We are starting a series of blogs where we will be driving used cars and give our opinions about them. The purpose is to help you find a second-hand car in a certain budget. And for the first post in the series, we have decided to start with one of the all-time best selling cars from Pak Suzuki, the Suzuki Baleno. It was undoubtedly one of the most famous sedans from Suzuki and was widely liked in Pakistani car market.
A little history of Baleno in Pakistan
Baleno was launched in Pakistan back in 1998-99, after Pak Suzuki decided to discontinue its much loved Margalla. Baleno was Suzuki’s first attempt at the compact sedan category and was initially launched to global market in early 1995. Baleno had quite a different body design and styling than what Suzuki had offered before. In 2002-3, Pak Suzuki started to sell facelifted version of Baleno. It was discontinued in favor of Suzuki Liana in 2005.
Pre-facelift model had following variants (1998-99 to 2002):
- GTi 1.6
It was offered with 1.3 and 1.6 liter 4-cylinder petrol engine. 1.6l was only available in the infamous GTi version with a manual transmission. It was notorious among boy-racers. Rest of them only had 1.3l engines.
Facelift version had completely different and updated front end. It had different headlights, bonnet, fenders, bumper and front grille. The pre-facelift model was a snubbed nose. Facelift looked much sleeker and slightly longer due to the protruding front bumper. Rest of the car was same.
Facelift Baleno had three variant (2002-3 to 2005):
All models were launched with 1.3l 4-cylinder petrol engine, and the much loved 1.6l engine was completely dropped. Baleno Sport had bigger alloy wheels, power antenna, power windows, and rear spoiler among other small updates. Differences were mostly cosmetic. Since that was the time when CNG business was at its full swing, Pak Suzuki also started to sell Baleno with factory fitted CNG kits.
Facelift Suzuki Baleno had one of the best car security features of its time in Pakistan. It was launched with the factory fitted immobilizer, and it was not possible to start the car if you don’t have the original Pak Suzuki issued key, or unless you change the ECU and use the corresponding key. Baleno was famous for being one of the least stolen cars of its time.
Test car’s background
For the road test, we found ourselves a well maintained, Japan assembled, 2001 Suzuki Baleno GTi, in Moonlight Silver color. First a little about the car, before I start on the actual review. The owner bought the car in 2005, and it has been in his family ever since. It’s around 222,000 kilometers driven. According to the owner, he has changed the shock absorbers of the car once since he bought it. The car had CNG kit and cylinder fitted when he bought it but removed them soon after.
Since it’s a GTi, the car had 1.6l petrol engine with 5-speed manual transmission. The owner of this Baleno told me that he was looking for a good reliable auto car, but couldn’t find anything of his liking within his budget. So he decided to swap an auto engine in this Baleno. The car now has 1.5 liter petrol engine with a five-speed automatic transmission. The transmission is electronically controlled, and you can select ‘Power’ or ‘Snow Mode’ with the flip of a button. When in Snow Mode, the car starts rolling in second gear, to counter the wheel spin in snowy conditions. The swap was done three years ago, and the car is going flawlessly, according to the car owner. The engine swap was not a half-job. The instrument meter of the manual Baleno was changed to an auto one, with proper gear indicating lights. The center console was also changed to the automatic Baleno one, so there are no gaps or poorly fixed plastic pieces to fit and house the auto gear lever.
The car also has a very basic body kit, that comes originally with Japan assembled Baleno; front and rear lip and side skirts. A moonroof was installed few years ago in the car. This Baleno has a normal security system and reverse parking sensors installed in it by the current owner.
I have driven two Suzuki Baleno cars up till today, one was a 2007 Baleno Sport variant back in 2007, and now this one. I do not remember much about that 2007 Baleno, so no point talking about it. This 2001 is the second one that I have driven, but the purpose of this drive was to critically observe the car and how it drove. The owner was kind enough to let me take the car on the motorway as well. Although for a short time, but I have a enough idea about the Baleno by now.
The first impression of the interior of the car is that it is minimalistic. There isn’t much going on one the dashboard to distract you except the LCD DVD head unit. The seating position was good, and so were the view angles. I adjusted my seat and cranked the engine.
