Unless it£€™s in a bright colour you could easily not notice the new Suzuki Baleno in the street but that would be to miss out on a surprisingly good new small car. The styling isn£€™t as distinctive or sporty as the Swift but for value for money family motoring the Baleno is still a winner.
Not only is it stuffed with standard equipment including air conditioning, satellite navigation and Bluetooth phone connection for just £12,999, it sits on stylish grey alloy wheels and is far more spacious than £€˜supermini£€™ rivals like the Skoda Fabia.
In fact, the boot is bigger than the Ford Focus£€™s never mind the Fiesta, and the higher SX5 trim level Baleno even has cruise control that adjusts to the speed of the vehicle in front for relaxed motorway driving, full climate control and automatic emergency braking.
Crucially the Baleno is fun to drive despite only having a 998cc three-cylinder petrol engine. With power boosted via a quick responding turbocharger to 110bhp, the Suzuki will zip to 60mph in under 11 seconds and wind up to 124mph. It£€™s a belter of an engine, pulling strongly from 2,000rpm and with a pleasant thrum and rasp at high revs that gives the car character.
A low kerb weight of 950kg; much lighter than a Fiesta, means the Baleno feels lively off the lights and there isn£€™t lots of weight to pull it off course in corners so it grips keenly.
There are only five gears but that doesn£€™t mean you can£€™t extract good performance and excellent fuel consumption. Low weight also helps fuel thirst. We averaged 56.7mpg over hundreds of mixed miles. A steady driving pal claims he managed 65mpg which is better than the official figure.
The steering is accurate without being nervous but there£€™s not a lot of real £€˜feel£€™ for the road. And if the car is lightly laden the soft suspension can become bouncy over undulating surfaces.
The £13,999 SZ5 trim test car also has LED daytime running lights, automatic headlights, front fog lamps, rear privacy glass, electric door mirrors, adaptive cruise control, keyless entry and engine start, colour LCD screen, electric windows and adjustable leather covered steering wheel.
You can call up displays showing how much torque and power you are using, or acceleration or braking but this is not of much use to most drivers. Keyless entry and engine start really does make life easier and makes even using a remote control seem old fashioned.
The rear reversing camera was better than on many much more expensive cars. There are handy radio and phone controls built on to the steering wheel but I turned off the maddening £€˜brake now£€™ obstacle detecting buzzer for phone addicts who might not be concentrating on their driving.
The Baleno is surprisingly spacious with good headroom, plenty of leg room, even in the back and air conditioning strong enough to give you frostbite. I found the driving position fine and the driver£€™s seat was more supportive than I expected.
In the back seat if you are tall it is easy to hit your head on the hard grab handles if the driver swings the car about. Lots of grey plastic mean the cabin is rather drab and the fit and finish isn£€™t the very best, and the door pockets flimsy, but overall it£€™s fine for the price.
The boot has a moveable floor, so it can be set higher for easier loading, or to hide items, or lowered to increases load depth. You can fold the rear seat down one-third/two-thirds to increase versatility.
Also consider: Ford Fiesta, Skoda Fabia, Vauxhall Corsa
Verdict Great runabout that£€™s fine on longer journeys