IAIN ROBERTSON 

Almost a year into the Baleno programme and Iain Robertson feels as if he is getting a handle on the car, which probably sounds ironic, when you appreciate the additional miles run-up on its odometer recently, few of which were his.

With the arrival of some old and very dear friends from New Zealand, I made them a promise that I would be able to keep them mobile for the three weeks they would be in the northern hemisphere. The first consideration was to obtain coverage for them on a car…and that car would be my Baleno.

Under normal circumstances, I would never let anybody else drive my car but, as Hugh Noblett used to be my personal driving instructor and, despite his 75 years, he retains every single one of his marbles, allied to the fact that his wife, Susie, was trained by him painstakingly, permission was granted. It was confirmed by the excellent insurer I use, Allianz, which charged me a mere and unproblematic £10.74 extra to place their names on my fully comprehensive insurance policy…now that is what I call value and great service.

My first duty was to collect S&H from Heathrow’s T2. I parked in the ‘Meet & Greet’ area (£12) and bang on time they emerged from Customs into the Arrivals Hall…with a trolley piled high with luggage. Needless to say, they were concerned that my ‘little’ Baleno might struggle, not just with the need for luggage space but also that its tiny 1.0-litre engine would be stressed excessively. They needed to harbour no concerns. Baleno swallowed four huge wheeled suitcases and two ‘carry-on’ bags easily, plus incidental items, with the 40% section of back seat folded. Without adjusting the positions of the front seats, there was plenty of legroom in the back for Hugh and I could still see through the rear-view mirror.

As far as available power was concerned, Hugh was first to comment, as we zipped through the airport access tunnel and onto the M25, where the car settled into a happy 75-80mph indicated cruise around to the Colney slip-road. Apart from a total and unexplained closure of the A1 northbound around 40 miles south of Peterborough, which demanded a cross-country detour and one of the more detailed applications of the car’s sat-nav system, we managed the trip back to Lincolnshire in around 2.5 hours. Baleno performed faultlessly.

Apart from some footling about locally over the next few days, with S&H heading to Burgundy (France) for a family wedding, Baleno was about to endure its first test away from my control. Was I concerned? Well, yes and no, but Hugh’s distressed telephone call to inform me that the TPMS (Tyre Pressure Monitoring System) was playing up and showing that the nearside rear tyre was 1.0lbs ft lower than it ought to be, caused the only real upset.

Having already discovered the sensitivity of the system earlier this year and knowing that it knocks out the usage of the other on-board computer functions (stupid really!), Hugh’s innocent air topping-up gesture, as I knew only too well, was not going to remedy the situation. I begged him to tolerate the flashing warning and annoying screen information. In the meantime, I contacted my dealer (Cropleys of Frithbank) to book in the car once it returned home.

Hugh’s appraisal of the Baleno (otherwise) was superb. He loved its combination of zestiness, excellent handling and refinement, all of which appeal to a chap, who usually drives a Caterham 7. Susie was amazed at the punchiness and frugality of its teensy 1.0-litre petrol engine.

The dealership’s service department ‘fixed’ the TPMS in ten minutes, although I know that it is an issue that will not go away. While S&H were traipsing around Oxfordshire and France, my order for the in-car tidy (£21.60 inc. VAT) had arrived by post. Upon their return, I fitted it, along with its pair of Velcro-located dividers, each of which has a practical net for containing 20p pieces (for bridge tolls) and £1 coins (for shopping trolleys). A couple of pen-holders and space for in-car cables and my usual pack of Polos has not just made everything more accessible but removed the annoying rattle of coinage, while also providing a more secure place for my iPod.

Conscious of the Baleno’s unprotected flanks from car park incurred dents, I have also ordered a set of bespoke side rubbing strips, which will help to keep the car in pristine nick for the next two-and-a-half years. S&H obtained a most satisfying 58mpg during their ‘tour’, despite ‘not hanging about’, which allows a most useful 430-miles range between fill-ups of the 7.5g fuel tank.

You may recall that, upon using the driver’s sun-visor a few weeks ago, its retainer pulled free of the header-rail. While I was disappointed by this, Cropleys simply ‘re-spragged’ and reinserted it. I think it is always best to leave the dealership with such responsibilities, as my hamfistedness would surely have resulted in a broken clip. Both TPMS and clip were remedied at zero charge.

An eventful month for Suzuki but one that has proven most telling, as the car’s mechanical integrity remains on a peak and I have returned over 63.5mpg on a recent trip, during which the climate control was also on full chill. Although I remain eminently happy with Baleno, I must admit that I have already started counting down the months and days to replacing it with a new Swift (oops!).

Costs incurred:

£193 month ten finance payment

5,092 miles on odometer (£92.75 spent on Shell 5-star petrol to fill tank in August)

£21.60 in-car tidy

(£316 for four x Kumho WP51 Winter tyres, now removed until November)

(£200 for incident damage repair, front bumper, yet to be effected).

 

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).