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Detailed review & pictures : Maruti Baleno hatchback (diesel & petrol)

  • Oct 22, 2015
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Competition can be a pain in the backside and this holds true for all car manufacturers in India as well. It doesn’t matter if you have been the leader of the pack for decades and account for almost 50% of the total passenger car sales each month, you still have to scratch your head and develop plans for new models to take on rising competition and this is the case with Maruti's new offering. The company has been ruling the hatchback segment with various offerings but the new emerging ‘premium’ or high-end hatchback segment is where others have taken the lead. Case being the Hyundai i20 and the Honda Jazz, both these cars offer a lot more in terms of ownership experience, features, space and a ‘premium’ tag as compared to Maruti’s most expensive hatchback till date, the Swift. And this brings us to Maruti’s latest offering (goes on sale on 26th October) which aims to carve out a fair amount of market share for Maruti in this segment.

Maruti Baleno India

The Baleno brand name brings back memories from the era gone by but this new car shares nothing in common apart from the name. In their defense, Maruti says the name was picked by Suzuki for its meaning. It’s an Italian word which means a flash of light but how that goes down well with the car’s marketing is something we are still trying to figure out.

Maruti Baleno India

DESIGN:

Coming back to the car itself, in flesh it looks quite nice if not stunning. On paper, its longer and wider than both the i20 and the Jazz and sits lower as well and this gives it a hint of sportiness. What takes the same sportiness away are the alloy wheels – they simply look out of place in an era when others are offering beautiful diamond cut 16-inch alloy wheels.

[caption id="attachment_18364" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Maruti Baleno India Rather sober looking alloy wheels. What a let-down![/caption]

The Baleno nevertheless turns heads on the road and this is due to its muscular (low and wide) stance and striking front face with day-time running lights and the smiling chrome lining around the grille. Side profile of the Baleno isn’t as sporty as say the Elite i20 and you notice the rising shoulder line that fuses into the tail lamps. This Maruti gets body mounted external rear view mirrors and the benefit is lower wind noise at high speeds. The rear of the Baleno shows its massive width and design execution is simple with small tail lamps and a horizontal chrome lip below the windshield.

Maruti Baleno India

The Baleno is based on an all-new light weight platform and as compared to platforms currently used in vehicles of the same class, Suzuki claims body rigidity has been enhanced by approximately 15 per cent. Total vehicle weight has also been reduced by approximately 10 per cent and this in turn aids performance and fuel economy. Additionally, by aiming for optimisation of the entire vehicle including components attached to the underbody, Suzuki has been able to keep vibration and noise in check.

Maruti Baleno India

Maruti Baleno Exterior Gallery

[gallery link="file" columns="4" size="medium" ids="18367,18360,18359,18358,18361,18352,18349,18348,18319,18317,18313,18310,18307,18306,18304,18303,18301,18298,18296,18305"]

INTERIORS:

The cabin of the Baleno is one of its highlights and this is not due to the design or the feature list. Space on offer here is truly class leading and can easily rival entry level sedans. And I’m not just referring to the front seats. At the back, even with the front two seats adjusted for my height, I could still sit with my legs crossed. Absolutely brilliant!

[caption id="attachment_18343" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Maruti Baleno India Class leading rear space[/caption]

What is a bit of an issue is the limited headroom (it’s got the lowest height among premium hatchbacks) and this can be bothersome for a tall driver. The internal rear view mirror hinders your visibility a lot and in traffic, you have to move around to erase this blind spot.
The Baleno gets an all-black cabin theme and this goes down well with its sporty character. The low seat means getting in and out of the car will be tough for the elderly or those with back troubles but once seated, you appreciate the quality and design.

[caption id="attachment_18337" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Maruti Baleno India All-black color theme[/caption]

Fit and finish is nice and chrome usage is at places to break the monotony. The steering gets the usual controls for Bluetooth and audio system while the TFT speedometer display is a class apart and features a comprehensive driver information display. This should set examples for other premium hatchbacks as well. You can toggle between, hold your breath, average fuel economy, tank range, instantaneous fuel economy, average speed, driving time, clock, torque and power curves, outside temperature, trip meter et al.

