Despite a choice of cars parked in his driveway over the festive period (only two!), Iain Robertson decided to resort to Baleno for the annual Christmas traipse to the Welsh Border country and his trip was as cheerily glitch-free as the familial meal.

If you have not driven to friends, or relatives, on Christmas morning, I can confirm that the sheer joy of being able to use the inside and middle lanes of the M42 (of any motorway, to be frank) and to travel at an unmolested 69mph is unbridled. Those few people sharing the roads with me seemed to be enjoying their drives too, which is a complete contrast with the customary ‘competition’ that seems to take place on our main roads’ network during the rest of the year.

Had it been snowing, or heavily frosted, I would have driven the Suzuki Vitara that had been loaned to me for the festive period. Yet, the mild conditions seemed to favour the front-driven Baleno, although it was still damp and chilly enough for me to put the Bridgestone Turanza T005 tyres through their continued ‘winter’ test. Seldom have I been so impressed by a ‘summer’ tyre that just relishes low temperatures in the manner of the Bridgestones.

Once off the motorway, regardless of the tortuous and testing route I use to reach my friends at their west of England retreat, I found myself revelling in the religiously crisp turn-in provided by the tyres, despite carrying quite high speeds through bends. Most summer tyres, even from the premium tyre-makers, would have had me reaching for the Kumho winter set I have stashed in the domestic shed, under normal circumstances, which more than justifies my decision to stick with the Bridgestones this winter.

While I am not a frequent user of the Baleno’s excellent ‘distance-cruise control’, which uses a radar unit positioned behind the ‘S-logo’ in the centre of the radiator grille, in such light motorway traffic conditions, I found it most relaxing to remove feet from pedals and allow the car to do what it does best. Not being under any pressure at all, the car returned an excellent 61.4mpg for the trip and, despite the small 7.7g petrol tank capacity, Baleno was able to make the return drive (from Lincolnshire to Ludlow) very easily without refuelling.

With another year under its belt, I have been able to reflect on what amounts to one of the least expensive motorcars (to live with) of my entire motoring life. Even my previous Skoda Citigo, which I did love a lot, was unable to boast such low operational costs. Suzuki has judged the 1.0-litre Baleno to perfection, in terms of interior space (better than a new Ford Focus), dynamic balance (better than a new Honda Civic) and outright performance (better than a new Vauxhall Astra), while being smaller overall than any of them, which makes it all the sadder that a product line-up rationalisation exercise taking place later this year will remove Baleno from UK sale, with no signs of a replacement.

With only 15 reports left of this long-term test exercise, although it might sound a tad premature, I am already looking at a potential replacement for Baleno. Yet, I am unlikely to change brands, because Suzuki’s fine engineering ensures the total indefatigability that I desire most in a car. I have narrowed-down the choice of models to Vitara and Swift Sport, both powered by the same 140bhp, 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine that I believe to be one of the best-in-breed.

However, Baleno has spoiled me. I also adore its total affordability. Spending £300 a month on projected lease rates for either of the models suggested makes me wonder why I would be prepared to ‘squander’ in excess of £1,300 more annually on a new car. Therefore, while I might change my mind, the final choice is narrowing to a 1.0-litre turbocharged Swift…I shall keep you posted.

More on life with a Suzuki Baleno in a month’s time.

Costs incurred:

£193 month twenty-five finance payment

15,862 miles on odometer

£21.60 in-car tidy

£112.60 door rubbing strips

£206.01 first service charge (£65 hourly labour rate); £196.10 for second service.

£200 for front bumper replacement

(£316 for four x Kumho WP51 Winter tyres, now stored in readiness for a third winter but replaced by a set of Bridgestone Turanza T005s – £288.96 + £33.98 fitting – for the current year)