Out with the old. In with the bold: The 2022 NEXA Baleno Drive Review

For a moment, the 2022 NEXA Baleno by Maruti Suzuki might fool you into thinking that it is merely a facelift of the outgoing version. Although the new iteration may look a lot like the old one – which is by design – the similarities end there. Because Maruti Suzuki has made quite some effort to make the new Baleno feel a lot more premium than its predecessor. And the efforts have certainly paid off.

For starters, the new Baleno shares a lot of design cues with the outgoing version. But when you give it a closer look, you realise that almost every panel on the exterior is new and unique. The wider and squatter front houses a more pronounced honeycomb grille, and is underlined by a chunky chrome slat that blends into the design of the new headlights. The headlights themselves carry onto the front fenders, giving the Baleno a leaner, meaner front fascia. The new headlight design also houses NEXA’s new signature three-block day time running lights. It takes a while before you start appreciating the flatter, wider and angular front, that makes the car look bolder than before.

When viewed from the side, the new Baleno looks almost identical to the outgoing version. However, the shoulder lines are now more pronounced and squared off, giving it a sharper appeal. Apart from the new 16-inch dual tone alloys and upturned chrome inserts on the C-pillar, there are subtle changes in the grab handles. At the rear, the thick chrome slab under the rear windowsill is even thicker now, and the split L-shaped tail lamps blend into the tailgate. The squared off tail lamp design makes the rear look smarter and purposeful, creating a perception of a wider cabin within.

Overall, the new Baleno looks all grown-up. It may not seem like a brand new design in terms of aesthetics, but the small changes across the board add up to create a look that feels mature, yet bold. While it always had a unique and recognisable street presence, the new design elements accentuate it further.

The interior is where Maruti Suzuki has really stepped up the game. The new dashboard design is infinitely more appealing than the V-shaped console in the predecessor. The rectangular AC vents under the infotainment system and the flat-bottom steering wheel are reminiscent of design elements in some more premium offerings from other manufacturers. The toggle switches on the automatic climate control unit feel tactile and well damped. While some of the switches and toggles are borrowed from other NEXA offerings, the overall build quality of the cabin has significantly improved and can be rated fairly high in its class. The leatherette inserts around the cabin feel supple and soft, and even the steering wheel feels more premium to the touch. While the quality of the piano black inserts on the dashboard could have been a bit better, most of the plastics used across the cabin don’t feel scratchy and cheap. Undoubtedly, Maruti Suzuki’s interior build quality is slowly but surely inching closer to some of its European competitors.

The design of the interior is dominated by the new 9″ touchscreen infotainment system, which is a major step up from the earlier version. While lower variants come with a smaller screen and an older interface, the new SmartPlay Pro+ system feels like it’s worth the upgrade to the top variant. The new system throws up all the information you would ever need – speed, fuel economy, warnings, alerts, and more. It comes with the usual connectivity options of (wired) Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and is equipped with Alexa integration. The touchscreen itself is much more responsive than before, with sharp graphics and vivid colours that make the user experience quite enjoyable. On a few occasions though, we found Apple CarPlay maps to freeze for no reason, and had to disconnect and reconnect the device to make it work again. A six speaker Arkamys sound system is on board, which, while loud enough, doesn’t guarantee a crystal clear auditory experience. Overall, the UI is quite easy to navigate on the move. However, with a multitude of steering controls, you may never get to use them all in the first place.

In terms of stand out features, the 2022 Baleno comes with a new heads up display (HUD), which helpfully shows speed, rev counter, current fuel economy and current gear. It would have been more useful to have navigation built, but it is nevertheless, an impressive bit of tech in this segment. There is also a 360 degree camera setup which is really useful in city driving, along with other usual offerings such as cruise control, automatic climate control, auto-folding mirrors, auto-headlamps, keyless entry & start, and rear parking sensors. Some welcome additions include rear AC vents with a USB Type-A and Type-C (fast charging) port at the back.

There are substantial upgrades on the safety front, with the Baleno now getting six airbags on the top of the line variants and two standard airbags across the range. Other safety features include ABS with EBD and ESP with hill-hold on the automatic versions.

Under the hood, the new 2022 Baleno comes with only one engine option – Maruti Suzuki’s updated 1.2L K-series Dual Jet Dual VVT petrol motor with Idle Start Stop – which puts out 90 BHP of power and 113Nm of torque. The engine feels familiar and performance in the city is more than adequate. The unit is peppy and responds instantly to the pedal, although the initial surge quickly dies down and makes overtaking at higher speeds on the expressway a game of confidence and timing. The engine is rather smooth and silent with a bit of noise creeping into the cabin at higher revs. The engine is mated to a 5-speed AMT transmission instead of the CVT in the outgoing model. This for us, was the weakest link in the Baleno, in terms of performance. Quick shifts are often jerky and the head nod is a given. The transmission takes time to read the throttle response, hesitating for a fair few seconds before the down shift. There is however a manual (+/-) option in the AMT which makes gear changes more instantaneous than the auto mode. But the placement of the stick is such that the manual mode moves it further away from the driving position, making it a bit inconvenient to reach even for a reasonably well built driver with long arms. While driving through the city, the convenience of the AMT makes up for its twitchy gear changes, and one would often settle for it. But if you are looking for raw performance, you might be left a bit disappointed.

In terms of cabin comfort, the manually adjustable front seats offer adequate comfort, with decent lateral support. Big built adults may find the seats narrow and lacking in shoulder support. And those extra long drives can get a bit tiring. The rear bench comfortably seats three adults, with a supreme amount of leg space. Taller passengers however, may find rear head room to be at a premium. The longer 318 litre boot with 60:40 rear split allows for more luggage space, and is good enough to pack in stuff for those quick weekend getaways or airport drops.

The handling and ride quality of the new Baleno considerably outperforms its predecessor, thanks to an all new suspension setup and a new tilt & telescopic steering system. The ride is pliant and smooth, and soaks up regular city bumps and potholes with ease. One does have to be cautious while navigating large humps and speed breakers, due to the low slung stance. The tarmac did kiss the undercarriage on a few occasions, even though we consciously tried to manoeuvre with care. The handling has improved with a slightly heavier steering that gives far greater feel, feedback and control around bends. While it was never meant to be an enthusiast’s choice, the new Baleno’s on road drive experience has certainly improved to challenge its rivals in the segment. But how much we miss the performance of the now discontinued Baleno RS, is another matter.

The new 2022 Baleno scores is its overall high street appeal, improved tech and genuine value for money proposition. Backed by a claimed fuel efficiency of 22.35 kmpl for the MT and 22.94 kmpl for the AMT, it makes cost of running significantly affordable. We tested it hard over 600+ kms and returned with figures of 17.6 kmpl, which was truly impressive. Overall, the new Baleno builds upon the fairly capable foundation laid by its predecessor, and through the small but significant changes both inside and out, it makes for a refined premium urban hatch that feels much more sure of itself. It is undeniably better looking on the outside, with a more premium, tech laden, and well appointed interior as well. While we would have loved to see a transmission that matches the updated driving dynamics, the complete package that the new Baleno offers, helps it maintain its position as one of the top contenders in its segment.

Prices for the new Baleno start at INR 6.49 lacs, with the range topping version we tested going up to INR 9.71 lacs (ex-showroom). For most buyers across the country, it is still the affordable entry & running cost, easy access to service and low cost of spares, that will make them swing in favour of this one. Everything else, is a sweet distraction.

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