As Maruti Suzuki is all set to enter the premium hatchback segment, we decided not to waste a single moment as we took the all-new Baleno to the track to truly test its mettle. The new design concept, “Liquid Flow,” makes it look very contemporary indeed with its V-shaped grille, LED lamps and overall curvaceous shape. This is easily the best looking car from Maruti. What’s impressive is that they haven’t tried to go overboard with the design – and so it really does have a smart, premium look to it. Everyone who walked past the car stopped and stared – and that was despite the fact that the Mercedes-AMG S63 Coupe was standing alongside!
On the inside, Maruti Suzuki has kept the design of the cabin clean and simple. But, while the design is contemporary, the quality of the plastics in some cases could certainly have been improved. Nevertheless, it comes with a 7-inch touch-screen infotainment system – the same as the one on the S-Cross – which is very intuitive and easy to use. This system is also the first of its kind in India to come with Apple CarPlay as a standard feature – something we hope other manufacturers will take note of. After syncing your phone, the system’s screen changes into one that’s eerily similar to an iPhone display – following which it lets you make calls, reads out text messages, and also gives you access to your personalised playlists on iTunes.
In terms of comfort, Maruti Suzuki has been clever in ensuring that there’s ample leg, head, and shoulder room – especially for rear seat passengers. A glaring omission is the absence of rear-seat AC vents, but you do have to keep in mind that Maruti has exceedingly effective air conditioners. Lastly, in terms of space, the Baleno also boasts of the most spacious boot in its segment (with 355-litres of space, compared with 354-litres in the Honda Jazz).
The Baleno uses the same 1.3-litre diesel powertrain that’s found in the Swift. With 74bhp, it doesn’t sound like much – but the Baleno is far lighter than the Swift (see our review in this issue for details), and so it offers fairly adequate performance. The insulation is also top-class, as you can barely hear the noise from the engine filtering into the cabin. But where Maruti Suzuki has truly excelled is in the ride-and-handling department. The Baleno doesn’t wallow and feel soft like most Marutis. Instead it feels sharp, precise and purposeful. Despite that, however, the ride quality is second to none. The chassis simply feels modern and unflappable. The steering as well is direct, which makes it the most rewarding car in its segment to drive – despite being slightly down on power. We look forward to sampling Suzuki’s new 110bhp 1.0-litre turbo-petrol Boosterjet engine in the near future.
So, the Baleno has a lot going for it – and that’s why it’s one of our Best of 2015. It’s also expected to clearly undercut its rivals in terms of price, and therefore offer substantial value for money. So, this is a spacious hatchback that offers all the right features – with Apple CarPlay being its trump card. It also comes standard with safety features, like airbags, anti-lock braking and electronic brake-force distribution. This is a first in this segment, and it’s a commendable step for Maruti to be taking.
Maruti certainly appears to be looking ahead – and it seems that they’ve got another winner on their hands!