[caption id="attachment_18336" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Maruti Baleno India TFT Speedometer[/caption]

While the door pads of the Baleno offer generous space for bottle and other smaller stuff, there isn’t ample space elsewhere to keep your knick knacks. For example, if you have a large coffee cup placed in one of the holders, it’s very difficult to access anything in the compartment ahead of it.
Moving on, the top-end version of the Baleno comes with a touch-screen infotainment system (like the Ciaz, S-Cross and Ertiga) with Apple Play. This new feature allows you to connect your iPhone with the system which in turn mirrors your smartphone onto the screen. Nice touch! The infotainment works well but we would have loved to hear better audio quality at this price point.

[caption id="attachment_18329" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Maruti Baleno India Touch-screen infotainment system[/caption]

The buttons for the climate control are placed in a wing shaped pattern and look cool. At the back, your family and friends will be complaining as the Baleno doesn’t offer you rear air-con vents or cup-holders. There is a dedicated charging point though and as stated earlier, space is more than enough for 3 tall adults. Icing on the cake comes in the form of the boot space. At 355 litres, it’s even more than the Dzire!

Maruti Baleno Interior Gallery:

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ENGINE AND PERFORMANCE:

[caption id="attachment_18314" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Maruti Baleno India Diesel Engine[/caption]

For the Indian market, the Baleno will come with a choice of two engine options, a 84PS 1197cc petrol and a 75PS 1248cc diesel. The diesel motor may put out less power than Jazz and the i20 but this new Maruti is approximately 170 and 240kg lighter than the rivals respectively. The motor is slightly on the noisier side as compared to the i20 but still quieter than the Jazz.

Maruti Baleno India

There is a hint of turbo lag under 2000rpm but the way it pulls all the way to over 4500rpm is remarkable. It really feels light on its feet, eager to move ahead whenever the driver wants. Steering feedback isn’t as great as the Polo but will satisfy most users. This engine comes mated to a 5-speed manual which like most modern day cars is a joy to use. Maruti also claims ARAI certified economy of over 27kmpl for the Baleno, putting it way ahead of the i20 and neck to neck with the Jazz.

[caption id="attachment_18363" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Maruti Baleno India Petrol engine[/caption]

The petrol engine feels peppy and ready to burn rubber. Again, the light-weight platform and other weight saving techniques work well in the favour of this car and performance is really nice. There is ample low end punch and when you want to go fast, the motor responds well and sounds great too. We also drove the CVT version and though such gearboxes work best with a bigger engine, in the case of the Baleno, we were delighted with the way it responded at lower speeds. Ofcourse it seems to run out of breath when you go pedal to metal but then, most users will put their money down on a CVT for ease of driving. Sadly, the Baleno CVT will not be offered in a top-end version configuration.

Maruti Baleno India

The Baleno might be the lightest car in its segment but when you are behind the wheel, things are completely different. The car drives with confidence and even at triple digit speeds, there is a sense of security and it feels planted. Over broken roads, the Baleno goes on doing its duty in able manner. I would say it strikes a very good balance between ride and handling and again, will satisfy most owners easily. Visibility though isn’t the best around and might be an issue with shorter drivers.

Maruti Baleno India

With the Baleno, Maruti is entering a new segment. The Elite i20 and Jazz combined together accounted for 15,000 units in September - this is a tough segment to beat mainly because Hyundai and Honda have established themselves pretty well. The Baleno packs in a lot and things end up going in its favor slightly. It lacks a few features but ends up offering exclusive goodies like Apple Play. Its a peppy car that comes across as a no-nonsense hatchback with loads of space and Maruti's brand value. However, I will still reserve my judgement till 26th when Maruti reveals its pricing. Its a 'so far so good' case for the Baleno and I hope Maruti puts a tempting sticker price in place to woo buyers into Nexa showrooms this Diwali. Stay tuned!

Updated on 26th Oct 2015:
Prices for the Baleno are out and let me start by saying that Maruti has really worked hard and done their homework properly. The petrol range starts at Rs 4.99 lac (ex-showroom Delhi) which is 40k less than the i20 and the Jazz. Likewise the diesel range starts at Rs 6.16 lacs which is a good 44k and 54k less than the i20 and Jazz diesel models respectively. The CVT model is priced at Rs 6.76 lacs, around 34k less than the Jazz automatic.
At these prices, the Baleno will surely get enough customers to walk into Nexa showrooms. It is feature packed, is as spacious as a sedan, offers a terrific mix of performance and fuel economy and you just can't ignore the Maruti brand name that brings along peace of mind. On that note, why couldn't Maruti do the same magic with the S-Cross?
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