Suzuki has ventured into the larger end of the B-segment with the introduction of the Baleno, which was first seen as the iK-2 concept back at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show, before being revealed to the public at Frankfurt later that year.
A compact, stylish hatchback, the Baleno sits on par with models including Hyundai's i20 and the Skoda Fabia, boasting an interior length of 2.64m and a 320-litre boot capacity. This makes it a more practical and versatile option than the brand's already-established Swift hatch.
The Baleno is set to go on sale on June 1, with the option of the lower spec SZ-T grade, with a 1.0litre Boosterjet engine, or the more comprehensive SZ5 that can feature either the 1.0litre Boosterjet or a 1.2litre Dualjet + SHVS (Smart Hybrid Vehicle System). AOL Cars travelled to Belfast to drive the manual SZ5 1-litre Boosterjet model.
What is it?
Suzuki has introduced the Baleno in order to fill the gap between the sporty Swift model and its award-winning Vitara SUV, following fears that it was losing up or downsizing customers to other carmakers.
The Baleno is based on the same platform as the one used for the next generation Swift, which has been designed to save weight while maintaining body rigidity. In total, the shell weighs less than 200kg, and the car 935kg, a figure that contributes towards the model's impressive fuel efficiency of 62.7mpg and CO2 emissions of 105g/km.
A frugal 1.0-litre, three cylinder Boosterjet engine powers the Baleno, producing 109bhp and 170Nm of torque, the latter of which is available from 2,000rpm – 3,500rpm. Peak torque is available at such low revs due to the fact that the engine is direct injection turbocharged.
The Baleno is only the second model to feature Suzuki's Boosterjet technology – the first being in the aforementioned Vitara – which allows it to offer the same level of power and torque as a much larger (1.8litre) naturally-aspirated engine.
This is achieved by the closing of the wastegate valve during intense driving in order to create higher boost pressure, and its opening under normal driving conditions, which makes for high power and good fuel efficiency.
Suzuki claim to have abolished turbo lag in the model with the utilisation of an air bypass valve.
What's the spec like?
Standard spec in the higher grade SZ5 is extensive. Included in the model's on-the-road price of £13,999 is automatic air-conditioning, a full entertainment and communication system, electric rear windows, adaptive cruise control and radar brake support (RBS). The RBS monitors the road ahead using a milliwave radar and pre-warns the driver before applying emergency braking if an imminent collision is detected.
However, despite the extensive array of equipment, the Baleno feels slightly dull on the inside. While sporty trim levels aren't exactly expected, the grey fabric seats look as if they were cheaply designed a decade ago. They are however, surprisingly capacious (remember the 2.64m interior length), and when folded flat make for an impressive load bay.
The dash is the most exciting part of the cabin, with blue accented dials neatly arranged behind the steering wheel, and the 4.2inch advanced multi-information LCD display sat in between. Here the driver has easy access to information including engine output, torque data, fuel consumption, average speed, acceleration and brake operation and driving G-force tracking.
Meanwhile a seven-inch display in the centre of the dash features Mirrorlink and ApplePlay connections and hosts the Satnav, which comes as standard across the range.
Unfortunately there is a wide range of alternatives to the B-segment Baleno - Hyundai's i20, the Skoda Fabia and Ford Fiesta to name just a few. As a new model on the market, the Baleno will struggle to attract customers from other models, however it will prove an attractive choice to pre-existing Suzuki customer, already accustomed to the Japanese carmaker's technology.
What's it like to drive?
With a comfortable driving position and good all around visibility, the Baleno is sure to be a popular model. However, with so many other options available, as mentioned above, the Baleno would have to boast an extraordinary drive to make it a stand-out model in the sector.
Unfortunately it doesn't have an obvious edge over its competitors. While nippy on country roads, the three-cylinder car has unnervingly light steering, and slight body roll – due to soft suspension. It feels unrefined on motorways, with more road noise than would be expected.
It corners quickly however, and the third of its five gears is torque-y and enjoyable.
AOL Cars verdict
The Baleno, for want of a better term, is basic. However, its low price and unassuming appearance mean that it has the potential to appeal to a wide customer base, which for a car destined for a world market is always good news.
It appears that Suzuki has anticipated the difficulty in breaking into the segment due to the wide range of competition, tentatively predicting UK sales figure of only 3,500 in the first full year, with a focus on drivers down and upsizing from its own model range.
Model: Suzuki Baleno
Engine: 1.0litre 3-cylinder Boosterjet
Max Speed: 124mph