The Maruti Suzuki Baleno may have been around since October 2015, but there is no slowing down this premium hatchback. An absolute bestseller for Maruti, the Baleno has averaged sales of 17,000 units in the past six months alone. So I have to say there was clearly no pressing need to rush in a facelift - especially given Maruti's usual lifecycles on 'premium products' (look at the Ciaz), and the fact that any new competition like the Kia Rio and Tata X451 for instance, are still far away. The Baleno outsells the current rivals like the Hyundai i20 (average sales of 12,000 units/month), VW Polo (average sales of around 1400 units a month), and Honda Jazz (average sales of 1200 units/month) by many a mile. It was at the very end of the first month of this New Year, that Maruti Suzuki unleashed the facelifted Baleno on us. Yes it was through an innocuous press release, no big drives or launch events. But now that you get the context, you will understand why it was important to bring you this review - because we still think it is a very big deal.
Now, the Baleno's facelift is not one of those that screams at you, it's not major, but it's significant enough and I have to say it makes the car look a bit more upmarket. Now I got to drive the top end trim, which gets the new alloy pattern, 16 inch wheels which are two toned.
And then the big change is the face, where the layout remains the same in terms of the headlamp and the chrome, but you get a completely new pattern on the front grille, and the whole idea of the Maruti is to make the car look a little bit wider. Does it? Well, you've got to decide that and also react to it. This colour is Nexa blue of course, the positioning colour for all Nexa cars, but there are two new colours on offer now with the facelift - a red and a grey and then there are some changes on the inside
When you step into the cabin you will straightaway get the sense that it is new. It's not just the layout, but it all looks a little more sophisticated now, in terms of colours materials and overall look. I do like the way it's been put together, and then the big addition is the Smart Play studio. The interface on that touch screen is completely changed now. Yes we got it on the Wagon R first, but of all the Nexa products, the Baleno is the first one to get it.
It's a big deal, because it's a much nicer to use interface, it's easier to read and the layout is much nicer too, (and like I said, we have shown it to you on the Wagon R, so I won't go on about it). You can hear the system beeping when I touch, and of course it also gives you some interesting trip information like, fuel economy, driving range, etc. Nice graphics, different interface, and then of course, you've also got an update on the seat fabric, very Nexa again, it's been finished in this sort of geometrical or diamond like pattern, in a nice dark blue.
In keeping with the appeal that Nexa products are meant to deliver - the cabin will come across as subtle, premium and overall a bit better finished than before. The new interface does help make the car appear a bit more contemporary, though remember that touchscreen is only available on the Zeta and Alpha - the top two trims. The same goes for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto too, as well as the SmartPlay Studio Navigation.
Out on the road, you will find no changes at all, since the Baleno has remained the same mechanically. The car with me is the CVT auto option on the 83 bhp 1.2 petrol. As before, you can opt for manual as well, of course. The good old 1.3 litre, 74 bhp diesel is still available with only the 5 Speed manual gearbox. Ride quality has been the Achilles heel on this car for me, and still remains so. Handling and acceleration also remain unchanged. Prices start at ₹ 5.45 lakh for the manual petrol Sigma variant at the base, and go up to ₹ 8.77 lakh for the petrol CVT Alpha which is the one I am driving.
The Baleno remains a crucial and relevant model for both Maruti and the market. And so this upgrade will certainly create a flutter. Expect the now ageing i20 and Jazz to also fire up some new bits - especially given that they have both already received their respective facelifts in the first half of 2018. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, the newcomers expected to arrive by later this year and early 2020, should then cause some more excitement. But the mighty Baleno juggernaut will roll on no doubt. The car looks more assured, packs in a bit more on the feature list, and becomes therefore even more relevant for the 2019 buyer.