With most cars, buying a base variant means compromising with safety features, which is downright idiotic – you can’t enjoy your car if you’re wrapped it around a lamp post. Until such time as the government gets off its butt and makes ABS and airbags mandatory in all cars, all you can hope for is that a manufacturer takes it upon itself to offer these basic features. Maruti has done so with the Baleno, and it deserves kudos – it’s worth buying this car for this reason alone. Now for the competition to follow suit.
IT HAS THE BEST CABIN IN ITS CLASS
Maruti has gone with an all-black colour scheme, with silver accents – this gives a more premium feel to the cabin than beige. In the top-end Alpha spec cars, apart from a stylish instrument panel, you also get a multi-function readout on a TFT screen, with features like real-time fuel economy, a clock and a gimmicky power/torque readout that’s actually quite a lot of fun to look at – for a while, anyway. Besides this, there’s a 7-inch SmartPlay infotainment system with Apple CarPlay – the Baleno thus becomes the first car in India to get this feature.
CarPlay lets you connect your iPhone and voice-activate several features (maps, calls, messages etc) via Siri. You also get built-in navigation, and overall, the system is well set up and easy to use. In terms of space and utility, the amount of head, leg and elbow room is generous for both front and rear seat passengers and the seats themselves are comfortable, although they could have used more under-thigh support. There are lots of cubby holes to store bottles and assorted detritus, and the boot has 339 litres of space, which is generous. Additionally, the cabin has been well insulated against tyre, wind and engine noise.
IT’S BASED ON A BRAND NEW PLATFORM THAT FOCUSSES ON SAFETY
Yes, there’s that ‘S’ word again. The Baleno’s platform is all-new, and the car, which was unveiled recently at the Frankfurt auto show, gets its global release in India. Maruti’s engineers claim that the new platform was developed to incorporate less weight and beef up ‘fundamental vehicle performance.’ The body-in-white sees the use of almost 40 per cent high tensile steel, for additional rigidity and strength, with crumple zones absorbing energy in an impact and the body frame dispersing impact energy away from the cabin. Maruti also claims that the Baleno is lighter by around 100 kg and about 10 per cent stronger than the competition – there is of course no way to verify this, unless you decide to weigh the cars yourself. Nevertheless, taking their word for it, a lighter but safer car is only a good thing.
ITS ENGINES ARE TRIED AND TRUSTED
If you’ve been driving other Marutis, you’ll be familiar with the 1.2-litre petrol and 1.3-litre diesel units. The petrol, in particular, is one of the sweetest engines around, with plenty of refinement and a rev-happy nature. It produces 83 bhp at 6000 rpm, along with 11.7 kgm of torque at 4000 rpm, and the 5-speed manual gearbox is a joy to operate. As always, more power from this unit would have been welcome, because it tends to run out of breath a little too quickly – Maruti’s excellent 1.4-litre petrol would be ideal for the Baleno. There’s a CVT option with the petrol engine, and it’s a boon to use in city traffic, with acceptable performance on the highway – you have to plan overtaking manoeuvres carefully. The CVT is rather dull in character, like most such units, but it makes for a hassle-free drive.
The 1.3-litre diesel engine is the one to go for if you want a more enjoyable driving experience – the extra torque makes a huge difference. With 74 bhp at 4000 rpm and 19.3 kgm at 2000 rpm, the diesel Baleno makes for a rather good highway cruiser, and the extra fuel efficiency will be a boon.
IT’S A MARUTI, SO IT DOES MOST THINGS WELL
Maruti knows its small cars, and it manages to make them so that virtually everyone can find something to like. The Baleno is by no means the best looking car in its class (it’s too conservatively styled), but it’s a safe design that will find favour with buyers who don’t want too much flash. It has enough features to keep fidgety people happy, the practicality factor is high, the engines are virtually bulletproof, ride and handling are in the sweet spot area for most and, most importantly, safety hasn’t been played around with. The Baleno will be sold from Maruti’s premium Nexa-branded showrooms, along with the S-Cross, and the company’s sales and service network has been among its many strengths. You can expect to pay a premium over the competition for the Baleno, given its standard safety features, but it would be worth paying that money for the additional peace of mind it will bring.