First Drive: Maruti Resurrects the Baleno as a Premium Hatch
Maruti NEXA to get its second car as the Baleno hatchback is on its way this Diwali.
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The Baleno name isn’t new to the Indian market and the last time around, Maruti Suzuki tried really hard to break into the mid-size sedan segment with it. Pitting it against the Honda City turned out to be a tough task and while there are Baleno loyalists across the country who swear by the machine, MSIL eventually had to pull the plug. The Baleno is now back in an all-new avatar and this time, it’s a premium hatch. But does it have what it takes to make it in this cut-throat segment?
Built on an all-new platform, the new Baleno is based on Suzuki’s ‘Liquid Flow’ design philosophy. While the visual connect to the Swift’s design is immediately apparent, the Baleno boasts of a more sporty stance that is further amplified by its sloping roof line. The design cues include a lot of curved surfaces, chrome dashes and flowing character lines all of which work to offer a relatively good looking car.
The front end is a bit of a let down as compared to the rest of the design and if MSIL had stuck to the headlight design of the concept sketch, this car would have looked wonderful. It is the most sober-looking amongst its immediate competition, namely the Hyundai i20 and the Honda Jazz, however, the overall package cannot be criticised and you do get a few neat titbits like the LED Daytime Running Lights and projector headlamps to spice things up a bit. Add to that the nice 16-inch alloy wheels which play their part in enhancing the vehicle’s overall visual appeal.
The interiors are fantastic. While the all-black theme might be criticized by some, I found that it lends a premium feel to the cabin. The materials used are all top-notch and the fit and finish is commendable and in line with what one would expect from a product that will be sold through NEXA.
In terms of gadgets and gizmos, the new Baleno gets a TFT multi information display on the instrument cluster that includes a variety of information about the car and a neat touchscreen display on the centre console to cater to all your infotainment needs. The Baleno is the first car to get the Apple CarPlay system that allows you to seamlessly integrate your Apple iPhone and access all the functions. You also get Bluetooth, a USB port and an SD card slot. The new Baleno also gets steering mounted controls, adjustable steering, keyless start/stop and a neat reverse camera.
As far as the space onboard is concerned, it is clear that MSIL went all out to ensure that the passengers get the best in the class. There is ample leg room up front, however, the real surprise is the sheer amount of leg room for those seated in the rear. A boon for those who want a great car to be chauffeured around in the city. What has been sacrificed is the boot space.
With only 339 litres of trunk volume, the Baleno isn’t going to lug around a load of luggage, so pack smart if you plan to use it for a family vacation. The other grouse I had with the boot was the way the high rear bumper interferes while loading. You have to lift the bags rather high to get them in. Clearly, Maruti Suzuki has designed the Baleno around the passengers and since this is predominantly a city car, I guess boot space could be sacrificed.
Powering the Baleno is a choice of two engines, namely a 1.2-litre petrol and a 1.3-litre diesel. Both these engines are tried and tested units and if you don’t believe me, ask every Swift owner in India and they will vouch for these engines. That’s right, the Swift gets the same engines and while the Baleno seems like a bigger car, it really isn’t that much bigger (sub 4-metres remember) and both the engines are adequate for the car. I personally like the nature of the 1.3-litre DDiS unit better.
It only develops 74bhp@4000 rpm, but the reason it’s better to drive is thanks to the 190Nm of torque that it generates which offers better tractability at lower rpms and, therefore, feels more engaging to drive. The 1.2-litre petrol manages to deliver 83bhp@6000 rpm and offers 115Nm of torque @4000 rpm, however, it never seems engaging enough. It powers up gradually and seems to be just adequate.
While power might not be their forte, the engines themselves are extremely refined units and as far as the transmission options are concerned, the diesel is only available with a 5-speed manual, while the petrol engine has also been paired with a CVT for those who are looking for that added convenience.
The one characteristic of the car that immediately appeals to you is the ride quality. Right from the word go, you can feel how well the new Baleno rides. It is smooth yet sits firm on the tarmac. It can handle the road undulations without upsetting the occupants. Obviously MSIL has spent a lot of time refining these elements and it shows. The handling is also commendable and for a car of this class, I have no complaints on that front.
Maruti has gone all out on the safety front as well. The new Baleno comes with two airbags, front disc brakes, ABS and EBD as standard across all models. Further, it has been built out of high tensile steel that allows for more rigidity yet weighs a lot less, which in turn has a positive effect on the mileage of the car as well.
Overall, the Baleno does have a lot going for it. It looks like an evolution of the Swift design, has some great features, and is high on safety and decent to drive. The cabin has been well thought out and the use of space is brilliant.
What will be the deciding factor on the Baleno’s fate is its price tag. Being badged as a NEXA offering already places it as a premium product, however, to make it big in the market, the Baleno will have to beat the Hyundai i20 and the Honda Jazz on the pricing front. It is a tough match, but it will be fun to see how it plays out once the Baleno hits the showrooms.
(Vikram Gour is one of India’s renowned automotive journalists and the Co-Founder of MotorScribes. He can be reached on Twitter: @VikramGour)
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Topics: Maruti Suzuki Hatchback Maruti Nexa
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