The all new Baleno joins the hotly-contested premium hatchback race
Maruti’s all-new Baleno was one of the most awaited cars this year and with its launch, the competition in the choc-a-bloc premium hatchback segment has gotten even stiffer. It’s the second product from the carmaker to retail through the premium Nexa showrooms and since its launch on October 26, the Baleno already commands a two-month waiting period. So is it worth the wait?
The Baleno is all new from ground up and in terms of size, looks like a bigger brother to the Swift, managing to measure in just a shade under the four-metre mark. It does come across as one of the best looking products to roll out of Maruti’s stables recently. Its design, while bearing no signs of flamboyance, looks elegant and even sporty, especially from the rear quarter. Elements like the door-mounted wing mirrors, the converging glasshouse and the expansive side profile lend the Baleno a unique air, enhanced by the projector headlamps, the chrome bits and daytime-running LEDs on the top-spec Alpha variant.
Slip into the driver’s seat and you are greeted by what is now standard fare on all Marutis, which is not necessarily a bad thing per se, but something that could hurt the car’s projected premium positioning. You do see switchgear and other bits borrowed from lesser Marutis, but everything falls to hand well and is easy to read and use. The V-shaped centre console definitely steals the show here, especially on the car’s top trim, thanks to the big Apple CarPlay equipped (first in India) touchscreen and the way the whole unit neatly converges down at the round dial with digital readouts for the air-con controls.
The cabin, although intelligently laid out to provide plenty of storage space all around, feels let down by the average quality of materials used and the cabin’s all-black theme makes the otherwise spacious interior feel a tad bit dingy, and robs the sense of room inside. Still, the Baleno scores well on practicality, more so in the rear seats, where save for the slight shortage of headroom, the ample leg and shoulder room makes seating three abreast very easy. The front seats too are one of the comfiest seen on a hatchback in and around its price-point; the interior of the Baleno actually feels like that of a bigger car on the whole. The boot is a spacious 339 litres but sadly, the high loading lip makes getting heavy pieces of luggage into car a task.
Coming to the powertrains, the Baleno comes with both diesel and petrol engine options mated to five-speed manual units, with the petrol also getting the option of a CVT gearbox. The engines are the same as the ones doing duty on the Swift, namely the 1.2-litre K12 petrol and the Fiat-sourced 1.3 DDiS diesel and produce the same outputs as those on its smaller sibling, a fact that should ideally put the Baleno at an obvious power disadvantage against its rivals. But here’s where the Baleno pulls one of its trump cards in the form of its incredibly low kerb weight, which pretty much makes up for the lack of outright grunt, to the point that the diesel Baleno actually feels quite sprightly. In fact, both the diesel and the petrol cars weigh about 100kg lesser than their Swift counterparts.
The diesel Baleno is fairly responsive and quick. However the noisy and ageing Fiat-sourced diesel motor is clearly low on refinement, but is one of the most frugal units around, delivering a wallet-friendly 27.39kpl. Coming to the petrol motor, Suzuki’s incredibly refined 1.2-litre K12 engine more than impresses under the Baleno’s hood. The slick gearbox too, masks the petrol unit’s weak low-end response, making the Baleno quick off the line, and also very easy to drive in stop-start traffic. The CVT unit, available only with the petrol engine, is suited more to city roads – it is incredibly responsive at low speeds, making scooting around in heavy traffic completely hassle-free. However, put down the right foot with some urgency and the CVT starts to feel sluggish, especially on highways, where the car takes its own time to gather speed even as the engine spins hard at 6,000rpm.
Maruti took it upon itself to provide the CVT option only in the mid-level Delta spec; the carmaker felt an automatic Alpha trim would be much too expensive for Indian buyers.
Where the Baleno performs unexpectedly well is with driving manners. Unlike most lightweight cars, the Baleno doesn’t feel remotely skittish. The slightly soft but well balanced suspension helps it ride over all kinds of roads, good and bad, with the authority of a bigger, more solid car, with only larger undulations making their presence felt. Also, its taut body and long wheelbase give it commendable straight-line stability. The steering too feels pretty quick and well weighted with little slack around dead centre, which again makes the Baleno a hoot to throw around corners. That said, the Baleno is not as darty or nimble as a Swift while changing directions and also worth mentioning is that the steering doesn’t return to the centre position, and hence you have to turn it back yourself.
And finally the big question, should you buy one? The new Baleno is really a great effort from Maruti. It’s good looking, has quite a bit of kit thrown in which is on par with most of the competition and has lots of practical bits for the discerning buyer. Yes, cabin quality could have been better for the price but the real estate on offer definitely makes up for it. And, of course, there’re the decent driving manners and the overall big-car appeal.
Maruti has launched the petrol range at Rs 4.99-7.01 lakh, the diesel range at Rs 6.16-8.11 lakh and the CVT variant at Rs 6.76 lakh, (all prices ex-showroom, Delhi), undercutting rivals by a good Rs 30-40,000.
However, do bear in mind that these are introductory prices and will likely be raised once the festive season is over. Overall, the new Baleno looks like yet another winner from Maruti.
Suzuki’s incredibly refined 1.2-litre K12 petrol engine more than impresses under the Baleno’s hood