The Suzuki Baleno was launched globally in 1995 as the Japanese company’s first compact segment entry. In the North American market, it replaced the Cultus and was called the Cultus Crescent. In fact, it used a longer version of the Cultus platform and shared a lot of its parts with the car.
The Baleno was introduced as a sporty car to appeal to the younger crowd, but its average performance and unremarkable styling did not favour it. At a time when there were so many compact cars available in the market, the Suzuki Baleno was lost. Nevertheless, the car had a Cavaliero version that looked better with alloy wheels and good equipment. Despite the lack of popularity of the car during its production run, its Japanese origin meant that it was a lot more of a reliable and durable option in a segment dominated by relatively lower-quality Korean models.
When it was launched in 1995, the Suzuki Baleno looked unremarkable but had very few mechanical problems and low running costs, and today, that makes it a very popular used car option. When compared to other Suzuki cars like the Vitara and the Swift, the Baleno had a much smaller fan following, and its understated look made it stand out among so many well-designed Suzuki vehicles. This was the same for the wagon, sedan, and three-door hatch, all of which had the same look with soft lines and undefined curves. None of the models looked bad, but they do not stand out either.
Suzuki seemed to have noticed this, because models after 1999 were much more modern-looking and easier on the eyes. The 1999 model got a facelift with smoother and more flowing lines, and the three-door hatch in particular was lot better option in terms of look. The neat exterior look also carried forward to the cabin of the car. The interior of Baleno was not really a problem, but post-1999 it got a nicely laid out controls setup inside and a clear, easily visible instrument panel. Irrespective of the model year, the Suzuki Baleno is easy to drive and park, thanks to its low effort controls, good visibility, and compact turning circle.
The Suzuki Baleno hatch is generally better finished with good paint quality and panel gaps, but the sedan and wagon are not too shabby either. The hatch is rather small, so there is some compromise needed in terms of interior space and comfort. Headroom and legroom are adequate up front for average-size occupants, but the rear bench lacks legroom. The sedan and wagon have better interior room and are more comfortable thanks to their longer wheelbase. All models have fairly comfortable seats in the front and rear. The hatch is not only smaller but also much lighter than the sedan and wagon, and it offers the best fuel mileage.
During its production cycle, the Suzuki Baleno was powered by a standard 1.6L, single overhead cam, 4-cylinder engine that delivers 73kW at 6000rpm and 127Nm at 3000rpm. The relatively sportier GTX models got a 1.8L, double overhead cam, 4-cylinder engine under the bonnet that delivers 89kW at 6200rpm and 152Nm at 3400rpm.
The standard transmission for the models is a 5-speed manual, but a 4-speed automatic is also available. Both transmissions are equally competent and do their job well with little fuss. The performance is just about average and should be enough for most people. Ride quality is also acceptable across most roads, and it handles very well with a balanced and assured presence on the road.
The Suzuki Baleno has a reasonable amount of standard and optional kit. Its base model, the Baleno GA, comes with cloth trim, power steering, 4-speaker stereo system, and split-folding rear bench. The higher-end GS comes with sport seats, driver’s seat height adjustment, and colour-matched bumpers. The sportiest version, the GLX, comes with remote central locking, and the top-end Suzuki Baleno GTX comes with rear spoiler, alloy wheels, sports seats, central locking, velour trim, power windows and mirrors, and a 6-speaker stereo system.
The Suzuki Baleno was meant to stand out among tried and tested competitors like the Toyota Corolla, Mazda 323, Nissan Pulsar, and Ford Laser, but it did not do so in terms of looks. The lacklustre exterior design made it less noticeable, but Suzuki’s high quality of production means that it is designed and built to last. When compared to its competitors, the car is very inexpensive to run and much more reliable, with little history of mechanical failure. The hatch in particular offers better fuel mileage than most other cars, with an average of 6.9L/100km when compared to the Excel at 7.2L/100km and the Mirage at 7.5L/100km. The Baleno was and is a solid car, but it often looks a little mediocre when compared to the competition.