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2015 Maruti Baleno review, road test

17th Dec 2015 7:00 am

Read the 2015 Maruti Baleno review, road test from Autocar India; Maruti's largest hatchback yet has large aspirations. Does it deliver?


  • Make : Maruti Suzuki
  • Model : Baleno

Not since the launch of the Swift a decade ago have we seen a Maruti that comes with such high expectations. The Baleno isn’t just another hatchback, but the business-class ticket for Maruti to go upmarket. After the lukewarm response to the S-Cross, Maruti is banking on the Baleno to tempt buyers into its new Nexa retail network that’s been painstakingly developed to pander to a more discerning and snootier lot of consumers. Maruti has thrown everything it possibly can into the new Baleno, which is a completely new car and the first on an all-new Suzuki platform. It has absolutely no link with the Baleno sedan from a decade ago and is positioned instead as a premium hatchback to directly take on the likes of the Hyundai i20, Honda Jazz and VW Polo. But is the Baleno premium enough to make customers bite? 

The pay off for all the weight saving achieved in the Baleno is experienced at the pump. Also helping fuel efficiency is engine calibration – Maruti engineers always favour fuel efficiency over driveability, and it shows. The Baleno petrol returned an impressive 13.43kpl and 18.11kpl in the city and highway cycles respectively, while the CVT isn’t too far behind with 13kpl and 16.9kpl. The diesel Baleno sips even less, returning a best-in-class 14.9kpl and 21.4kpl for the same cycles.



Maruti Suzuki Baleno
Maruti Suzuki Baleno

Rs 6.23 lakh * on road price (New Delhi)


The Baleno is the first car to be built on an all-new Suzuki platform, which will spawn future models like the next-gen Swift. The significance of this platform is the considerable weight saving it offers, thanks to the use of high-tensile steel and a construction that’s optimised with the latest software and computer techniques to minimise flab.

However, the torsional stiffness isn’t as good as the Swift’s, due to the longer wheelbase of the new car. The engineers could have compensated with more reinforcements in the body structure to increase rigidity, but that would have increased the weight, which Suzuki wanted to avoid.
Bolted onto the new platform is a conventional MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension system, but for the Baleno, special attention has been paid to fine tuning the damper rates, bump stops and suspension bushes. Ground clearance is a generous 170mm to take into account Indian road conditions.

The Baleno’s long 2520mm wheelbase, the longest on any Suzuki hatchback, gave the designers a lot of leeway to design a big, roomy car, which is critical for the Baleno’s premium positioning. Suzuki’s ‘liquid flow’ design language works well here, giving it a sleek, flowing silhouette unlike the more upright and distinct two-box shape of the Swift. The longer wheelbase, sharply raked A-pillar and generous glass area give it a stretched look, which achieves the designers’ objective of making it look bigger than it actually is. The large 16-inch wheels that are standard on the Alpha trim add to the size. However, the V-shaped grille and Swift-like headlights, which won’t let you mistake this car for anything other than a Suzuki, look small in comparison to the rest of the car’s generous proportions.

It’s from the rear that the Baleno looks the best. The curvaceous beltline nicely flares out at the rear into the well-rounded and distinctly muscular haunches that blend well with the steeply raked tailgate. The rear tail lights look a touch small, but the thick chrome bar (available on the Alpha and Xeta trim) accentuates the width of the rear. More rounded than sharp-edged, the Baleno’s design won’t get your heart racing, but it has a nice mix of class, maturity and restraint, which promises to age well during the car’s 7-year lifecycle.

Suzukis have long been criticised for their cramped and basic interiors, but thanks to the demands of the Indian market (the largest in the world for Suzuki), that’s all changing. Of late, cabin comfort and space have been given top priority. We’ve seen it in the Ciaz, S-Cross and now the Baleno, which surprised us with its genuinely spacious cabin.

The large front seats (designed to suit the larger-built Europeans) are superbly comfortable, thanks to generous underthigh support and spot-on cushioning which is sensibly more soft than hard. Seat height adjust and a steering with adjustable rake and reach will let drivers of any height find a comfortable driving position.

