How Suzuki's 'big small-car' Baleno makes room for more
First drive: Suzuki Baleno in Belfast
Published 18/05/2016 | 02:30
It is a feature of small cars in particular that manufacturers somehow always seem to make their cabins much roomier than you'd think possible.
The most recent exponent of the art is Suzuki who have contrived to extract segment busting interior space from its compact looking car - the new Baleno.
You have to try these things out for yourself. And I did that before, during and after a lovely drive around the Ards Peninsula in glorious weather.
When I had my driving seat to my satisfaction I sat behind it in the back and I still had plenty of room. That's the best test of usable interior room you can get.
The new Baleno officially falls into the so-called' supermini category but like a few others, including the Skoda Fabia, it pushes out the envelope a fair bit.
Other rivals, they say, include the Ford Fiesta, Citroen C3 and Hyundai i20.
The Baleno is a 'big small car' (at 2.64 metres it has the longest interior space in its class) and for that reason they reckon two broad cachés of drivers will be interested: Younger couples who need a bit more space, and mature people downsizing from small-family saloons.
One area I think some people will find interesting is how easy it is to get in and exit from.
That's thanks to a big gap between floor and roof/ceiling. I get lots of queries here from people with bad backs and slightly restricted mobility looking for exactly that kind of aperture.
Anyway, they expect to sell 400 Balenos in a full year. It goes on sale here from June 1 and marks a milestone in their recovery from what they admit has been a "tough few years".
The new car will cost from €17,995 ex-works with the top-spec from €19,495. There is a 'light hybrid' from €18,995 (it has SZ5 trim and a 1.2-litre).
We were all impressed with the brand new 1-litre 3cyl Boosterjet petrol engine which produces a significant 111bhp which would be well above many rivals' starting point.
This has power and torque more in line with a larger engine. They claim it is capable of 63mpg. We got around 50mpg after some brisk driving.
There is a 5spd manual transmission and a 6spd auto. Road tax is €190.
There is also the 'mild hybrid' version called SHVS. This has a system that works as a generator and a starter motor (it's called Integrated Starter Generator or ISG) which assists the engine.
It also taps electricity from the likes of regenerative braking to boost battery power (lithium ion and conventional 12-volt).
This has a 1.2-litre petrol engine (94g/km; 70mpg) and has a 5spd manual transmission. It comes only with top spec (SZ-5) but I didn't feel it was anywhere as good a drive as the 1-litre.
One area they are rightly claiming some serious boasting rights on is the level of standard equipment. Entry level (called SZT) includes sat nav, Bluetooth, air con, DAB, reversing camera, 16ins alloys, front fogs and a big array of airbags. You get MirrorLink and ApplePlay too.
The second/top-level spec, called SZ-5, has auto climate control, adaptive cruise control, Collision Avoidance system, etc. To be fair, you don't normally get that sort of menu on a car for €19,000.
The Baleno is the first of quite a few new models we can expect from the brand over the next while. By September we should see a Vitara S version. This has a new 1.4-litre Boosterjet engine and by all accounts it is excellent, with the expectation it could replace some diesels.
In October there will be a brand new S-Cross with a new engine too and it is said to be a total departure from the existing one.
And early next year there will be a small (Fiat Panda sized) crossover called iM-4. They expect it will do for Suzuki what the little 500 did for FIAT.
But for now the Baleno takes centre stage and it will be interesting to see how well those young couples and downsizers take to it.
They are in for a pleasant surprise I think.