In less than two months of its launch, the Baleno already boasts more than 40,000 bookings. It is easy to see why – the Baleno is arguably the best-looking hatchback Maruti has ever made, not to mention the most spacious, fastest and most feature-loaded. Luckily for us, sitting in our garage for long-term testing was a petrol manual variant.
I jumped at the opportunity to grab the Baleno’s keys. The very next day, I took it for a 330-odd-km trip. Now, taking a petrol car for long journeys usually has a very prominent downside – the additional spend. And if you have a heavy right foot, like I admittedly do, things can get a bit too dear. But the Baleno dismissed all these notions. Much to my amazement, despite sinfully indulging in some air-splitting acceleration, it returned a very green 13.92kpl. The 1.2-litre K-Series motor, apart from being surprisingly efficient, felt lively and willing, more so than the Swift’s. On the broken sections of NH17, en-route Kashid, the good ride kept me and my co-passenger comfortable. The 170mm ground clearance ensured that not on a single instance did we scrape the underbody – not even on large speedbreakers. I also found the car to be very stable at high speeds – a confidence booster, for sure.
Well-tuned suspension offers a good combination of low- and high-speed rides.
The projector headlamps on the Baleno are one of the best in a budget car yet, and visibility was greatly enhanced at night. The LED daytime running lights were a nice touch too, turning many heads. The top-spec Alpha variant has Apple CarPlay. I couldn’t quite use it this time around, what with me being an Android user, but word on the street is that an Android Auto integration might be in the pipeline. I was quite impressed by the 7-inch display, which was crisp, clear and well-placed and made reversing and parking easy.
We found the Baleno generously spacious on the inside. The front seats are large and comfortable, and the nice bolstering means you sit quite snug. My co-passenger was tall and broad, and on the way back, we were joined by two more occupants. Yes, of course, it was a full house but no one complained about any lack of space – despite two six-footers sitting in the front. Now that’s impressive. The 339 litres of boot space was also good enough for us to stash all our bags.
It’s not all rainbows and sunshine with the car, though. The clutch is not the lightest, especially for a petrol car. This is inconvenient for prolonged bouts of stop-and-go traffic. It is not very progressive either, and you have to be cautious while releasing it to avoid cloying jerks. Another problem, especially while moving from a standstill, is engine hunting, with the rpms falling as low as 600 clicks. Then there’s the steering which suffers from a lack of feel, a sore point when it comes to negotiating fast corners. The driver’s seat is not perfectly primed for long drives – poor lumbar support caused me some backache after long stretches behind the wheel.
The sensitive anti-theft alarm drew perceptible frowns from neighbours. Apparently, it was at its loudest setting when Maruti sent us the car. An attempt to lower the alarm volume by fiddling with the settings turned out to be quite a harrowing experience – the controls were fiddly, demanding excessive twirling for each adjustment.
However, these are just small niggles compared to the overall driving experience. Watch this space in the coming months for more information on how the Baleno performs in its original habitat – the urban jungle.