Rear seat passengers have it really good with legroom that is best in class and enough width to seat three without too much of a squeeze. The flat, sofa-like bench won’t hold you snugly, but the generously cushioned squab and backrest are supportive. Tall passengers will find headroom a bit tight thanks to the roof, which tapers towards the sharply angled C-pillar. It’s the point of conflict between form and function, or, specifically, headroom versus styling, and Suzuki designers have found a good middle ground.

Once you make yourself comfortable and start looking around, you’ll find yourself in familiar surroundings – if you’re a Maruti owner, that is. There are lots of carryover bits from other Marutis – some good, some bad. The chunky steering wheel with a raised boss, plucked out of more expensive cars like the Ciaz and S-Cross, feels good to hold. Not so nice are some of the buttons carried over from the first-generation Swift, which feel a bit cheap and downmarket. This impression extends to other parts of the all-black cabin, like the dashboard with its hard plastics and low-rent seat fabrics.

It’s the new bits and pieces developed specifically for the Baleno (and future Suzukis) that lift the cabin to some extent. The V-shaped centre console flanked by angular and well-built air-con vents looks interesting, while the new family of buttons for the air-con controls have a solid and nicely damped feel.

There’s an all-new instrument cluster too, which again is at odds with the otherwise dour interiors. The dials with detailed, clear fonts are easy to read and the electric blue back lighting livens up the cabin at night.

Maruti has made it a mission to take the lead with connectivity and infotainment, which is fast becoming a rage amongst smartphone-toting consumers. As a result, the Baleno’s infotainment system is the most comprehensive and user-friendly by far, packed with multiple functions. The sharp, clear 4.2-inch display in the instrument cluster throws up all kinds of information. Apart from the usual average speed, real time fuel consumption and distance-to-empty readouts, you get average fuel consumption in five-minute increments and live power and torque meter, which is more gimmicky than useful.

The big news is that the Baleno is the first car in India to come with Apple CarPlay, which seamlessly interfaces your iPhone with the car’s 7-inch screen. You will love the sheer convenience of having your iPhone’s icons on the head unit for easy access to your music, telephone, text message and Siri Voice control.

All you need is a USB cable which quickly and seamlessly connects your phone. Finding the USB socket is the difficult bit, though. It’s tucked away under the dash and ahead of the storage bins, which makes it difficult to locate, especially at night (the socket is not lit).

That niggle apart, the Baleno’s cabin is quite practical, with generous door pockets and lots of recesses and cubbyholes to store small items. The 339-litre boot can swallow quite a few bags, but the high load lip and low floor makes hauling heavy bags cumbersome. The seats fold 60:40 on all variants except the base Sigma, but what is truly commendable is that the twin airbags and ABS brakes are standard across the range. Maruti’s commitment to safety even when customers don’t pay for it earns the Baleno an extra star.

The Baleno is powered by a familiar range of powertrains commonly found under the hood of several other Marutis. It’s the CVT transmission in the Baleno automatic that’s new. Interestingly, Maruti decided against Automated Manual Transmission (AMT), the trend in small cars these days. This is because AMTs carry a bit of a stigma as being a ‘poor man’s automatic’, something Maruti consciously wants to avoid, given the Baleno’s position as a premium hatch.

The 1.2-litre K12 petrol motor is one of our favourites and a reminder that Suzuki makes some of the best small displacement petrol engines. In the lightweight Baleno, the K12’s peppy character is further amplified and this is immediately apparent the moment you slot the smooth-shifting gear lever into first and engage the clutch. The Baleno takes off with an urgency not seen in any other hatchback and sprints to 100kph in a brisk 12.60 seconds. There’s no drastic let up in pace, and on our test trip, we hit 140kph in 25.67 seconds, which is 8.34 seconds faster than the heavier Swift. The best bit is that this superbly balanced motor absolutely loves being revved without feeling strained. There’s a fair bit of mechanical noise at high revs, but it’s more a result of skimpy sound insulation (to save weight) than engine harshness. It’s a pity then that the rev limiter has been set at a conservative 6,200rpm. This engine could easily spin faster.

