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Maruti ready to play ball with the Baleno

| Updated on: Oct 15, 2015
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Its name may be a bit misleading, but the new Baleno has its work cut out – to supplement the Swift and corner more buyers in the B+ segment

Compared to all other car manufacturers, Maruti Suzuki clearly has the most number of small cars in its portfolio. There are seven hatchback models and a total of 52 variants between them to choose from. Remember we are not even counting some of the minor variants sold only in non-metros and we haven’t included the Dzire, the Eeco and the Omni van, all of which are within the zone for buyers in the hatchback segment.

Often Maruti officials are asked the question “Wont this new hatch 'cannibalise' and hurt the sales of the others already in the portfolio?” and their answer is the same every time – “As long as the customer buys a Maruti eventually, it doesn’t matter if he bought this or the other hatch”.

That question is being answered all over again with the addition of one more hatch to Maruti's portfolio in the new Baleno. You are going to have to erase the image of the executive class sized sedan that adorned this badge before. This now is a hot hatch and it will sit alongside or just above it the Swift as another premium B+ segment offering from MSIL.

First, here are the fast facts. It is a sub-four-metre hatch with a 1.2-litre petrol engine and the 1.3-litre DDiS diesel engine, and it has been built on a completely new platform that is lighter and more rigid. So, bottomline is that it promises to drive better and will be priced competitively. This is good news because Maruti-Suzuki can now hope to take on the might of the i20 Elite with another model in its portfolio.

The Baleno is also an addition to Suzuki’s world strategic model series. Its design is a reflection of this affiliation. It is also good to note that the design is cleaner with fewer, simpler lines that go on to define a very modern hatchback. From the front, the design strongly emphasizes the car’s width. The perception is enhanced by the trapezoidal bonnet grille, which stretches at the top along the bonnet slab line and connects the two headlamps. The headlamps themselves are of rectangular-orientation, peeled back style and very evocative of the Swift, though they are quite different.

A wavy, flowing style for the body side lines and the shoulder line, and a convex roof line which gradually curves downward at the rear give the Baleno the most elegant side profile amongst all the current hot hatches. The only bit which we didn’t like was the blacked out A-pillar - the floating roof concept works best on cars with a flat roof profile. The compact tail-lamps with their LED combination frame the rear nicely with mild design references borrowed from the Ciaz. Depending on the trim, the lights vary, with the top trim getting LED daytime running lights with auto headlamp function and the rear combination also changes. At the rear too, the design elements accentuate the sense of width of the car. The top of the tail gate features a roof spoiler, but top trim variants feature an additional mid-section spoiler finished in chrome with the reversing camera set in the middle. The tailgate allows access to 339 litres of boot space. 

Cabin

The new Baleno’s interior gets an all-black treatment, giving it a very European flavour. Though, given its rather simple, large panelled dashboard layout, we felt a second, lighter colour might have broken the monotony in some places. But, the general vibe that the cabin exudes is one of premium construction and materials.

The centre stack carries into the cabin the same flowing lines of the exterior. The top trim variants of the petrol and diesel engine models get an infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and a 4.2-inch colour TFT monitor. The display, which pretty much converts into your Apple iPhone, sits on top of the centre stack and the automatic climate control is set right below. The top Zeta and Alpha trim variants of the Baleno get a lot of equipment, auto headlamps, LED daytime running lights, window glass that cuts UV rays, a multi-information TFT speedometer display and auto dimming rear view mirror.

But, the lower trim variants also get some decent specs with stuff like front power windows, ABS with EBD, dual airbags, seat-belt pretensioers and force limiters and tilt steering being offered as part of standard fitment. However, the CVT variant is fairly Spartan presumably to keep the final price still competitive. The variant doesn’t get any more equipment other than the standard package.

Performance

Built on a completely new platform that sees extensive use of high tensile steel, the new Baleno is about 100 kgs lighter than the traditional steel monocoque and about 26 kgs lighter than the Swift's body in white.

But it is still a sub-four-metre hatch, so it can't get the lower tax benefits unless the engines also stick to the rules. So, it gets the K12 petrol engine and the DDiS 190 diesel engine. In fact, the powertrains are both from the Swift, with the only difference being that the K12 petrol engine gets an additional CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic gearbox in the Baleno. 

The engines have also been carried forward in the same state of tune. So, the K12 petrol engine featuring VVT (variable valve timing) tech, generates the same 84.3PS of peak power and 115Nm of peak torque. Of course, the gear ratios have been changed in this and in the diesel engine. The diesel is the same DDiS 190, essentially the Fiat Multijet engine. It generates 75PS of peak power and 190Nm of torque at 2,000 rpm.

Both the engines are peppy, responsive and refined. The best part about the K12 petrol engine is its entirely vibration-free, refined performance. NVH levels have been superbly well-contained. Yes, you do hear the DDiS engine inside the cabin, only to a point of being able to recognise that it is a diesel, but it never gets intrusive. The CVT is a bit buzzier and the engine tends to rev-up in a hurry, though the gearbox is more fun in sport mode. Its regular drive mode is clearly oriented towards fuel efficiency.

The diesel powertrain is the one that is very workable on the road. The Baleno’s lighter weight helps it break into a gallop easily, without the ride at anytime seeming to get unsettled. There is almost no turbolag too, with enough torque available from about 1200 rpm. The ride quality of the Baleno is most standout feature. The suspension is nicely sorted with a firm, determined ride over bad roads. There is no throwing about or rattling and there is a sense of solidity that we felt is a first for a Maruti hatch.

Bottomline

The Baleno gets better marks than other Maruti hatches even in the handling department. The steering doesn’t get to the kind of centre-weighted feel that some of the European hatches offer, but it is still a big improvement. And there is a lot of focus finally on the safety of occupants.

The new Baleno will be sold only through Maruti’s NEXA outlets and is likely to be pitched as an upgrade to other B+ hatchbacks. There is a chance that the Baleno and the Swift be viewed as siblings with design influences and shared powertrains. The Baleno’s draw will still remain unchanged. We expect Maruti to price the Baleno in the ₹5.5 lakh to ₹8 lakh price range.

Published on January 22, 2018

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