In defence of my Suzuki Baleno

David Bullard responds to the criticism and calumnies directed against his modest choice of car


Readers of this column will remember that I flogged my 2005 Porsche Boxster S a year ago and, after much careful consideration, bought a Suzuki Baleno for the princely sum of R310 000 instead. This was the cause of much mockery among friends (or ‘so called’ friends) who had either assumed that I had hit hard times of that I had finally realised that the sight of me rolling out of a low slung sports car and trying to stand upright was causing too much mirth among the ‘yummie mummies’ at the local gym.

I should point out at this stage that I wasn’t visiting the gym in question but was using the same parking space it shares with my local Woollies. I should also point out that most of the ‘yummie mummies’ appear to be driving recently registered Porsche Cayennes, Range Rover Evoques, Jaguar F-Paces or very large Volvos (some with GP number plates so one must assume semigrants) so there is clearly no shortage of disposable income in my immediate neighbourhood. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

I make no apology for deserting politics for one week in favour of some car talk because I did notice a large response to my comments about the celestial Bentley Continental GT last week. To be brutally honest, the political shenanigans in this country are becoming very depressing and I thought a topic change would be great for my mental health this week as well as yours.

Car wise, I’ve been very fortunate. I never owned a car when I lived in central London because I never needed to but when I emigrated to South Africa that all changed. My first car, supplied by my employer, was a silver Golf GTi circa 1981 with a body shape barely distinguishable from the current Golf Citi. I had a sliding sunroof installed and managed to attract plenty of speeding fines in my hot hatchback.

Before long though my employers decided that my position in the company was elevated enough that I should pass my hardly driven VW to another member of staff and take delivery of a BMW 520i which probably cost around R25000 at the time. I didn’t fight the decision and the Beemer duly arrived,complete with tan leather upholstery.

A fabulous car with quite enough brag factor for a 29 year old, Since then I have owned a convertible Morris Minor in British racing green, several other new BMW’s, a second hand Daimler 4.2, a 1984 S class Mercedes, three Renaults, two Toyotas, two Mazda MX5’s and a Honda CRV as well as the aforementioned Porsche. All gave me enormous pleasure (particularly the Morris Minor and the Mazda MX5’s) when I owned them but that’s probably because they were all affordable back then.

Back to the Suzuki Baleno then and to the state of modern motoring journalism. My car is almost a year old and the odometer is reading 6 750kms. This means that by the time I take it in for its first service I will have travelled, on average, 620kms a month. Even at the price of a Suzuki Baleno that is pretty ludicrous because it equates to R5 100 per month over a five year period. Surely it would have cost less using an Uber?

Having spent a few years as a motoring journalist I can reveal the poorly kept secret that you are expected to say nice things when a motor manufacturer invites you to the launch of a new model. I didn’t always obey that rule and one manufacturer threatened to pull advertising from the Sunday Times when I wasn’t too complimentary about one of their models. To the great credit of the Sunday Times back then they supported me and said I was entitled to my opinion when reviewing a car. The manufacturer in question wound their neck in and kept advertising but did drop the feature I had been critical of in future models so a victory of sorts.

One thing you have to understand about motoring journos is that they are, generally speaking, not rich. The job involves the loan of lots of swanky cars and the chance to fly all over the place driving the latest models and that is seen by most publishers as sufficient remuneration so the pay is not great, Sensible motoring journos eventually join motor manufacturers as their media liaison officials with a reliable regular salary and the opportunity to travel to exotic locations. But the folks who stay behind as motoring journos are under increasing pressure to pretend that a car that costs more than a million rand is a great buy, despite the fact they could never afford one in a million years.

Take a recent gushing review of the newly released BMW 5 series which I heard on radio recently. The fully electric version sells for R 2 190 000 which strikes me as quite an ambitious sales pitch in a country that has limited electricity and, according to recent expert reports from German engineers, may have no electricity at all post-election. Still, the stationary car will look gorgeous in your garage. The reviewers were ecstatic about the luxury inside the car with lots of leather and a great sound system.

This is a frequent boast when motor journos review a new car but who actually cares? I’ve also got lots of leather upholstery and a very good sound system at home so I don’t need to sit in a R2 190 000 car to experience such sensory extravagances. And certainly not if I’m only travelling on average 20 kms every day of the month.

Then there’s the incredible acceleration on the all-electric model of 0-100km/h in 3.8 seconds. Which is great if you’re on an open road and nobody is ahead of you at the robots but in normal urban driving is largely meaningless. As is the rather modest top speed of 230km/hr which seems pretty pointless in a country with a 120km/hr motorway speed limit.

So your purchase of a fully electric BMW 5 series (as well as many of its similarly priced competitors) makes about as much sense as buying a sawmill to chop logs for the three-month Cape Town winter when an axe would do the job just as well.

Which is precisely why I bought a boring old Suzuki Baleno which comes with a 360 degree camera, goes both forwards and backwards, has great

air-con for summer and a heater for winter and a screen on the central console that talks to my iPhone and gives me access to a sat-nav system, a hands-free phone and plays my iTunes selection. Similar features to a car costing seven times the price in fact. And it uses under 6 litres of petrol every 100kms. But the best thing is that no crooked ANC cadre would be seen dead in a Suzuki so my risk of hijacking is minimal.


While the recent ANC manifesto speech did mention the re-introduction of prescribed assets there was no mention made of the re-introduction of exchange controls. Prescribed assets are nothing new to anybody who was in the financial markets in the 80’s when the Nats were in power. Simply put, they are a way of forcing financial institutions such as pension funds to hold a certain percentage of investment in government and parastatal bonds.

Realistically this might mean lending to a gangster run government that could possibly default on the loan which would have disastrous ramifications. It also means that fund managers are prevented to a large extent from placing funds in other investments which might be a safer bet and offer a better return.

Prescribed assets were first introduced in 1956 and only scrapped in 1989 but I don’t recall anybody suggesting back then that the SA government would default on the redemption date of bonds. Interestingly though, the financial affairs of parastatal Eskom (or Escom as it was then) were regarded as being better managed than those of the Treasury with the result that Escom/Eskom bonds frequently traded at a fifty basis point (half a percent) lower rate than their RSA stock equivalents. Apart from making it cheaper for Escom to borrow on the capital market it also led to some interesting arbitrage opportunities.

Not mentioned in the ANC manifesto though were exchange controls which were alive and well back in the 1980’s along with prescribed assets. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that the ANC will reintroduce exchange controls as the country runs out of money and will order all offshore investments to be repatriated with heavy fines and prison sentences for those who refuse.

Naturally, this rule will not apply to ANC cadres who will still be able to enjoy their Dubai based ill-gotten gains. But that’s communism for you.