Maruti Baleno Review
Car Tested: 2015 Maruti Suzuki Baleno; Road Test No. 617
Price OTR Mumbai: Rs. 5.93 – 9.80 lakhs
The Maruti Baleno has some impressive traits – big cabin, unique features & the ride quality
The Swift was the car which changed the hatchback dynamics in the Indian market when it was launched in 2005 and since then, it has single-handedly dominated the hatchback segment, being the top selling car in its segment, not by a small amount but by a huge margin. The Swift’s popularity and the fact that it was Maruti Suzuki’s best hatchback meant that the vehicle had to deal with more responsibilities, like competing in the premium hatchback space which has cars a segment above. Now to relieve the Swift of its duties in the premium hatchback space, Maruti Suzuki has bought in the Baleno, a car which is bigger than the Swift in every way and has been designed to lure customers who find shortcomings in the Swift. The new Baleno has a lot of significance, it brings back the old moniker used by Maruti’s then flagship sedan (in the 2000s) and the Indian automaker has been entrusted with producing the car for the world. But how good is this Hyundai Elite i20 challenger?
Motor Quest: The Baleno nameplate has been used for the Cultus Crescent in Asia, Australia and European markets. Maruti Suzuki used the Baleno name for its upper C-segment sedan from 1999 to 2007. A station wagon version of the Baleno was also launched, called the Baleno Altura. The new Baleno has nothing in common with the old model, other than the name.
Exteriors – The Baleno is a BIG hatchback when you see it in person. It is almost four metres in length and at 1745 mm width, it is even wider than the Maruti Ciaz, imagine the presence of this hatchback! Well, in terms of styling it looks like a mature version of the Swift with a grown up design. Suzuki’s new Liquid Flow design language makes the car floaty and pleasant to look at. The front profile is dominated by the black grille accentuated with subtle chrome at the bottom that infuses into the headlights. The projector headlamps with LED daytime running lights look neat while the fog lamps are situated on the lower half of the bumper.
The Maruti Baleno is a pleasant looking premium hatch that is huge in dimensions with nice elements
The side profile of the Maruti Baleno gets a smooth flowing design that gets curvaceous at the rear. The door mounted wing mirrors look classy that get a new design. We were excited to see the sharply spoked alloys of the international version but the simple alloy wheel design makes it look more like a wheel cap. The hunched up stance of the Baleno from the rear looks quite entertaining. The rear bumper is huge that gets neatly integrated reflectors and number plate housing. The tail lamps look cool and the tail gate gets a roof spoiler along with a thick slat of chrome. All in all, the design is quite appealing and one that grows on you with time.
Interiors – The only thing that looks familiar inside the Baleno is the typical three-spoke Maruti steering wheel. Apart from that, it looks like a modern and sporty hot hatch with black interiors. The all-black theme of the Baleno is what a hatchback should have, instead of the beige and bright interiors that are more suitable for sedans. The first thing that strikes you while you are in the driver’s seat is the instrument cluster. It gets blue illumination with tachometer and speedometer on either side and a big 4.2-inch TFT MID in the middle. The display is rather animated and shows all the information you need including range, trip meters, outside temperature, instant fuel efficiency, average fuel efficiency, time and most importantly the segment first power and torque meters that are more of a gimmick than being informative.
The Baleno’s cabin is very spacious and is loaded with new and much needed features, some are unique
The wide and V-shaped dashboard is smartly designed and the elements are interestingly highlighted with silver accents. The centre console integrates the infotainment system very well and has controls for the automatic climate control system at the bottom. The AC chills the cabin very fast and was a boon during our hot and sunny drive in Jaipur. The Baleno gets auto headlamps that emit a good throw of light thanks to the powerful projector lights. The blue illumination of projectors look very cool at night and when you flash the lights, the drivers in front can easily mistake the Baleno for a BMW, it is that effective.
The 7-inch touch screen unit offers USB, AUX and Bluetooth connectivity along with GPS navigation. It also doubles up as rear parking camera screen with guidelines. However, the party piece of this multimedia system is the integration of Apple CarPlay! Connect your iPhone with USB and it offers the basic functions of your phone that you need while driving. It offers functions such as Phone, Music, Messages, Podcasts and Audiobooks. So no need to fumble with your iPhone while driving, just sit back and interact with Siri or navigate your phone through the touchscreen. The Siri is not too responsive with the Indian accent and most of the times you end up using the touchscreen. Don’t worry Android users, Maruti will soon introduce Android Auto system as well. The OEM speakers are impressive since the sound quality is crisp and clear.
