The first thing I do when I get into a car these days is hunt for the USB socket to top up my battery-hungry iPhone 5S. In our long-term Baleno, you also need the Lightning USB cable to hook up to Apple CarPlay, a clever piece of software that mirrors my phone’s interface on the 7-inch touchscreen to give me a look and feel I’m familiar with. Trouble is, the simple task of plugging in isn’t that simple.
I’m on the other side of 50 years and my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, and to find the USB socket that’s tucked away in a dark cubbyhole of the Baleno’s dimly lit cabin isn’t exactly easy, especially at night. So, to all the Maruti engineers, here’s some feedback; please illuminate the ever important USB socket just like your rivals Hyundai have done in the i20 so that middle-aged drivers like me don’t have to know Braille to find it.
Locating the USB port is a hassle especially when dark.
Maruti has always been stingy with its cabin lighting and switchgear, possibly because customers haven’t complained or known better, so why bother. Instead, the frugal carmaker has spent its development money on things that are more in your face, like a feature-packed infotainment system.
The touchscreen is quite intuitive to use (even when I’m not hooked up to CarPlay) and accessing all the functions is easy. What I sorely miss, however, is a good old volume control knob instead of which there is a touch sensitive slider. It makes me constantly take my eyes off the road to adjust the volume, especially when Hrishi K’s delightful baritone thunders through the six speakers, on my favourite station 94.3 Radio One. Okay, there are steering-mounted volume buttons but nothing beats the tactile feel of a chunky knob.
I must admit, I’m not a fan of all-black cabins, especially in small cars where they tend to make one feel a bit claustrophobic and the Baleno’s interiors too are a bit gloomy. But what gives a delightful splash of colour is the instrument cluster with its brilliant blue lighting. And at night, it seriously lifts the cabin. Full marks to the air-conditioning too which has successfully battled one of the worst summers in recent years. In fact, the Baleno’s air-con system is better than many Mercs’!
It’s vacation time and Mumbai roads are delightfully empty which gives me a chance to use the Baleno’s rev-happy 1.2 K12 petrol engine in short bursts. It’s an engine that likes to be wound to its 6,200rpm redline which means I spend more time in first and second gears than in other cars. It’s not the most fuel-efficient way to drive I admit, but even so, the Baleno gave a pretty impressive 14.14kpl over three refills and 720km of city driving. The Baleno weighs a scant 890kg which, no doubt, helps fuel efficiency but the good thing is that the lightness doesn’t come at the expense of build quality. Mumbai’s roads test the torsional stiffness of any car and the Baleno gamely thunked through potholes, manhole covers and ruts without a shudder.
It’s when schools re-open next month and the monsoon descends that mayhem will descend on our roads. Until then, I’m just going to enjoy a relatively traffic-free city in this zippy little hatch. And oh yes, I nipped into Croma to buy an extra cable which is plugged permanently into the USB slot. Sorted!