It may seem somewhat illogical for someone who works as a motoring journalist, but I don’t own a car. A shocking and possibly damning admission, I know, but before I get thrown to the wolves, let me explain.
As a cash-strapped uni student my beloved first car (a faithful 1993 Toyota Corolla) had to be sold. But my aversion to any form of public transport meant I needed another means of getting around, and I sure as hell wasn’t about to go slip on the lycra. So I ended up cutting through traffic on a motorcycle. Starting full-time work might have meant rejoining the four-wheeled community, but the extreme cost of living in Sydney (or too much smashed avocado if one of Murdoch’s papers is to be believed) meant that didn’t happen – although I did purchase another motorbike…
Now that I feed my smashed-avo habit by writing about road cars (as opposed to motorsport), it’s only right and proper I have four wheels permanently placed in my garage.
“I’ve found you a long-termer,” chirped Nathan Ponchard down the phone after a particularly long day in the office.
Brilliant! The reign of the week-long press vehicle was finally over, and I could build a proper relationship with a car.
“And it has a bodykit!”
Ha! Take that riding in Melbourne’s constant miserable rain.
“And a turbo!”
I could already see myself as the new king of the Oakleigh traffic-light grand prix.
“It’s a Suzuki Baleno…”
I think Ponch meant that final remark as a punchline after building up my hopes for a high-powered, tuner missile. But he read me wrong. I was, and remain, genuinely excited about what is now my little Suzuki Baleno.
The white body over black rims is a classic look, and a winner with me. As for the bodykit, while some people say they find it a tad tacky, I adore it. Perhaps it’s because my favourite film is The Fast and the Furious (not everyone got to grow up with Bullit, okay?), but I think the lip and side skirts add flair without making the styling too aggressive.
I’ve had the keys in my hands for little more than a week, but the Baleno has already been affectionately nicknamed (Bailey) and there are some clear observations, such as an interior that has more plastic than a Hollywood surgery.
But funnily enough I’m still enjoying my time rolling in the Baleno. The infotainment system is intuitive and easy to operate, the seats are relatively comfortable (if a bit on the firm side, and the seating position could be lower) and the audio is above par for a car that retails from $21,990.
The 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo is dwarfed in the engine bay, where it sits on plastic engine mounts. Eek! However, it shifts the plucky Baleno along nicely. It’s not thrust-mode acceleration, but neither would you call it lethargic. There’s very little lag from the turbo, though inputs through the accelerator pedal aren’t always instant, which is infuriating. I wouldn’t accept the same standard of response from the brakes, so why should I cop it from the throttle?
From my rather short work commute, and a few brave trips to the fearsome Chadstone Shopping Centre car park, Bailey the Baleno has impressed me as a fun city runabout, with serious potential. But will the doe-eyed affection last as our relationship develops? Here’s hoping.
This article was originally published in Wheels magazine Summer 2016.