Suzuki Baleno takes

centre stage

Suzuki Baleno, front action
Suzuki Baleno, full front
Suzuki Baleno, side action
Suzuki Baleno, rear action
Suzuki Baleno, dashboard
Suzuki Baleno, hybrid dash
Suzuki Baleno, rear seats
Suzuki Baleno, boot 2

TAKING the centre ground, rather like occupying the middle lane of the motorway, may not seem the most ambitious route to travel.

But for Japanese car maker Suzuki it's a no brainer, especially when it comes to the company's latest offering the Baleno.

Few manufacturers ‘do' small cars better than Suzuki and in the Baleno, which hits the streets on June 1, the company has a model sure to eclipse the sales of its mid-90s predecessor of the same name.

Buyers of supermini-size vehicles tend to pick their car on either an emotional level - stuff like MINI, Renault and SEAT - or a rational one, with cars from Skoda, Hyundai, Ford or Toyota.

Suzuki is bidding for the best of both worlds with the Baleno, splitting the two categories down the middle.

Its appeal couldn't be simpler. You get a spacious hatchback that drives well, looks stylish, is economical, has terrific interior space - even room for three passengers in rear - plus a deep split-level boot.

Prices start at £12,999 and while that tab isn't exactly giveaway the amount of standard kit included leaves most of the opposition looking decidedly red-faced.

Two models and a pair of trim grades keep decision making down to the minimum, a sensible manoeuvre by Suzuki in that 80 per cent of Baleno buyers are expected to be private rather than fleet customers.

While visual flair, courtesy of a new ‘Liquid Flow' design, theme will play its part in the car's attraction, having a strong, efficient powerplant under the bonnet is essential.

And for Suzuki the secret weapon here is something called Boosterjet. It made its debut earlier this year in the Vitara S model and is a turbocharged direct injection petrol engine designed to achieve high levels of power and efficiency.

In the Baleno it is a 1.0-litre unit producing 111bhp, acceleration figures of 0-62 in 11.4 seconds, a top speed of 124mph and the potential for a Combined fuel return of 62.7mpg. CO2 emissions are also low at 105g/km.

On an 80-mile test route from Belfast along the Northern Ireland coast the Baleno proved a breath of fresh air in that it is such an uncomplicated car to drive - relaxing, enjoyable and comfortable with light but positive steering, an easyshift five-speed manual gearbox and solid dynamics.

Okay, there are a few brittle plastics and fake aluminium cabin features, but overall the fit and finish of the car is good quality and every version comes with the likes of six airbags, sat nav, alloy wheels, air conditioning, HID headlights, front electric windows, rear privacy glass, DAB radio and Bluetooth.

Move up from entry level SZ-T grade to SZ5 trim (an extra £1,000) and there's a 4.2-inch central colour trip display, LED rear lights, auto climate control, adaptive cruise control and radar brake support.

The second engine option, a 1.2-litre SHVS (Smart Hybrid Vehicle by Suzuki) 90bhp unit, gets the emissions figure down to 94g/km and the potential for an average 70.6mpg.

It's only available as an SZ5 manual and costs £13,499, though auto transmission fans can specify the SZ5 Boosterjet which tops the Baleno range at £15,349.

Recent times have seen Suzuki's development and design efforts pay off in spades with the last two years of UK sales proving the company's best yet.

And with three more new models - updated S-Cross, iM-4 crossover and new Swift - due over the next 18 months, it's a case of onward and upward. This year's target of 40,000 cars looks well within their compass.

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