Swift solution for incoming Baleno

The car’s all-new, the drivetrain not so much: Suzuki NZ has decided to tailor the incoming Baleno hatchback without its star engine – and it doubts customers will be concerned.


PERCEIVED customer preference and desire to maintain a competitive price has driven Suzuki to choose a well-proven drivetrain for an upcoming small hatchback rather than the racier new engine and transmission available elsewhere.

The brand has confirmed today that the new Baleno hatch, a conservative-looking five-door that though of similar dimension to a Toyota Yaris is nonetheless considered a competitor for the larger Corolla, will launch here in August in GLX and Limited specifications.

Though final pricing has yet to be announced, the Wanganui distributor has announced determination to site the car in the mid-$20,000 zone – a positioning that will undercut rivals by thousands of dollars.

That positioning might mean the entry edition might be no dearer, and perhaps even cheaper, than the dearest version of the Swift, the country’s favourite compact hatch for 12 years’ running despite its sector becoming increasingly packed.

How can they do it? Sourcing from India probably has a lot to do with it but also determining to take it solely with an engine and transmissions that have served here for years in Swift is potentially just as important.

The determination to take it with the Swift’s staple 1.4-litre and, in both versions, a four-speed automatic (the GLX also takes a five-speed manual) rather than a higher-tech three-cylinder turbocharged mill that is the smallest offer in from Suzuki’s new big-hearted BoosterJet engine family, a version of which has just gone into a Vitara here, is an unusual step.

Four-speed autos are old hat – most rivals have stepped up to constantly variable transmissions or to five or six-speed gearboxes in pure auto or automated manual/ direct shift formats – and Suzuki Japan has cited the BoosterJet engines as being crucial for its model line going forward.

Many overseas markets will have a flagship Baleno with the latest motors, Australia included.

However, although the Wanganui-headquartered national distributor says stepping up to BoosterJet power in Baleno would not have allowed it to achieve the price target and might have alienated the car’s perceived customer base of mainly older buyers.

While accepting that a four-speed auto is hardly avante garde, they say it nonetheless goes down well with the fan base.

They just aren’t sure, though, if those supporters would feel the same about the automated manual that Japan has decided should be the sole transmission available with the 1.0-litre.

If only Suzuki had sought to provision Baleno with the the four-cylinder 1.4-litre BoosterJet that has just gone on sale in the Vitara. This comes with a six-speed automatic. Problem solved?

“Yes, it is a sweet engine and it would have been sweet in Baleno … but it is not available to us in Baleno, simple as that,” says Suzuki NZ boss Tom Peck.

Oh the other hand, the 1.4 PowerJet is also a premium engine, hence the Vitaras that now have it cost more than those which maintain a 1.6-litre that launched with the crossover a year ago.

Vitara Turbo comes in the same spec as the soon to be defunct 1.6 GLX Vitara and costs $33,990 in front-drive form and $37,990 with four-wheel-drive, plus another $800 if a two-tone paint job is taken.

Anyway, the vexations with Baleno has left Suzuki NZ opting to take the hatchback with its alternate, budget powertrain. That’s the normally-aspirated 1.4 that has been in the Swift since 2011 and a four-speed automatic that has been in service for 11 years already.

“We decided on the 1.4. The 1.0-litre engine has better performance, yes, but we felt the 1.4 is better for our customer demographic and it keeps us in the right price zone, too,” Peck explained.

“That engine is well known and well accepted in the Swift.”

The normally aspirated 1.4 will produce decent economy, with Suzuki NZ citing an optimum 5.2 litres from factory testing.

They cannot say whether the 1.0-litre would be any more frugal, but agree the teeny triple is bigger-hearted than the engine they’ve gone with so. Given the perceived buyer profile, though, the dampened athleticism might not matter.

Suzuki cites the NZ-spec Baleno has having a maximum power output of 68kW, which is 2kW less than it gives out in the Swift, and 130Nm, the same as it delivers to the smaller hatch.

The 1.0-litre BoosterJet is rated at 82kW and 170Nm while the Vitara Turbo’s 1.4 generates 103kW and 220Nm.

Although will not start selling Baleno for for another six weeks, Suzuki NZ has shipped in a pre-production example for display at next week’s Feildays, a key event for vehicle sales.

Suzuki is calling Baleno a competitor for the Toyota Corolla even though it is unlikely they will go head-to-head, given that Suzuki sells 65 percent of its cars to private buyers while the market leader gets at least the same percentage of sales from the fleet and rental sector.

Gary Collins, Suzuki NZ’s automotive general manager, says the intention is to ensure Baleno keeps a distance from Swift, but while that range presently starts with a GL at $18,990, it also tops out with a 1.6 Sport at $28,990 – surely smack dab in Baleno territory?

Baleno is larger than Swift in most dimensions, but not massively. At 3995mm in length, it has a 145mm advantage while the 2520mm wheelbase represents a 90mm gain.

Slick styling is not so much of a Baleno strength; it’s a conservative looker. But spaciousness and specification seem set to be of greater interest. Both versions it will be offered with a 7.0-inch touchscreen display that includes satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

The Baleno has a 355 litre boot, which is larger than the Corolla's and the Mazda3 hatch and significantly more spacious than the Swift.

Suzuki says it utilised similar weight-saving techniques employed in the development of the Vitara for the Baleno, resulting in what it calls an “ultra- light small hatch”.

The plant in India is the sole global producer of Baleno.