2021 Maruti Suzuki Swift AGS v Baleno CVT: Which one should you buy?

With updates to the powertrain, more features and a higher price, the 2021 Maruti-Suzuki Swift is taking the fight to the Baleno
2021 Maruti Suzuki Swift vs Maruti Suzuki Baleno
2021 Maruti Suzuki Swift vs Maruti Suzuki BalenoMaruti Suzuki Swift

The Maruti-Suzuki Swift was the highest-selling car in the pandemic stricken year of 2020 and that’s after the Swift has gone largely unchanged over the past couple of years. Now though, the Swift has been updated and while it may look pretty similar from the outside, it is quite different under the skin. But among the changes is an increase in price. And thanks to that new engine being borrowed from the Baleno and both cars sharing the same platform, the sibling rivalry between the two has never been closer. We’re here to tell you which one you should put your name down for. But first, let’s talk about the changes on the Swift.

2021 Swift Updates

On the outside, the Swift now gets a chrome bar going across the grille, two-tone paint schemes and err.. that’s about it. Once you jump in, you will see a new SmartPlay Studio infotainment system which works rather well and supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and there is also a new, larger colour display between the tacho and speedo dials. Puzzlingly the automatic variant we tested had displays for g-forces and real-time power and torque graphs while the manual variant didn’t.

That aside, the biggest change on the new Swift comes from under the hood. It now gets a 1.2-litre DualJet dual-VVT petrol engine which produces 88bhp and 113Nm of torque. The power figure marks a bump of 7bhp and while the torque is the same, it is said to be spread out more evenly. This also marks the end of the 1.3-litre diesel from the Swift lineup, since Maruti is currently transitioning away from diesels. Those are all the changes on the new Swift, the engine is still mated to either a five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed AMT. But now, let’s get started with the comparison!

2021 Swift v Baleno: Space

When we decided to do some research, we realised that one of the most common questions after you type ‘Swift v Baleno’ on Google, was about space. Now both these cars are based on the Heartect platform and you’d expect them to have identical dimensions, but that isn’t the case. The Swift measures 3845mm in length, has a width of 1735mm, a height of 1530mm and a wheelbase of 2450mm. The Baleno on the other hand is longer and wider at 3995mm and 1745mm, respectively. It even has a 70mm longer wheelbase at 2520mm although it is marginally shorter, at 1510mm.

These differences aren’t just apparent on paper because when you put the two side by side, the Baleno does look larger. And especially the longer wheelbase of the Baleno translates to a lot more space in the second row where knee-room is concerned. While in the Swift’s second row, with the driver seat adjusted to my position, my knees were just about touching the backrest (I’m about 5 feet 10 inches); in the Baleno I did have about an inch or so to spare. In terms of headroom, both cars are very similar though the Baleno’s more swooping roofline robs a few millimetres.

A slight chink in the Swift’s armour is the high windowline which looks cool from the outside but makes the rear passengers feel a bit cozier than they should. Neither of the two get AC vents in the rear which is a bit of a miss, but once the AC is in full-swing, it doesn’t take too long to cool down the cabin of either car. The third-gen Swift has been better in terms of packaging compared to the first- and second-gen ones, so the space is an improvement over those. The Swift’s second row is more than comfortable for kids and average-sized adults, but just adequate for taller passengers.

The Baleno takes the win here with a bit more space in the back in terms of knee-room and shoulder width and it also has a larger boot at 339-litres, versus 268-litres.

2021 Swift v Baleno: Features and Cabin Quality

The new Swift hasn’t had much of a change in terms of layout in the cabin. It is fairly simple with two round AC vents placed high up, under which now lies the new SmartPlay Studio infotainment system and the rotary controls for the HVAC. The steering and the dials are the same too — I love how sporty both of those are — except for the larger LCD display I mentioned earlier. In terms of features, this ZXI+ AGS variant gets Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, dual airbags, keyless entry, reversing camera and this 2021 version also gets cruise control on the top-spec variant.

The Baleno has a funkier layout with the more swooping AC vents around the SmartPlay Studio infotainment screen and flowing onto the lower half of the dashboard where the HVAC controls sort of follow the curve of the dash. It looks rather cool and the buttons feel a bit more upmarket, better damped than the ones in the Swift. The Baleno’s feature list is quite similar to the Swift but it does lose out on cruise control. However, while some of the Swift’s features like the projector headlamps and automatic climate control are reserved for the top two ZXI and ZXI+ variants, on the Baleno these are offered from the Delta variant. I’d call this a fifty-fifty.