Drive within the city
Lets start with the city driving experience I had with the car. Since the car is auto, city driving was a breeze. I understand if you are interested in buying a Baleno, you will not find auto Balenos that easily, and there is that manual clutch pedal labor you will have to endure. But as far other experience of the car is concerned, the review can help you make your mind.
One word to explain my experience when the Baleno within the city would be effortless. The car is quick and responds to the throttle. It is a light vehicle, so you don’t end up pressing accelerator hard. I felt the car is easy to maneuver in the traffic when on the roads where traffic was traveling at 80 km/h or so. It was zippy, and I didn’t feel it resisting to the steering input. I did feel the steering to be a bit numb, like it was not connected to the road. There wasn’t any play in it as such, but it took me some time to get used to the feel of it. On bends and corners, I didn’t feel any body roll at normal speeds. It is still a normal family sedan and not a race car, so of course if you turn in at high speeds, being a front wheel drive, you will start to under-steer. However, I do think the ride is a bit bumpy. Maybe it was because of the aftermarket shock absorber owner had installed in this Baleno, or maybe it is an inherent thing for all Baleno cars. But I do think the car bounced a bit even on otherwise normal roads.
- City: 11-13 km/l
- Motorway: 15-16 km/l
Feel of the car
Overall, even after being driven for 222,000 kms, the car’s body and chassis rigidity was still in great condition. I think it is a great example of Suzuki’s engineering. The car didn’t rattle and even when jumping through pothole filled roads, all I could hear was a slight thud sound from the boot. Old cars losing their body rigidity is a common thing. But that was not the case with this car even with that many miles on the odometer. Chassis had not lost its integrity. This, I think, was a major plus point of the car. Of course, a lot depends on the way car is maintained, and being a second-hand vehicle, how all the owners have kept it will make or change your decision about it. But there must be something solid there in the first place to take care of.
The brakes had a good bite to them. Since we were driving on normal city roads, I didn’t try to do any tricks with the car to check its brakes but the owner told me that he has taken his car to northern hilly areas many times and never faced any problem as far brakes are concerned.
On the motorway
As mentioned above, I had the chance to take the car on the motorway as well. The car just flies when you press the throttle. One thing that I noticed was the wind noise above 150 km/l got louder than I would like it to be. However engine didn’t feel stressed or revving madly at all. The car felt planted otherwise but on certain turns, I felt the back-end is trying to slid out. Although I do believe that happened because I was being adventurous with the car, and not the fault of the car as such.
Fun to drive
Good boot space
Parts are easily available in second-hand scrap markets everywhere
Those rear lights are hideous
Slightly bumpy ride
AC blower needs upgrading
Wind noise above 150km/h
Steering felt numb
How I would rate Suzuki Baleno
Behind the Wheel 4.5/5
Market price of a used Suzuki Baleno
Quick search through the PakWheels used car section showed that pre-facelift Balenos are available from around PKR 500,000 to PKR 700,000 depending on the condition, engine size, and the variant. Baleno 1.6 are usually more expensive that 1.3l versions. You can find some units even cheaper than PKR 500,000 if you look hard enough.
Cars available in same price bracket
In the price range of PKR 500,000 to PKR 700,000, other sedan options that you can buy are sixth generation (1996 – 2000) Honda Civics (both EXi and VTi) depending on the condition of the car. Honda City can also be an option considering it is closer to Baleno in size and engine capacity than Civic. You can also find the late 90s Indus shape Toyota Corolla in the same price range. Dewan Mitsubishi Lancer can also be an option, but their spare parts are not that easily available nowadays.
To wrap it all up, if you are looking for a cheap to maintain second-hand saloon, do look at Suzuki Balenos as well, among other options. I agree that this review can’t be applied to all Balenos considering they are all used and no one is same as the other. But the point of the write up is to provide you with an option. Yes, the car you might test will be different from the one I drove, but basic on-road characteristics of both cars should be the same. If you buy a used Baleno, and spend some time and effort to improve it, the car will be as good as any and will provide you reliable service, winter or summer, rain or snow. Happy motoring!