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garethj

2001 Suzuki Baleno GSR £550

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This car is difficult to pigeonhole.  It's incredibly rare - fewer than 600 were made for the UK and now there are only around 70 left, however it's value is less than other comparatively common cars.

It's a hot hatchback, made at a time when many manufacturers weren't bothering.  It's got a fairly simple, large capacity engine instead of a little screamer.  Having said that, its 1.8 also used in the Mazda MX5 has plenty of character and with 119bhp it has enough poke.

Perhaps the final contradiction is that it's got all the stuff you'd expect on a hot hatch: rear spoiler, Speedline alloy wheels, driving lights under the front bumper, figure hugging seats and even white dials.  Yet you could look at the front and have forgotten it by the time you've walked to the back.

Part of the problem is that Suzuki isn't really known as a manufacturer of speedy little cars and the rest of the Baleno range hadn't made an impression either.  All that was what Suzuki UK's marketing team had to battle against 18 years ago, but now?

There haven't been any road tests done so I'll give you a taste of the car today.  It's an old car so it doesn't have aircon, traction control or anything sophisticated or computer controlled.  It has ABS, fuel injection and two airbags which explains why it weighs 995kg, only 30kg more than a Saxo VTR.  The power steering is a nice weight, the clutch and gearchange are typical small Japanese car and the 1.8 litre engine pulls smoothly.

0-60 takes 8.8 seconds and maximum speed is about 120mph.  In terms of handling it's not smooth and cultivated like a 205 GTi, it's not mature like a Golf GTi.  It's more like an XR2 because Suzuki got the grip by mostly limiting the suspension travel and fitting wide tyres, this car is on 4 matching Toyos which has a great looking tread pattern and gradual breakaway.

It's got 5 seats, 5 seatbelts, the most welcoming looking sports seats in the front that even accommodate the slightly portly gentleman.  Brakes are discs on all 4 wheels and because it doesn't weigh much, the car stops quite nicely.  Electric mirrors on both sides (remember when that was a treat?) completes the luxury spec.

Final part - this particular car.  It has 12 months MoT, some very small bits of rust on each rear wheelarch and the passengers electric window doesn't work.  The fuel gauge works when it wants to, not when you need it to so I generally fill up after 300 miles.  The tank holds about 11 gallons so that's enough in reserve.

The paintwork is a bit dull in places, the lacquer on old silver paint never holds up well but the passenger door is the worst.  The engine bay still has whatever horrible gunge they used to protect the paint when it was new, it looks revolting but there's no rust there.  It's just gone past 90,000 miles and has been used as a car for daily commuting and the occasional longer trip since I bought it with 54,000.

It really does let you drive it like you're 18 again but it's also very easy to trickle along at low revs, the light controls make it feel like any little Japanese hatchback.  It doesn't leak water in, doesn't use any water or oil between changes and all the warning lights come on and go out properly.  Let's be honest, there aren't many.

Car is located in Bedfordshire, junction 12 or 13 of the M1.

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