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2016 Suzuki Baleno GL manual review – Do we still need a small manual car?

Fewer manual cars are being sold every month, so can the 2016 Suzuki Baleno GL make a case for a manual transmission?

In a nutshell: For the money, the Baleno GL is a modern but very basic small-medium hatch with good use of space, above average handling and an exhaust note to set it apart.

2016 Suzuki Baleno GL manual

Price from $16,990 (current driveaway); Warranty three-year, 100,000 kilometres, can be extended to 5 years; Safety not rated by ANCAP, 4-star EuroNCAP (2016); Engine 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol, 68kW at 6000rpm, 130Nm at 4000rpm; Transmission 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive Body 3995mm (L); 1745mm (W); 1470mm (H) Turning Circle 9.8m Seats 5; Tare Weight 935kg Fuel Tank 37L Spare space-saver Thirst 5.1L/100km ADR81/02 combined cycle Fuel petrol, 91RON

SUZUKI’S NEW BALENO won’t cost the earth whatever the trim, and the least expensive of the line-up is the car you’re looking at right now, the GL manual. We have tested the top-spec GLX in depth and this review builds on that one, focusing on the differences, chief amongst them being its manual transmission.

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This is the most basic instrument cluster we’ve seen for a while. Does the job though, and avoids the common mistake today of a speedo that’s hard to read. In a sign of the car’s budget nature, the display controls are old-school stalks.
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Simple, but in this case it’s simply effective. So much quicker and easier to use than a touch screen, a triumph of practicality over style.

Aside from some cosmetic garnishes such as gimmicky information displays, the trim differences are a reach-adjustable steering wheel, a basic keyless entry system, HID headlights and climate control. Yet the GL has what most people would consider the basics of 2016 – cruise control, satnav, reversing camera, Bluetooth and the same safety rating.

However, the biggest step up is the engine; 82kW for the GLX, and 68kW for the GL from a 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine mated to a five-speed manual. Yes, you read that right – five speeds, and in a further sign of the gearbox’s basic nature, the reverse gear is selected without having to operate a detent first, for example pushing the stick down. d11d7605There’s more 1990s, or even 1980s design – GL has drum rear brakes and steel wheels hidden by hubcaps.d11d7609The fact the GL makes do without the fancy bits of the GLX, means it’s $5000 cheaper ($16,990 drive away), a decent chunk of cash I’m sure you’ll agree. The GLX also demands higher-octane 95RON fuel (whereas the GL can get by on 91RON), and has slightly higher consumption at 5.2 Vs 5.1L/100km (for the GL).

So the Baleno GL is unquestionably cheap, but cheap as in inexpensive, not cheap as in cheerless. Suzuki knows how to do small, light cars and their expertise is on display with the Baleno. The five-speed transmission is light and precise; an easy pleasure. Each of those 68-kilowatts works hard for you, and acceptable progress can be made around town, with either one or two people in the car. With more people on-board or when driving up steeper hills the car starts to struggle. As with the GLX, there’s a pleasing exhaust note, not as defined as in the GLX, but more characterful than what you’d expect from a car of this nature.

Those looking for a cheap small-medium car need to understand a couple of things about the Baleno GL manual. The first is that it’s not an effortless drive; not only is it a manual, but you can’t surf along in high gears at low speeds, you need to be picking your gears and, preferably, conserving momentum. Yet for many people, and I include myself in this list, that’s very much the attraction. You feel like you’re driving the Baleno not guiding it, and in a good, positively rewarding way.

The Baleno is superbly light and responsive, rides comfortably and handles sharply – I’d ask only for slightly more feelsome steering. I had more fun driving the GL than the Turbo GLX, and if it were my money for a towncar I’d go for the GL over the GLX and pocket the $5000, a choice I’d recommend to anyone that enjoys driving and particularly so if you are considering a CVT Corolla or similar.

I haven’t driven the automatic GL, but given it has a mere four-speed automatic – so one less ratio than the manual – and the same power, I’d be placing it in the underpowered category, similar to the Vitara RT-S. There’s something about a revvy manual that makes it seem faster than it really is, and low-powered cars with automatic gearboxes tend to feel slower than they really are. So if you want an auto, I’d definitely gravitate towards the Turbo GLX.

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Space-saver spares aren’t ideal, but for a city car they’re better than run-flats.
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A 12V socket in the rear is a rarity but something valued by back seat passengers of all ages in this day of addiction to devices with short battery life.

Why you’d buy the Suzuki Baleno GL manual

Consider the GL manual if you want a fun-to-drive, spacious yet small car that will cost you very little to own and run. If you want effortless speed, power or luxury look elsewhere.

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JohnGC
JohnGC
3 years ago

And in another 90’s throwback Robert “Tell ’em the price, son”. I can’t find the price in the article so looked up the GLX and took $5K off? This car’s about $16 grand. I know what you mean by an engaging drive. My BMW was in the shop for a couple of days and I hired an old Hyundai Getz, manual, to get me around town. It was fun, raw, like a motor bike and felt faster than it was. Made me feel so insulated in my car. But only for a couple of days…then it starts to grind on you.
Curious to know why you think a space saver is better than a run-flat around town. I had a flat with the run-flats and just drove it to a tyre shop, got it fixed and kept going.

PracticalMotoring
3 years ago
Reply to  JohnGC

Sorry John, this has been fixed. There was a glitch in that article. Price is $16,990.

Robert Pepper
3 years ago
Reply to  JohnGC

My fault, not a glitch. I forgot to add the specs.

Run-flats are expensive, can’t always be repaired, can’t handle major rips and are limited use. A space-saver spare fixes all that except for limited use, but I’d rather run 500km on a space-saver than a run-flat with no air in it.

Monty
Monty
3 years ago

I drove a manual Vauxhall 2-door Corsa around England for a few days. It was only 5 cogs but a hoot to drive. The Melbourne traffic drove me to automatics.

Robert Pepper
3 years ago
Reply to  Monty

As it did many others! But, those small-car manual-gearbox feels…

Guest
Guest
3 years ago
Reply to  Monty

But why do we fall weak to a slushbox when European traffic is just as bad in some cities yet they don’t shy away from the good old manual box.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper