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.