BY JONATHAN CROUCH
With the Baleno, Suzuki was keen to prove that it was capable of making a sensible compact family car. It wasn't exciting but it was carefully priced, solid, reliable and well equipped. A three-door hatch was offered but most bought either the saloon or the estate. Since most first owners will have been older drivers, used buyers can be sure their cars will have been well looked after. A sensible Escort or Astra alternative then, provided driving dynamics are not high on your priorities.
Models Covered: 4-door saloon, 5-door estate: 1.6, 1.8 (estate only), [GS, GLX, GLX SE]
The Baleno was launched in May 1995 as a saloon or a 3-door hatch. An estate model joined the range in October 1996 powered by the same 1.6-litre 16V engine. Late in 1998, the styling was 'refreshed', with a sleeker, rounded and raked new bonnet, contoured side panels and faired-in semi-elliptical-shaped lighting clusters incorporating multi-reflector halogen headlamps, parking and indicator lamps. There was also a new 'honeycomb' grille integrated with a new curved bumper. At the rear, there was new badging and, on the saloon and estate, a redesigned rear bumper. The dashboard was also given a much-needed restyle. A few 1.8-litre saloons made it into the country early on but this engine was only standardised in June 1999 when it was fitted to the estate. By late 2000, the range had been slimmed down to just two models: the 1.8-litre estate and a new 1.8-litre GSR three-door hatchback.
What You Get
The Baleno contrives to be a cheap car without feeling like one. For a start, there's enough space inside to satisfy customers who might be considering slightly larger cars like the Honda Civic 5-door or the Rover 400. Though there's no five-door hatchback alternative (a bit of a drawback), all three bodystyles (three-door, four-door and estate) come complete with split folding rear seats. In addition, the boot in all cases is conveniently cut low to bumper level - in other words, there's no need to hump heavy suitcases over a high sill. Better still, it doesn't take long to realise that this car has far greater build integrity than almost anything Suzuki have built in the past. The thickened side impact beam-protected doors shut with a quality 'thunk'. On the road, the designers' efforts in making this an extremely rigid car are also evident. It certainly feels solid. In addition, the range has been engineered to take a whole list of luxury features that you'd normally expect to find on much larger cars. The standard provision of full sized dual airbags is one example, the option of a four-speed automatic gearbox with `standard`, `power` and `winter` modes is another.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Build quality is good however and few faults have emerged so far. Most previous owners are likely to have treated the car well and examples without service histories are rare.
(approx based on a 1.6 saloon - ex Vat) A clutch assembly is around £105 and an exhaust system about £550 with a catalytic converter, £225 without a converter. Front and rear brake pads will be in the vicinity of £30-40 a set. A radiator is about £100 reconditioned or £250 new, an alternator is about £215 reconditioned, or £200 to 500 new, a starter motor £105 reconditioned or £200-300 new and a replacement headlamp about £125.
On the Road
Competent - but not much fun. As reliable, comfortable A to B transport, the Baleno has much to commend it but if you want to enjoy your driving, it's best to look elsewhere.
For many, the Baleno will be the ideal reliable, comfortable compact family car. If that's all you want, then this is something you can buy and be almost certain it will never go wrong.