These are exciting times at Maruti Suzuki. The carmaker recently launched its premium dealerships called Nexa and also its first premium crossover, the S-Cross. The company is for the first time offering a premium hatchback to take on the Honda Jazz and Hyundai i20, both of which have created a niche for themselves. Maruti hopes that buyers who want a car bigger than the Swift will end up buying the Baleno rather than shop at a rival dealership. Well, that’s the plan atleast.
The front end of the Baleno looks like a typical Japanese product. The head lamps are similar to the one on the Swift. The key highlight on the face is the fact that the car gets a nice big ‘V’ shaped chrome grille. The side profile looks muscular as well. The rear profile is complete with high mounted tail lamps, which mimic the styling of the BMW 1-series. Overall, it’s a design which offends none but won’t excite many as well. The Elite i20 looks much more dynamic when compared to the Baleno.
This car comes with an all-black cabin. Maruti have avoided using beige, which is a good thing since beige tends to soil rather easily. The seats are comfortable and offer good support for the lower back. The quality is good too and at par with the Hyundai Elite i20. Practicality is good too with plenty of places to keep your odds and ends. The door bins are large enough to store those big bottles in. The rear seats offer more space than the Hyundai i20 but still can’t match the excellent space on the Jazz. Also, unlike the i20, there are no AC vents in the Baleno. That said, it is a genuinely wide car at the back which makes it a good three seater. The boot at 339 litres is bigger than the i20's 285-litre on offer but can't match the Jazz's 354-litre boot space.
Engine, performance and gearbox
This car will come with two engine options. There is a 1.3-litre diesel with 74bhp and a 1.2-litre petrol with 85bhp. Both these engines are the same ones that do duty on the Swift. The good part about the Baleno is the fact that it’s a very light car, which translates into brisk acceleration no matter which engine you pick. The petrol motor is smooth as silk and doesn’t sound very loud when started from cold. The diesel is good for refinement as well but can’t match the ultimate quietness of the Hyundai i20’s CRDi motor.
Both cars come with a five-speed manual gearboxes, the petrol also gets an automatic CVT transmission. The manual gearboxes are crisp, light and precise as well, making gearshifts a joy. The CVT feels good in the city but when you take it out on the highway, the engine tends to become noisy when revved typical of any CVT auto gearbox.
Ride and handling
We’ve said this before and will not hesitate to say it again that Maruti is the master of suspension tune up. The Baleno has a fine balance between a comfortable ride and dynamic handling. The car soaks in most bumps at all speeds and remains surprisingly well planted on the highway too. The steering is light around town but tends to add weight when speeds increase. Overall, though, this car isn’t as sporty as the Swift, it is a much better bet for keener drivers that the i20 or the Jazz
Features and safety
Maruti will offer two airbags as well as ABS standard across the range. The top versions come with Apple Car Play technology where the stereo screen can mirror the user’s iPhone applications onto the car’s system. This tech means that drivers can directly look at maps, pick calls and play music using the 7-inch touch screen of the car rather than look at the phone. This is the only car at this price point to offer this.
With its comfortable cabin, large boot and an exhaustive features list the new Baleno has what it takes to be the leader in the competitive premium hatchback space. Being a Maruti means aftersales and resale values will be good too, which makes it a no brainer.