The quality in the Maruti Baleno doesn’t feel up to the mark considering the cars that it competes with. There are hard plastics at some places but the fit and finish feels built to last as is the case with all Marutis. There are some elements carried forward from other Maruti siblings such as stalk units, window switches, etc. but nothing feels flimsy or inferior to use. The fabric upholstered seats are very comfortable and supportive both at the front and rear but leatherette finish option for the seats are missing on top-end variants. There is a front arm rest which is very convenient for long drives along with a dead pedal in the footwell. The rear seats get enormous legroom and you won’t ask for more ever in a hatchback. Headroom is very good, even for tall passengers and shoulder room is enough to seat three abreast. The boot space at 339-litres is accommodating but the loading lip is high and the floor is quite deep. Underneath you’ll find a 15-inch space saver steel spare wheel of MRF make while the tyres on the top-end model are Apollos. Some of the key features of Baleno include keyless entry and go system, push button start/stop, reverse camera, auto headlights with follow-me home, tilt and telescopic steering, auto dimming IRVM, puddle lamps, anti-pinch driver-side window, power foldable and adjustable ORVMs.
Performance – Maruti Suzuki has carried forward the same set of engines on the Baleno that do duty on the Swift and although the company also powers the car with a 1.0-litre BoosterJet turbocharged petrol engine, the same isn’t being offered in India, at least not for the time being and is reserved for export markets. Both the petrol and diesel engines are familiar to all of us since they power a slew of Maruti cars. The petrol unit is the 1.2-litre K12 motor that pumps out 85 PS of power and 115 Nm of torque, the K-Series mill having being praised endlessly by us in our past few reviews, deserves more applause in the Baleno because it weighs a whooping 100 kgs lighter than the Swift, in spite of being bigger. The Baleno thus boasts of an even better power to weight ratio and is quick off the line.
The petrol engine feels better on the Baleno with its fantastic refinement and sporty nature
The K-Series mill doesn’t have the strongest low-end performance with the mid-range being flat but the same isn’t very evident in the Maruti Baleno due to the lower weight of the car. The gear ratios have also been altered to extract the best mileage, thus the ratios are tall with first gear doing 45 km/hr and second gear taking the vehicle to 90 km/hr, third maxes out at 137 km/hr. But where this powertrain truly shines is the top-end and screams all the way to 6200 RPM where the rev limit kicks in. The smoothness of the 1.2-litre engine is truly noteworthy with refinement levels being excellent, no vibrations at all. Driving the car on open roads with the vehicle in top gear, the RPM needle ticks in at 2500 RPM, giving enough room to stretch the motor’s legs.
The petrol powered Maruti Baleno is matched to a 5-speed manual gearbox which has swift shifts and a light clutch. An automatic gearbox is offered as well which is a CVT unit (on the mid-level Delta variant and not on the top-end Alpha), offering good response to throttle inputs. But being a CVT, the rubber band effect is a given and thus the motor revs too much once past 4000 RPM (all the way to 6000 RPM) without actually making much progress, best to give part throttle inputs then. This nature of the CVT box makes it best suited for city driving where the boon of automatic gear shifts takes precedence over outright acceleration. But the big advantage of the CVT box is the mileage, as both the manual and CVT gearboxes of the petrol Baleno return the same fuel economy, 21.4 km/l as per ARAI which is the segment best.
Coming to the diesel engine, the same 1.3-litre Fiat sourced MultiJet unit is offered in DDiS 190 tune which means it generates 75 PS of power and 190 Nm of torque. The weight advantage plays here too and thus the diesel Baleno is quicker off the line than the Swift, it also feels more eager to throttle inputs thanks to the tuning done to the motor. But you do have to downshift as the car doesn’t take off quickly at low speeds in higher gears. However, the bottom-end continues to be weak as there is some lag low down but performance is more linear than before and there is no sudden spike in torque. The engine also revs freely and has a petrol like character in that regard, spinning past 5000 RPM before the limiter kicks in at under 5400 RPM. However, the top-end isn’t making much progress and it’s best to shift up in the mid-range.
There is much more noise in the cabin once you get past the mid-range and NVH levels aren’t as good as some of its rivals, in fact we measured a maximum of 95 dB at redline in third gear, which is a lot of sound indeed. Clearly the DDiS motor’s 8 years of duty can be seen and Fiat’s MultiJet II motor is the need of the hour. 100 km/hr comes up in third gear while at the same speed in top gear, the oil burner is spinning at around 2400 RPM, ready to pull strongly for a quick overtake. The clutch is light and the gearbox has short but surefooted throws, making driving this Maruti a pleasure. Many were expecting the Baleno to get the same engine tune as the Ciaz as both the Hyundai Elite i20 and Volkswagen Polo produce around 90 PS while the Honda Jazz belts out 100 PS. But with the weight reduction, the Baleno is still decently quick and the lower tune has been done in the interest of costs as the more powerful DDiS 200 motor which gets VGT also has SHVS tech to boost mileage even further. Still the Maruti Baleno is the most frugal car in its segment, returning an ARAI claimed 27.39 km/l.
