Its looks tell a lot. The Swift is Suzuki's fun car and even one of the most dynamic cars in its segment. Therefore the Swift has sleek looks and a dynamic disposition.
The Baleno, on the other hand, has a more conservative look. While the Swift wants to stand out, the Baleno prefers to blend in. And while the Swift opts for round, organic shapes, the Baleno chooses volume to offer maximum cabin space. And that's the big difference: with the Swift it's form over function; while with the Baleno it's all about functionality.
That's why it is best to start exploring at the rear of the Baleno: the boot. It is significantly larger than that of the Swift (355 versus 211 litres) and by far the largest in the segment. When the back seat is folded down, the boot increases to 756 litres which is average for a car of this size.
Suzuki clearly preferred (leg)room in the rear. Not only children, but even adults also sit comfortably in the back of the Baleno. The space in the front is ample as well, but not any better than with other cars of this size.
The Baleno is above average when it comes to equipment. The more luxurious trim levels offer modern features like radar guided cruise-control (which can behave a bit blunt), active braking (automatically brake for danger), keyless entry and a well-made "infotainment system" (audio, satnav and communication).
The trip computer deserves special attention, because it shows a record amount of information. It isn't just limited to the usual fuel consumption and remaining range. The beautiful display sandwiched between the speedometer and rev counter also shows G-forces (as if this is a sports car!), the exact power output of the engine and... the workings of the hybrid drive train.
That's because the Baleno is available with so-called "Smart Hybrid" drive. This means that a traditional petrol engine is being assisted by an electric motor. While braking or free-wheeling, kinetic energy which is usually wasted is now converted into electricity. When accelerating or climbing that electricity is used by the electric motor to assist the petrol engine and thus save fuel.
The basic set-up of this hybrid-drive is equal to that of well-known hybrids like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight. However, Suzuki has its own interpretation of the concept. The electric motor and accompanying batteries are much smaller than with other cars. The effect of Suzuki's hybrid drive is therefore smaller as well. On the other hand: the lower weight and lower price make up for that.
In daily life "Smart Hybrid" seems to sleep most of the time and only assists occasionally. The driver has almost no possibility to influence the system. There are no special modes or buttons to tweak the system.
That's why one hardly notices the presence of the Smart Hybrid drive. Except for the fact that fuel economy is excellent! After a full week of driving, the trip computer showed a figure of 4.2 litres per 100 km (67 mpg) and that's a good value for a car like this. Add to that that Suzuki fits the Baleno with a four-cylinder (less favourable fuel economy but more refined run) engine rather than a three-cylinder (less refined run, rough sound, good fuel economy) and it is clear that Suzuki's concept works well.
For the Baleno, Suzuki has developed a brand new platform. The Baleno is not a spacious Swift nor a low Vitara or a stretched Celerio. Yet, for a modern car the underpinning lacks refinement. Poor road surfaces or strong side winds both strongly affect the Baleno's handling.
At the same time the car is safe. When cornering quickly or avoiding an obstacle, the Baleno behaves well. The Baleno isn't exciting to drive though. Again, the Baleno chooses functionality rather than fun.
Next to the Swift, Suzuki introduces a second car in the B-segment. That seems strange, because this means the brand will now compete against itself. After a week of driving it became clear that the Swift and Baleno are two different beasts.
With the Baleno it is all about space and practicality. Its design is all about space, not looks. The modern features and safety equipment make the Baleno even more functional. Thanks to an engine with "Smart Hybrid" drive the Baleno is both cheap to buy and run.
The Suzuki Swift remains the young, playful model. The rational, functional Baleno is its big brother.