We drove the new Suzuki Baleno (in UK spec) in Ireland earlier this month and were impressed with its new 1.0-litre turbocharged engine and the commanding level of technology for a small car. The Baleno is, however, a little difficult to place in the South African market. Size-wise it fits somewhere between Fiesta/Polo and Golf/Focus. It’s bigger than your average B-segment car but a little smaller than the common C-segment. So which cars will it need to beat in order to make it a feasible buy?
The Baleno will need to be significantly cheaper than the Golf in such a way that buyers won’t be tempted to "pay a little more" for the pleasure and status to sit in the all-conquering Volkswagen. The Golf is the benchmark C-segment buy for most South African consumers and at a starting price of R297 800, is very tempting. Suzuki plans to bring the Baleno in at a healthy R200 000-R220 000 which should keep bargain hunters interested.
The Hyundai i20 is one of the bigger B-segment hatches, especially in terms of load space. Its boot can hold 294-litres with the seats up. Suzuki claims 320 litres of boot space for the Baleno and that’s still with impressive rear leg room available. If Suzuki is capable of bringing the Baleno in at its suggested price it will also be cheaper than the equivalent 1.4-litre i20.
Naturally aspirated hatches don’t get any better than the Mazda2. This little hatch feels light on its feet, fun to drive and yet stays impressively frugal. With Suzuki postponing the Baleno’s turbocharged engine for now, the 1.4-litre motor will be doing duty under the bonnet. Buyers interested in both practicality and fun will have a tough decision to make between the sportiness of the Mazda2 and the space and size of the Baleno.
Japanese marque Honda arguably has the best reputation when it comes to reliability. For decades, its cars have appeared at the top of reliability surveys. Suzuki, too, is renowned for its unbreakable vehicles but they do tend to be on the more basic side. The Baleno will want to prove it is true to its Suzuki roots and offer trouble-free motoring.
The Volkswagen Polo 1.2TSI is South Africa’s best-selling car (excluding rentals and exports). It has major sway with consumers and commands a premium on the used car market. The Baleno will need to offer a significantly advantageous deal to tempt buyers into its cockpit. On the Suzuki's side are its value for money offering and spacious cabin. The Baleno certainly does offer a lot of car for the money.