IT’S A cliche as an automotive enthusiast and writer to bemoan the downfall of the manual gearbox, and cliches are lazy.
But screw that, because I have an axe to grind, and it requires a third pedal.
The Suzuki Baleno GLX Turbo has a great, rorty engine and is nicely balanced, but the lack of a manual gearbox leaves me severely disappointed. The arduously slow steering ratio and mandatory automatic transmission for this model left me wanting more from what I knew could be a tidy sporty package.
Don’t get me wrong, the automatic shifter mostly performed admirably. But with each drive I was left wondering if I would not be having more fun with an extra pedal. The Baleno isn’t an involving car to drive unless you are on the hunt for the limit, despite an engaging and characterful engine.
The frustrating thing about my gearbox gripe is that despite the number of you who agree with me, the commercial reality is our wishes are unlikely to ever be granted. Suzuki Australia General Manager Andrew Moore told me at the Suzuki Ignis launch early this year that manual gearboxes make up barely five percent of cars sold by the company, and if he had his way the number would be even less as the three-pedalled stock is hardest to move. Consumers just don’t want them.
The Baleno’s styling did win me over. Without the bodykit the car is visually a bit beige, but the optional extra bits change the character completely. For young buyers wanting something other than a run-of-the mill Swift, the Baleno adds some extra eye candy (along with bigger boot space), and the optional body styling makes the car stand out from the crowd. If any of my friends were looking for a first car in this segment, but didn’t want one of the staple offerings like the Mazda 2 or Polo (being an individual matters to some), I’d gladly point them in the direction of the Baleno.
One point that must be addressed before the Baleno is farewelled is the issue of its crash rating. Euro NCAP gives the Baleno a three-star safety rating. It’s not Ford Mustang, two-star, headline-making shocking, but something worth investigating and explaining further. The lack of any active safety features like AEB is the main drag on the rating (a 25 percent ‘safety-assist’ result sticks out like a sore thumb), but doesn’t actually affect the way the Suzuki will protect you in the instance of an unavoidable metal-crunching crash. Adult occupant and child occupant results were 80 percent and 73 percent respectively – perfectly acceptable for this class – while for pedestrian safety the Baleno earned a 65 percent rating.
So viewed in a more real-world light, it’s hardly a deal-breaker, but is definitely something worth considering for the more safety-conscious consumer.
I’ve been without the Baleno for a few weeks now, and must admit I’ve missed the way it eagerly tipped into corners and navigated tight inner-urban mazes with ease. The infotainment system was intuitive, if not entirely glitch-free (see breakout, above), and the rear seats proved adept at accommodating passengers without turning them into human origami.
But while the Baleno is a well-packaged offering, and a capable city runabout, it couldn’t quite deliver on the fun promised by its brilliant three-pot engine. In my perfect world, the GLX Turbo would have a brother, the Turbo Sport, and that would come with the rims and bodykit as standard, a warmer engine, quicker steering rack, and the option of a manual gearbox. A bloke can dream.
Read part four of our Suzuki Baleno long-term car review here.
This article was originally published in the April 2017 issue of Wheels magazine.