Driving Dynamics – The Baleno is lighter than the Swift due to a new platform and while the lightness is a boon, it’s not at the cost of rigidity as the new platform is 10% stronger. This Maruti has been softly sprung (remember, this car is made to please those who find something lacking in the Swift) and comfort is what the Baleno is aimed at. Thus the ride quality is excellent and the car absorbs almost everything in its stride, save for sharper bumps. Even on bad roads, there is little noise which is transmitted to the cabin, the suspension working silently to iron out bad tarmac. But out on the highway, road and tyre noise does get inside the cabin and in the case of the diesel, the engine’s drone further makes things noisy.
The balance between ride-handling is fantastic on the Maruti Baleno
The top-spec model rides on lower profile, 16-inch wheels while the lower models with higher profile 15-inch rubber is even better in the ride quality department. The Maruti Baleno features a long wheelbase which does help in giving the hatchback very good high speed stability. The handling is good and body control is excellent too, although not in the same league of the sportier Swift. What is really impressive is the steering wheel that weighs up quite well at speed and is quite quick too, feel and feedback being good enough to put a big smile on the driver’s face. Braking performance left us a bit disappointed as the Baleno doesn’t inspire confidence to brake hard and even though it’s light, the car feels a bit twitchy under hard braking, the lower trims more so with the 15-inch MRF ZVTV rubber lacking grip. The top-end model using 16-inch wheels gets Apollo Alnac 4G tyres which offer much better grip than the MRFs.
Safety and After Sales Service – Maruti isn’t compromising on safety this time and what’s impressive is the fact that dual front airbags and ABS with EBD will come standard across all variants of the Baleno. This makes the premium hatch quite desirable and justifies the ‘premium’ tag being given to the Baleno. Ownership experience as we all know is the strong point of Maruti but the Baleno will be retailed exclusively through NEXA dealerships that are limited but growing at a good pace with every passing day. However, after sales is not an issue since all cars will be serviced at regular Maruti Suzuki service centres across the country. The Baleno gets high localisation and hence maintenance is expected to be relatively low.
Verdict – Maruti Suzuki is called the hatchback king and the Baleno is testimony to the same fact. With its first premium hatchback, the Indo-Japanese automaker has worked on several aspects to impress customers. Yes the interior could have felt better with less of parts from lower Maruti cars and the diesel engine could have belted out more power and less noise, more so when competition is kept in sight. But, when you look at the overall package, you realise the Baleno is an all-rounder. It looks good, has plenty of space on the inside, comes with a ton of features (some of them being unique to the segment), drives well, efficiency is class leading and the ride-handling balance is excellent too. Maruti has a sure-shot winner on its hands and the competition better be worried.
The Baleno nameplate is back and with a bang. The new model has nothing in common with the old one but stays true to its predecessors principles of good power to weight ratio. This new Maruti is all set to worry its rivals because it excels in multiple departments.
* Large and attractive hatchback with nice design detailing
* Roomy cabin has plenty of space, even a big boot
* Plenty of unique features on offer including Apple CarPlay
* Excellent power to weight ratio gives it good performance
* Frugal petrol and diesel engines, class leading efficiency
* Excellent ride quality, tackles bad roads with ease
* Fun to drive car with a good steering wheel and eager handling
* Focus on safety, all variants get dual airbags and ABS
What’s Not So Cool
* Lower power in diesel engine when compared to competition, also results in the lack of hybrid
* Some cost cutting evident inside the cabin
* No BoosterJet turbo-petrol engine in India for the time being
* Petrol automatic not offered in top-spec trim
Alternatives: Hyundai Elite i20, Honda Jazz, Volkswagen Polo, Fiat Punto Evo
2015 Maruti Baleno Specifications
* Engine: 1197cc, K-Series, 4-cylinder, DOHC (P); 1248cc, DDiS, 4-cylinder, DOHC (D)
* Power: 85 PS @ 6000 RPM (P); 75 PS @ 4000 RPM (D)
* Torque: 115 Nm @ 4000 RPM (P); 190 Nm @ 2000 RPM (D)
* Transmission: 5-speed manual or CVT (P); 5-speed manual (D)
* 0-100 km/hr: 12.36 seconds (P); 12.79 seconds (P AT); 12.93 seconds (D)
* Top Speed: 180 km/hr (P); 180 km/hr (P AT); 170 km/hr (D)
* Fuel Consumption: 15 km/l (P); 14 km/l (P AT); 19 km/l (D)
* Fuel Type: Petrol, Diesel
* Suspension: McPherson Struts (Front), Torsion Beam (Rear)
* Tyres: 185/65/15 (Lower Variants) 195/55/16 (Alpha)
* Brakes: Ventilated Disc (Front), Drum (Rear), ABS
* Safety: Dual Airbags, ABS, EBD, Seatbelt Pretensions
2015 Maruti Baleno Dimensions
* Overall length x width x height: 3995 mm X 1745 mm X 1500 mm
* Wheelbase: 2520 mm
* Ground clearance: 170 mm
* Turning radius: 4.9 m
* Boot Volume: 339 litres
* Fuel Tank Capacity: 37 litres
* Kerb Weight: 985 kgs
Picture Editing – Sri Manikanta Achanta
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