Saturday 22 October 2016

Suzuki Baleno: 'It's is nearly there but it isn‘t quite the overall package it should be'

Published 21/09/2016 | 13:26

Roomy: The Suzuki Baleno.
Roomy: The Suzuki Baleno.

The vultures might be circling but Campbell Spray would almost be happy to settle for a Suzuki Baleno

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Sometimes I find a car that immediately hits me as the ultimate downsizer for people who want something reliable, but smaller in space without losing any sense of style.

Yet this downsizing idea is beginning to get to me elsewhere in my life and not in a very pleasant fashion.

 After just hinting that it might be fun to move to either a 12th Century lodge in Kilkenny or a cottage in Rathmullan, the sound of flapping vulture wings grew louder. Not that my children have sharp beaks and long bare necks but the inference was clear. Did the Elder Lemon really need to stay living in Castle Spray? Maybe his number is up anyway. Buy a supply of pads and outsource him to the care home down the road.

But I’ll fight on. Barricade the door, get in the Dingle Gin by the caseload and prepare for a long siege. I worry most about what would happen to our four loyal retainers, Sam, Charlie, Harry and Freddy. Sam, of course, is the major domo but all four legs seem arthritic and the three cats are pretty set in their ways. Of course my partner, Storm, will be on my side, but for how long? She has years on me and there must come a time when she will fall in with the invaders.

These musings were brought to a head when driving the Suzuki Baleno, as I could only think that the car is a very clever ploy in getting people to downsize while Hyacinth Bucket-like “keeping up appearances…”  It also has a very clever Boosterjet engine for giving the old thrill, like a hand creeping under the covers of the care-home bed.

On first sight the Baleno, which sits in size above the incredibly well-regarded supermini Swift, looks massively impressive. And when you start loading in passengers and luggage the superlatives keep on coming. It’s a true five-person car and the boot seems the biggest in its class.

Even in the basic €17,995 model the Baleno is very well-specced with navigation included  but upgrade to the SZ5 version (whatever that stands for) at €1,500 more  and you are in real luxury territory — as far as equipment is concerned.

However, this is where I think the downsizers are let down badly. The actual inside of the car looks cheap, poorly finished and a bit of a letdown after the impressive outside looks, big specification and dazzling performance of the one-litre, three-cylinder Boosterjet engine.

The car is comfortable despite the thinnish seats but I think the whole inside would begin to look more drab very quickly. The next version or a mid-life upgrade might be worth waiting for. But then do any of us have the time?

Yet maybe I’m a bit pessimistic like my old dad who at 59 presented me with his gold cufflinks, inherited in turn from his father. He felt he was not long for the world and at the time consuming two bottle of brandy a day; he was probably right. Yet he turned things around and lived for another 33 years.

There is a hybrid version of Baleno in the top trim at a pint under €19k, Suzuki don’t expect many sales and is probably more a toe-in-the-water exercise which should be applauded.

Yet it should be investigated by the downsizers, it might make you quite hip with your grandchildren. All the Balenos are cheap to run. The car will build on the success of the Swift, which was Irish Car of the Year in 2006, and had the looks and style of a poor man’s Mini — and that’s by no means an insult.

The Baleno is based on the same platform as the next-generation Swift, which will be a more sporting alternative. The old fogeys can nestle into the Baleno knowing that its lightness makes up for the added weight of the aging cohort. Noisy suspension and high wind sounds on motorways are probably a result of this lightness.

My colleagues who have tested the automatic abroad think it is the best of the bunch and with the added weight, handles better too. They give it five stars instead of an overall three. Unfortunately it is a €3,000 premium on the SZ5 manual; interestingly in the UK, it is only a £1,346 dearer.

The Baleno is nearly there but, just as I won’t be tempted out of Castle Spray yet, it isn‘t  quite the overall package it should be. I would also hope that Suzuki in Ireland start giving the five-year warranty that many of its competitors offer.

Sunday Independent

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