Reincarnation has long been a mythological parable that many do believe in. So while some of you are still busy cursing life or feeling blessed, blaming it on the deeds of your past life, here’s a car that is a living example of rebirth. We tried finding out if it can trace some of it roots and excite the driver, or has it transformed entirely and come back with an untraceable DNA.
The previous gen Maruti Suzuki Baleno is still fondly remembered as a fun to drive car that looked like a flat billboard at the rear. This new model departs from the sedan scheme of things and has landed itself in the premium hatch classroom to accompany the Honda Jazz, the brilliant VW Polo and the very popular Hyundai Elite i20. Time to put on the medical mask then and work our scalpels through the guts of this Maruti, trying to figure if we make a discovery or will this be just another ordinary experiment.
Well to be politically correct, let’s just say that appearance is subjective and while many have taken a liking to the new Baleno’s distinct styling, we find the whole package sending out a confused message to our visual senses. It looks brilliant from a few angles and brilliantly unlikeable from some.
The front for example paints a love it or a hate it picture. A large strip of chrome snakes out from the insides of the headlamp unit, bowls out in the middle to accommodate a honeycomb grille and then climbs back again into the illumination unit which looks very similar to the ones on the Swift/Ertiga.
The headlights do get projector units on the higher spec models along with DRLs at the bottom. Two crisp creases run through the bonnet and go a long way in adding some visual muscle to the front.
Underlining the squat appeal is the wide air dam with fog lamps at each end. There’s nothing smashing about that face; it’s familiar though. Those chrome linings inside the headlamps and the DRL’s try their bit to jazz things up, but we aren’t really convinced.
Let’s move over to the sides, where the Baleno flaunts a lot of curves, pouts and looks invitingly voluptuous. So much so, one of us called me and had his palms all over the bodywork explaining the beauty of those surfaces.
The Baleno oozes sensuality which starts from the smooth shoulder line as it ridges above the front wheel arch, dips just below the door mounted ORVM and then progresses into a smooth flowing bulge that extends right till the tail light section and meets the elegantly swooping C-pillar. At the lower end, pronounced wheel arches along with a sharp crease that joins them goes on to create a concave effect. And we absolutely love those haunches – a template of unadulterated, classic styling. The curved glass area adds a touch of grace, which combined with the 16” alloy wheels make the Baleno quite a sight to look at, but this is only sideways alright.
The Maruti Suzuki Baleno takes some inspiration from the Mercedes A-Class in the posterior area. It does give you that sense of Déjà vu, but in a good way.
Having said that, the tail lamp design could’ve been a little more striking to keep up with the sides (not the front). The top-of-the-line Alpha model we tested comes with a body coloured high mounted spoiler with an integrated stop lamp that merges well with the receding roof, while a pronounced horizontal chrome slat shines bright just below the rear windscreen.
Since the rear hatch shuts rather high, the rear bumper is quite large and makes space for the licence plate in an arched cavity. We like how the bumper merges with the rear wheel arch and allows a curved crease to travel through, splits the bumper’s size, reflectors finding space at each end.
In all, the Baleno shows signs of brilliance in places. Does it all come together to make it look spectacular? We don’t quite think so. It’s still a decently styled machine which should appeal to a wide majority of the audience.
Now You Love me…
Now you don’t!
Cabin and Features
Once in the height adjustable driver’s seat, finding a position that makes you feel comfortable is easy, thanks to a rake and reach adjustable steering wheel which feels good to hold and comes wrapped in leather.
The front seats are wide and provide good side bolstering, with ample under thigh support.
The driver is greeted by an instrument cluster that gets two hooded dials, the core of which mimics a rather blue eclipse. Analogue reading for the speedometer, fuel level, temperature and engine speed makes life easy as one isn’t confused with too much of digital stuff happening in a small area. Tell tale lights glow within the tachometer, a couple of them below a blue arch that connects both the dials.
