so, because of its mild-hybrid tech, which results in some crazy fuel economy numbers. During our fuel efficiency tests previously, we managed to get nearly 21km/l from this engine in daily driving conditions. So, irrespective of the added weight, you can expect the new Baleno to be just as efficient, if not more.
The moment you hold the steering wheel of the new Baleno and get going, you can immediately notice the difference from the previous model. The steering has more heft, and the car feels firm. However, on the move, the ride quality is superb – thanks to a super-stiff chassis and a reworked suspension setup, the Baleno drives and handles maturely. The car stays glued to the tarmac and around corners – there’s a lot of grip, with minimal body roll. The steering is sharper and offers more feel and feedback – it no longer feels like you’re holding a dead fish! In short, the new Baleno is one sweet-handling car.
At the same time, it doesn’t make any real compromises in terms of comfort. The suspension soaks up bumps really well, and the Baleno’s ride quality is flat for the most part. At low speeds, you can say it’s a touch too firm compared to that of the old model. But, overall, I really like the new package.
Since safety is a hot topic, especially when it comes to Maruti Suzuki cars, we can’t wrap this review without discussing this aspect. According to the company, the new Baleno’s bodyshell has been heavily reinforced with extensive use of high-tensile steel for better crash test ratings. Not just that, the top-end Zeta and Alpha variants now get six airbags, while dual airbags are standard across the range. So, overall, the company has put in the effort to make it safer and sturdier. Whether it’ll be fruitful or not, only time (or GNCAP) will tell, but so far, it seems like a step in the right direction.
Like I said in the beginning, whether you love or loathe the Baleno, it’ll have no bearing on its monthly sales. It’s a kind of product that will still largely sell for its name and not for what it offers as a product against its competition. However, with the arrival of the new Baleno, things have changed. Even if you take its (Maruti) Suzuki badging away, the new Baleno will still be a brilliant all-rounder – one that deserves your attention. As a premium hatchback, it’s got all the bases covered – performance, design, features, fuel economy, reliability, trust, and what not. And if that’s not enough, you simply can’t resist its tempting price tag.
Overall, you can safely say that the Baleno has well and truly got the measure of its competition, yet again. And its sales will continue to soar, albeit at a much, much faster rate now.
- Maruti Suzuki Baleno
Engine: 1,197cc / 4-Cylinder / Dual-Jet
Transmission: 5-Speed Manual / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 89bhp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 113Nm @ 4,400 rpm
Price: ₹8.99 Lakh (Ex-Showroom)
X-Factor: With its premium features, improved dynamics, flawless powertrain, and great pricing, there’s no stopping the new Baleno from ruling the sales chart.