Maruti Suzuki Baleno Alpha MT long-term review, introduction - forget the features
I have a soft spot for the Baleno, I'll admit, the family owns one of the last of the RS versions to roll out and the engine on that is still a gem. So when Maruti Suzuki sent over the new one for a few months, I was more than happy to snap up the keys.
Having put in some miles already, but not as much as I would like, it's clear that the new one is an easier car to live with. I still miss that mid-range punch of the BoosterJet but in all other regards, the new Baleno just makes for a less tiring drive.
As it happens, it's not for the reasons you might expect. The headlining features like the new touchscreen, the HUD display and the more modern layout are positives but it's the smaller, less apparent changes that really come through.
To start with, the new seats are far more comfortable. Long journeys are a literal pain in the back with the RS, but the firmer cushioning and more supportive contours improve comfort quite a bit. Then there is the more progressive, hydraulic clutch. It took quite some minds-ace to make a clean start with the older Baleno and make sure you have jerk-free shifts. That's not the case anymore. Finally, there's the more pliant suspension tune. The earlier car would crash and tumble over anything more serious than a speed breaker, which the new one handles far more confidently.
As for the things I don't like. Maruti Suzuki really should try and make its N/A engines more exciting. There's no real thrill in revving out this motor, the flat mid-range a bit too focused on driveability if there is such a thing. Also, inexplicably, the Baleno doesn't get a gear position indicator anymore. It's just a prompt now so more often than not I have to look at the shifter to remind myself of the gear I'm in. Also you still only get one USB port in the front, the passenger's lot is still a 12V outlet.
But I can't complain too much. A small, fairly light, naturally aspirated hatchback is something to savour, right?