The Swift was the car which changed the hatchback dynamics in the Indian market when it was launched in 2005 and since then, it has single-handedly dominated the hatchback segment, being the top selling car in its segment, not by a small amount but by a huge margin. The Swift’s popularity and the fact that it was Maruti Suzuki’s best hatchback meant that the vehicle had to deal with more responsibilities, like competing in the premium hatchback space which has cars a segment above. Now to relieve the Swift of its duties in the premium hatchback space, Maruti Suzuki has bought in the Baleno, a car which is bigger than the Swift in every way and has been designed to lure customers who find shortcomings in the Swift. The new Baleno has a lot of significance, it brings back the old moniker used by Maruti’s then flagship sedan (in the 2000s) and the Indian automaker has been entrusted with producing the car for the world. But how good is this Hyundai Elite i20 challenger? Get offers & discounts on Baleno
Honestly, I wasn’t very impressed with the interior when I first saw it at the Frankfurt Motor Show last month. And Maruti executives confirmed that the cars given to us in India are closer to production, which explains why it seems a lot more likeable now. The smart all-black cabin looks upmarket and sporty, but there are plenty of parts carried forward from other Maruti Suzuki models, which steals some of the freshness away. We expected the premium-positioned Baleno to use some soft plastic parts on the dashboard and maybe leather upholstery options, which could have made the cabin even better. Apart from this there’s not much to complain about, as the fit and finish is pretty decent for the segment
The front seats are large, comfortable and well bolstered. Thankfully, the driver’s seat is height-adjustable, which helps get a good driving position. In fact, the tilt and reach adjustable steering further helps this cause. The icing on the cake is the positioning of the switches and buttons, all of which are well within reach, making the cabin ergonomically sound.
As desired in this segment, the cabin is spacious and there’s plenty of space at the back too. What’s most impressive is the excellent knee room for the rear seat passengers – something Maruti car buyers were always left desiring more for until now. India being a predominantly chauffeur-driven country, this will not go unnoticed. There’s a spacious boot too, with a very useable 339 litres of storage space.
The front of the Maruti Baleno is quite stylish and gives a unique presence to the car, one that sets it apart from the crowd. There are daytime running LEDs, but these come only in the top end Alpha variant, which is quite a dampener. The headlamp design reminds one of the Swift. The black honeycomb grille is smart looking and has chrome garnishing on the lower end, which adds some flair. The bumper gels well with rest of the body
From the side the car looks very contemporary and long as well. The side profile does look much better than the competition despite the fact all of them are under 4 metres and the same length hatches. The hood has a nice curve to it and the silhouette looks beautiful. This is certainly the best angle of the car
The rear is also appealing and muscular. There is a rear spoiler as well which is neatly integrated. Maruti follows the liquid flow design for Baleno, which makes it look trendy. The paint job on the Maruti Baleno is of good quality and makes it premium looking. The Maruti Baleno looks longer than the competition and even more premium in styling
The car brings to India one of Suzuki’s latest innovations globally – the 998cc Boosterjet direct injection turbocharged engine. This all-aluminium, three-cylinder engine produces a peak power of a little over 100bhp and a maximum torque of 150Nm. It is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. There is no automatic gearbox option, as of now. (Boosterjet combines the two modern automotive technologies: direct injection and turbocharger.)
One of the keys to succeed in this segment is to offer plenty of features and driver aids, and Maruti has ensured that the Baleno doesn’t skimp on this front by loading it with some of the latest gadgets you can think of. So higher models gets climate control, colour TFT information screen, a 4.2-inch touch screen with a rear parking camera and satellite navigation system, and segment-first Apple CarPlay which, by the way, is a really cool feature. Apart from this, there are also steering-mounted controls, keyless entry, push button start, USB and AUX ports, and special coating on the glass which prevents UV rays from entering the cabin. Also commendable are the safety features such as ABS, EBD and dual airbags which are offered as standard on all variants
The ride of the Baleno car is very good. We have only driven the 195/55R16 (top-of-the-line variant) and yet to experience the other variant that comes shod with smaller tyres. But the ride will more of less remain the same. The suspension absorbs all the bumps with ease making it a smooth ride. On the other hand, the handling of the Baleno is just more evolved than the Swift. The alacrity of the chassis is a lot more superior to the other Maruti products thanks to the lighter weight chassis. This not just enhances the power and efficiency, but also improves the driving dynamics. The steering wheel too is light and feels comfortable to drive in city. It does weigh up a bit making it a joy to drive on the highways too.
The Baleno RS has most of the points necessary to appeal to an enthusiast like an eager engine performance, being nimble around corners, have a great straight-line stability and good braking power. And then with a claimed fuel-efficiency of 21.4 kmpl, the Maruti Suzuki Baleno RS is still the most fuel efficient petrol hatchback in its segment. The Volkswagen Polo GT TSI and Fiat Abarth Punto might be a little more powerful than the Baleno RS, but then they are more expensive too. So overall, Maruti Suzuki seems to have played their cards well that should help the Baleno RS to be considered as an interesting proposition in the performance-oriented affordable hatchback segment in India.