What comes across as a nice touch is the central information display that looks crisp and pretty colourful. It displays various vehicle parameters in an appreciably good resolution, including one screen that shows you how much torque and power is being fed to the front wheels. Fancy! But is it accurate and useful? Nay!
Now to the confused looking part again, the centre console. Things look modern and sophisticated if you look at the central AC vent and the Apple Carplay compatible infotainment system in isolation. But then you look at the silver finished AC control panel and it makes you unsure if it should’ve been there or maybe if it should go back to an Alto. With a circled display for the temperature and other related settings, it has that funk, but the kind which seems a bit yesterday.
Below the AC control panel sits a power and USB/Aux-in socket.
Below the center console is some storage space ahead of the gear lever, followed by the hand brake and a central armrest which has some storage space.
You can pop in a small to medium screen phone in there, may be a wallet too, but good luck stashing your 5”+ phone inside as there isn’t enough width. Glovebox space is again average, while 1 liter bottles can comfortably be placed in all four door pockets.
Talking about the new Apple Carplay enabled infotainment system, it is the same unit which also has found its way in the Ciaz and the Ertiga’s top end models. Paired with 4 speakers and 2 tweeters, it sounds good and thumps out decently deep bass without making everything sound too distorted.
There are no physical dials or button to control anything and everything needs a swipe or some touch. Navigation comes courtesy of Maps which can be loaded through a memory card, while iPhone users can pair their phones and access apps and a few features through the system. Android users will have to stick with basic Bluetooth connectivity for music playback and calls for now.
Getting in and out of the rear seat is a breeze, thanks to acres of leg room, even when the front seat is pushed all the way back. Headroom comes at a premium, thanks to the sloping roofline.
Under thigh support is average and for a premium product, rear AC vents and a central armrest are missing. The rear seat backrest could’ve been more angled, however, it splits in a 60:40 ratio, adding additional cargo area to the sufficiently spacious 339 literbootspace. Talking about the space in the boot, it runs deep and is illuminated, but the loading area can get cumbersomely high.
The all black cabin looks alright, but the quality of materials used fail to exude that sense of premium appeal found in abundance inside the Polo and i20’s cabin. Take for example the seats, which come covered in average quality fabric even on the top spec model.
Fancy features like a reversing camera, start/stop system, keyless entry and electronically folding mirrors do try to entice you. The windows and windscreen are covered in UV cut glass to keep harmful rays from raiding your skin, which is quite a thoughtful feature.
What we appreciate is that all models of the Baleno will come with dual airbags, ABS and EBD as standard. Maruti must be applauded for this move, and we’ll really send them some crates of beer if they treat all their products with these paramount safety features, starting from the Omni, Eeco and the Alto. Why should cars sold from Nexa have all the fun? Being the market leader, the onus is on Maruti Suzuki to offer safer cars, and offering safety aids in basic products like the Alto is the need of the hour.
Glovebox capacity is surprisingly average in comparison to the space inside the cabin
Quality of plastics and finish isn’t in the same ballpark as the Baleno’s competition
Wheel gets adjustment for rake…
And reach too..
That AC control panel is still stuck in the 90s
Mirror mounts itself on the door to reduce wind noise
Only the driver gets an Auto down feature and has to hold the button to put it back up
On the Road
Even before you get behind the wheel, the Baleno’s flat, road hugging stance will want you to believe that it must be a joy to drive. But once on the go, like the rest of the package, the Baleno shines in certain departments and disappoints in many. Being a hundred kilos lighter than the Swift, one would expect it to be an eager pup, but all it manages to be is a trained canine for the masses.
Powered by the Fiat sourced 1248cc diesel engine, tuned to deliver 74 bhp at 4000 rpm and 190 Nm of twist at 2000 clicks, the Baleno is down on power compared to its competition, at least on paper. While CVT is available as an option on the petrol variant, the diesel has to make do with a 5-speed stick shifter. Surprisingly, like the Ertiga and the Ciaz, Maruti hasn’t fitted the Baleno with their hybrid system. Not that it would’ve made the dirty Grey Mumbai sea change its colour to emerald.