Superb part-throttle response makes the Baleno well-suited to darting through traffic. A mere prod of the throttle allows you to close gaps with ease. Press down further and you encounter the engine’s unenthusiastic and flat mid-range and this is most evident when you’re trying to overtake in the rather tall third gear. You often need to downshift and rev the motor if you’re in a hurry.
Another issue is that bit of hesitation or jerkiness at low revs and in stop-go traffic, which we put down to the ECU mapping. We feel Maruti engineers, while tuning the ECU, have compromised a seamless power delivery for class-best fuel efficiency.

The CVT in the Baleno automatic is responsive at low speeds, maybe too responsive, and modulating the throttle in traffic snarls requires an initial getting used to. On the highway, however, the CVT quickly loses its appeal. Because of the way it holds a constant engine speed, there’s a continuous drone, which can get quite irritating. Toggle the Sport button on the gear lever and you can feel the CVT acting faster, but on the highway, it doesn’t have much of an effect.

Enthusiasts may be disappointed that the Baleno gets the ubiquitous Fiat-sourced 1.3 diesel with the lower power output. Badged the DDiS 190, this 74bhp engine is not as under-powered as you’d think. Again, it’s all about power-to-weight ratio and the bantam Baleno diesel is no slouch. The 0-100kph is dispatched in 12.92 seconds, but it’s the punchy mid-range that’s most potent. Drop below 1,900rpm and the Baleno engine gets bogged down. There’s a fair bit of turbo lag, inherent in small displacement diesel engines, and if you’re in a hurry, you have to constantly use the five-speed ’box to stay in the meat of the powerband.

The DDiS motor revs quite easily to 5,000rpm, which is high for a diesel, but it’s best to upshift just after the 4,000rpm mark. At high revs, the engine feels harsh and noisy and you can’t escape that diesel drone. Refinement is quite poor and we find that this ageing Fiat diesel is getting outclassed by bigger displacement diesels now in most areas.

Unlike the sporty Swift, the Baleno has a gentler nature and that’s reflected in the way it rides and handles. There’s a maturity to the its dynamics and an underlying sure-footedness at any speed. The steering isn’t as quick or sharp as the Swift’s, but it has enough heft to give you confidence at highway speeds. We expected the lightweight Baleno to feel skittish on bad roads and get tossed around, but instead, there’s a reassuring stability on any surface. The suspension feels pliant under normal driving conditions, but when you hit a sharp ridge or rut, it distinctly thuds through. The Baleno’s suspension, because of the large wheels, has limited travel, and it’s easy to hit the bump stops on bad roads. Over most surfaces, however, the suspension works silently and with little vertical movement even on rough roads, to deliver a smooth and flat ride.

The Baleno doesn’t dart into the corners with the eagerness of the Swift either and the steering may not be bristling with feel, but there’s a linearity in the way it weights up, so you don’t have to constantly correct. The handling is all very predictable and failsafe, while the wide 195/55 tyre foot print gives plenty of grip too.

Smartplay is what Maruti calls its new seven-inch touchscreen-based infotainment system. It debuted on the Ciaz and has since found its way into more models, like the Ertiga and S-Cross. In the Baleno though it also debuts Apple CarPlay, which lets you mirror your iPhone’s interface on the screen for much better control. The Google equivalent, Android Auto, will be introduced later, Maruti says. However, even the standard Smartplay interface is one of the crispest and easiest-to-use. There’s no CD player, but you do get aux, USB, Bluetooth, and sat-nav, and it also acts as the monitor for the rear-view camera.



Ticks all the right boxes and gives best bang for the buck.The Baleno is a practical and capable hatchback that ticks all the right boxes. It looks very stylish, has the right proportions and comes with a comfortable, well-equipped cabin. No doubt, it has raised the game for Maruti in the premium hatchback segment, but is it a game changer? The design doesn’t break the mould in any way and the interiors too aren’t very exciting. What you do get with the new Baleno are a couple of ‘firsts’ in areas of connectivity (debut of Apple CarPlay in India), safety (airbags and ABS standard across range) and a new lightweight chassis (for unbeatable fuel economy). However, the Baleno’s bid to be seen as a premium offering has ironically been undermined by a bargain price. The Baleno gives you the maximum bang for your buck and that’s the most compelling reason to buy one. 

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