The need to differentiate the Baleno – to give it a dynamic brief unique among its range mates and allow those who promote and sell it an easy shorthand in defining and describing it in contrast to what’s parked next to it in the showroom – seems rather to have removed the jam from the donut of its driving experience.
Had this car handled like a larger, more practical and better-engined Swift, it might have been one of the best additions to the supermini set we’ve seen so far this year.
Instead, it’s a more softly sprung car with lighter and calmer steering and an easier-going low-speed ride but very little of the directional eagerness of its smaller sibling.
As a result, not only is it a damp squib as a car for keener drivers, but it’s also questionable if the way that the Baleno is tuned really makes it any more refined or easy to drive.
As Suzuki will have discovered here, refinement is a difficult and expensive trait to engineer into any car – particularly a small, lightweight one – and it takes a great deal more than retuned suspension to produce it.
As a result, while the Baleno’s primary ride is quite gentle, the car doesn’t feel particularly supple or compliant, because it has poorer than average shock absorption and wheel control and its rolling chassis doesn’t seem very carefully bushed.
Hit a reasonable-sized sharp edge and the suspension thumps and fidgets about excitedly beneath you. The Baleno’s body isn’t very well tied down, either, tending to heave and pitch somewhat after being disturbed.
Roll control is, however, respectable and grip levels, while far from good, at least remain predictable as your speed rises.
But the Baleno’s electromechanical power steering set-up is another part of the driving experience that feels either poorly judged or simply unfinished, being inconsistently weighted as you steer off-centre, overly keen to return to centre as you steer straight again and always failing to communicate how much of the available grip at the front wheels you’re actually using.
Although a decent ESP system keeps it from becoming a threat to your safety, the Baleno’s grip levels are fairly slight. The car will tolerate being driven quickly on the road, and while you can see the tell-tale stability control light flickering occasionally (usually when the car’s body is disturbed mid-corner), you won’t feel it intervening to keep things neat and tidy. But the bottom line is that the handling remains neat and tidy enough, one way or another.