Thumb the starter and you’re greeted with the same old traditional clatter on the outside. Shift into first and the slightly notchy side of the gear shifter is immediately evident. Clutch action is super light and it doesn’t require a lot of modulation from your left foot to control any inherent hiccups from a diesel engine once you’re done shifting up/down. The gearbox again, is slightly notchy, but shifts are quick through the gates, especially after 2nd.
The 1.3-liter engine has been slightly retuned and delivers power in a linear manner. Driveability, if not great is average below 1900 rpm, post which the turbo starts spooling and once past the 2k mark, there is a civilized surge in power which lasts well past the 3500 rpm mark. The free revving engine (For a diesel) punches above its weight and it is difficult to tell that it only makes 74 bhp under the hood. That dearth in horsepower is felt in the higher climes of three digit speeds, where after a point, progress slows down. This engine with its decent driveability, good efficiency and capability on the highway is still, by all means, a capable unit, and doesn’t leave us with anything to complain about.
Ride & Handling
If we had one word to describe the Baleno’s handling characteristics, it would be ‘Skittish’. The dampers are set up to be overtly stiff, which does make every little ripple, pebble and wave travel through the chassis. The tyres fail to help the cause, making the Baleno feel anything but planted while on the move. The steering is dead in the center, picks up a feather’s weight at speeds and doesn’t help much to help your confidence. As a result, we found the car to be twitchy around corners, hunting for grip.
The ride then, as expected was unsettled and the Baleno can learn so much from the Polo in this regard, which achieves a charming balance between comfort and dynamics. It thuds into potholes and skips over the yellow and black plastic type speed humps we find on urban surfaces these days. We even checked if the tyre pressure was shooting north and making things difficult, but that wasn’t the case either. Brakes do their job well, and aided with electronics, haul the car to a standstill from decent speeds without any drama.
Since we had the car with us for half a day, measuring fuel efficiency wasn’t possible, as rather than the on-board computer or ARAI figures, we put our faith in the tankful-to-tankful method. The MarutiBaleno promises a rather optimistic ARAI certified mileage of 27.39 Kpl though, translating in a real world city number of about 14-15 kmpl. The on board computer, interestingly, showed us a fuel efficiency of 12+ kmpl for one of the smaller city trips.
Is it a buy?
Allow us to put this straight. Throughout the duration of the car’s stay with us, we only talked about how certain things could’ve been better. Those discussions outnumbered the few strong points we talked about, which happened to be the now old in the tooth engine, the styling when you see it sideways and the cabin space.
So you see the dilemma is, the Maruti Baleno isn’t a car that leaves you with strong impressions. That styling makes you feel unsure if you’d ever start loving it, the ride certainly wants you to look at better options, and as a package, the Baleno has still left us thinking, what does it excel at?
At Rs 9,75,699 OTR Mumbai, the Baleno’s top end Alpha mode then, is an expensive confusion to buy. You see if you spend a lesser amount of Rs 9,32,076, for that price, the Polo 1.5 Highline Diesel might not come fitted with brightly lit gizmos, but makes you fall for it for how it drives, how it makes you feel for buying a car, and for that discerning motoring experience.
You’d say maybe the Baleno’s base sigma diesel variant at Rs 7,42,000 “(OTR Mumbai) makes a strong case for itself. But then it can’t be called a premium product, for being stripped off the fancy display, motors on the rear window and doesn’t even come fitted with wheel caps. Add a little more money though and you can drive back home in a Swift Vdi, the Maruti we still love, or the brilliant new Ford Figo diesel, which is our current favorite among the crop of hatches.
Technical Specifications and Features:
Heartfelt thanks to Shivam Autozone, one of the largest and preferred Maruti Suzuki 3S dealers in Mumbai