2021 Swift v Baleno: Performance!

And now we finally get to the meat of the matter. The driving. Now while both cars share the same 1.2-litre DualJet engine in their manual variants, the AMT variants of the Swift retain that engine while the CVT variants of the Baleno get the basic 1.2-litre engine. And yes, both these cars also get different automatic options.

In terms of driving, the DualJet engine in the Swift has made a significant difference to the experience. There’s more urgency from the engine and the torque in the lower reaches of the rpm range has been improved too. The four-cylinder engine sounds great when revved hard which is a plus because the Swift’s engine makes its peak power at 6000rpm. Acceleration is linear all the way to the top end and the engine is smooth when you let off and let the AMT shift into a higher gear.

Speaking of which, the five-speed AMT in the Swift is a rather good unit. It doesn’t have any significant juddering even while climbing uphill and thanks to a smooth, powerful engine, the box doesn’t need to constantly keep shifting to keep you moving along. When it does shift, it gives you a slight head-toss but it isn’t as bad as some other AMTs out there. The shifts are also fairly smart — kicking down enthusiastically (a bit too enthusiastically at times) and then slotting into a higher gear when cruising. It also has a manual mode where you pull the lever toward you for an upshift and away from you when shifting down (which is how it should be!) and this works fairly well, though I did find myself just leaving it in auto most of the time.

The Baleno on the other hand misses out on around 7bhp thanks to its regular 1.2-litre engine, but do you really notice that? Yes and no. Thanks to the well calibrated CVT, it puts you in the power band once you flex your foot and you don’t really notice a significant difference in terms of outright thrust between the two. However, the Baleno does lack some of the initial pounce that the DualJet seems to have added. Of course, in the manual variants both cars get the same engine so I expect them to be the same there.

The CVT works quite well, though there is that rubber-band effect CVTs are infamous for, it is apparent only when you really step on it. In most other use cases, you don’t notice the transmission in the foreground. There’s also a tiny Sport button on it, but I did feel that it further amplifies the rubber-band effect. The Baleno’s CVT is in its element in the city and while cruising, not so when you’re racing up some twisties. And the twisties is where the Swift shines.

2021 Swift v Baleno: Handling

Thanks to all four of its wheels being pushed out to the edges, the Swift still has the go-kart like feel about and this third-gen car, though softer, still handles rather well. It isn’t as planted as something like a Volkswagen Polo, but you can carry some rather good speeds — even with the rather narrow 185 section tyres. Around town, placing the Swift into tight gaps is like a cakewalk and visibility is fairly good, except for the thick C-pillar which creates a bit of a blindspot. The driving position is good, but unlike the Baleno, the Swift doesn’t get telescopic adjustment for the steering rack.

The Baleno on the other hand feels a bit more substantial around bends and though they both weigh close to 900kg, the dynamics aren’t exactly the same. The Baleno is a bit more laid back and while the 195 section tyres mean there is just a bit more grip, there is also some more body roll here. In the city, the Baleno feels instantly bigger, marginally but even so, you do get the sense that this is a more substantial car. The differences between the two are very small, fraction between them. But if I had to pick, in terms of just pure fun, the Swift inches above the Baleno.

2021 Swift v Baleno: Verdict

Both these hatchbacks are really good value for money. But the differences continue even when it comes to buying them because for the Swift you need to go to a Maruti Suzuki Arena dealership, while the Baleno is a Nexa offering. There are relatively fewer Nexa dealerships, but the experience there is more premium. The most important factor however, is price. The Baleno starts at Rs 5.9 lakh and this automatic Zeta variant costs Rs 8.38 lakh. The Swift is more accessible at a starting price of Rs 5.73 lakh and this ZXI+ AMT variant costs Rs 8.41 lakh if you opt for the new dual-tone colour scheme. Spec for spec, the price differences between the two are around Rs 20,000 for the manual variants but the Baleno’s automatic variants carry a price premium of around Rs 70,000 over the Swift's, since the former has a (more costly) CVT. But for that difference, you do get a lot more space, similar features and a better transmission for five days of the week. If it’s driving pleasure you’re after and you don’t have people to ferry, save some money and buy a manual Swift.

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