Maruti Suzuki is geared to take on the premium hatchback segment in the country with its all-new Baleno. And we must say right away that it's quite a looker. But does it have what it takes to shake up its segment? We go for a spin in what could be the next big thing for Maruti.
With the festive season around the corner, automobile manufactures are scampering to launch new cars and variants, not to mention just offering down right blockbuster discounts. With buyers keeping an eye on the deals available, it's safe to say that most are focused on Maruti Suzuki - the country’s number one carmaker - as it's finally decided to join the premium hatchback segment. And your magazine, autoX, was one of first publications to drive the all-new Baleno hatchback.
As first impressions last the longest, Suzuki knew they had to get this right. Therefore, their designers burned the midnight oil and the result was their new design DNA “Liquid Flow,” which ensures that the Baleno is one striking machine. But I am going to say what’s on everyone’s mind - I wish the Japanese manufacturer had come up with a design name that wasn’t so similar to their arch rivals.
Moving on to its looks, the swooping bonnet, swept back headlights with projector head lamps, along with LEDs, and the V-shaped grille with chrome inserts around the borderline make the Baleno the most contemporary car from Maruti.
Its profile is clean, yet muscular, with only a prominent crease running across the lower part of the doors. The C-Pillar, though is curvy, looks a bit like an elongated Volkswagen Polo with a smart roof spoiler - which does beautifully compliments the flowy design.
By simply going by the dimensions – 3,995mm in length, 1,745mm in width, 1,460mm in height and has a wheelbase of 2,520mm -- the new Maruti Baleno has great presence with its sleek design and fairly large dimensions (in fact, the Baleno is longer and wider than all its rivals).
Its large dimensions come into play in aiding practicality, as the new Baleno is a very spacious car. And to check how smartly Maruti has used the space, I first sat in the rear while requesting a colleague of 6-foot plus to sit in front. The car didn’t let me down, as there was enough legroom for me to even stretch my legs - let alone sit comfortably. The front seats are fairly comfortable and provide adequate back support, but the rear seat squab was just too flat and lack any sort of side or thigh support. It felt more like a bench.
If you're a staunch believer of retail therapy, then you’ll be happy to know the Baleno offers 339 litres of boot space, more than the Hyundai i20’s 285 litres. There is one snag though, and that is the high loading bay and deep boot floor, which will make loading and unloading heavy bags a muscle building or back breaking experience - depending on your fitness levels. Keeping practicality in mind, Indian road conditions and huge speed breakers, this new premium hatchback has a decent 170mm ground clearance, so one can drive at peace without worrying about scraping the floor.
Maruti Suzuki have kept the cabin interiors all black, which I personally like, with silver inserts around the air conditioner vents and lower centre console. The design is uncluttered, easy to use, and the 7-inch infotainment touch screen display hogs all the attention on the dashboard. This is the first system in India which comes with Apple CarPlay as a standard feature. This lets you access your iPhone for various functions like accessing contacts, reading out text messages, viewing maps, making calls, etc. The hard plastic quality could have been much better though, as it lacks the premium feel that one looks for in this segment. Another feature which are sorely missed are the rear air condition vents, as this would have certainly improved the comfort levels of passengers sitting in the rear.
The Baleno has a high-definition LCD instrument cluster display, which highlights driving G-force, engine output and torque, accelerator/brake operation, and energy flow (for vehicles with SHVS), among other things.
Engine and Gearbox
We first got our hands on the 1.3-litre diesel, and when we fired up the engine it became obvious that Maruti Suzuki engineers have worked very hard to keep the NVH levels down. With 74bhp, the Baleno felt eager, but with the turbo lag one ends up shifting gears on a regular basis, especially in city traffic. Also on the highway, the power tends to fizzle out, therefore, to get optimum speed you do need to keep the rev needle between 2,500-3,000rpm.
This does make you wonder whether Maruti missed a trick by not plonking the higher state of tuned engine, 88bhp, which is in the Ciaz.
Yes compared to its competition, the Maruti has lesser ponies as the i20 Eilte has 89bhp while the Jazz boasts of 98bhp, but, as mentioned earlier, it never labours for power and a lot of credit goes to the new monocoque platform, which is lighter and more rigid. The 5-speed transmission easily slotted into gear without any hassles and the hatchback responded instantly - but in a smooth linear fashion.
Also read - Maruti Suzuki Baleno Automatic: First Drive
Ride and Handling
When it comes to the handling department, the Baleno pleasantly surprised us with its razor sharp capability. Maruti products usually have a softer suspension set up, but with the Baleno they've managed to strike just the right balance as it never felt bumpy or wallowed on broken roads. It took on corners like no other Maruti can even imagine. It's definitely right up there with the segment champion, the Elite i20, and could make the Korean manufacturer slightly nervous.
Ride comfort is very good as well, with the car dismissing undulations and potholes with ease. Even at higher speeds, the Baleno doesn't get unnerved as such by road imperfections. Suspension noise is at a minimal too, and the Baleno is a genuinely comfortable car to be in - be it on city roads or open highways. The only let down is the high level of wind noise generated from around the windows at higher speeds.
It's great to see that the country’s leading car maker is taking safety very seriously as the Baleno comes with dual air bags, ABS and EBD as standard across all variants. This will definitely set a precedent, which hopefully many other manufacturers will soon follow.
Is the Maruti Suzuki Baleno the next big thing in the Indian car market? Yes, but it all depends on the how they price it. Being a Nexa product, Maruti’s premium range, they shouldn’t get carried away and position it at par with the i20 Elite and the Jazz, as both are more powerful. Also buyers still haven’t accepted the Maruti brand as a premium one. The Baleno has the potential to really shake up the segment, but then everything comes down to brass tacks.
Engine: 1,248cc / In-line 4-cylinders / turbocharged Fuel: Diesel Transmission: 5-Speed Manual / Front Wheel Drive Power: 74bhp @ 4,000rpm Torque: 190Nm @ 2,000rpm Front Suspension: McPherson Strut Rear Suspension: Torsion Beam Front Brakes: Discs Rear Brakes: Drums Tyre Size: 185/65 R15 – Sigma & Delta 195/55 R16 – Zeta & Alpha
Engine: 1,248cc / In-line 4-cylinders / turbocharged
Transmission: 5-Speed Manual / Front Wheel Drive
Power: 74bhp @ 4,000rpm
Torque: 190Nm @ 2,000rpm
Front Suspension: McPherson Strut
Rear Suspension: Torsion Beam
Front Brakes: Discs
Rear Brakes: Drums
Tyre Size: 185/65 R15 – Sigma & Delta 195/55 R16 – Zeta & Alpha