The Suzuki Cultus Crescent is a compact car that was produced by Suzuki in Japan between 1995 and 2002, with South Asian production continuing until 2007. The Cultus Crescent was sold as such in Japan until May 1998, when it was renamed Suzuki Cultus due to the sales discontinuation of the previous Cultus in the Japanese market. The Cultus Crescent was also marketed as the Suzuki Esteem in North America, and as the Suzuki Baleno (Japanese: スズキ・バレーノ, Suzuki Baleno) throughout Asia, Australasia, Europe, South America, and Puerto Rico. In India where it was manufactured by Maruti Suzuki, the Cultus Crescent was sold as the Maruti Baleno. In the Philippines, it was marketed as the Chevrolet Cassia.
The Cultus Crescent was introduced in Japan in January 1995 and then to the global market in the first half of 1995. It was Suzuki's first attempt in the competitive compact segment. As a North American replacement for the Suzuki Cultus (Swift) sedan (the three-door hatchback remained after it was redesigned in 1995), it was built on a slightly stretched Cultus platform for improved cabin room, but otherwise sharing most of internal components with the smaller model—and marketed as a distinct model.
The Cultus Crescent was initially available as a three-door hatchback and four-door sedan, with the SOHC 16-valve G-family engine, in 1.3- and 1.5-liter form, with power ranging from 85 to 97 PS (63 to 71 kW). The 1.3-liter was only offered in the hatch while a 1.6-liter with 99 PS (73 kW) was only fitted to the sedan. Eventually, 4WD was offered with the 1.6-liter variant, basically the same engine as found in the Suzuki Escudo, with power raised to 115 PS (85 kW). A sports variant, dubbed GT, used Mazda's 1,840 cc BP engine, with 135 PS (99 kW). It was introduced in the spring of 1996, at the same time that the lineup was extended with the Baleno/Esteem Wagon (Maruti Baleno Altura in India). This was Suzuki's first station wagon (excluding kei cars), also with the same 1.6-liter, which also received the optional four-wheel drive in the wagon.
Suzuki Baleno interior (Pakistan)
Suzuki restyled the Cultus Crescent and renamed it Cultus (for the Japanese market only) in mid-1998. In North America, the changeover took place with the 1999 model year. The car was given a new front end, with a rounder grille and new headlights, and the engine lineup was expanded to include Suzuki's J18A chain-driven DOHC engine that was fitted to the sedan and wagon. In North America, the Esteem 1.8-liter wagon completely replaced the Esteem 1.6, but in most markets the 1.8 sedan became the sports model. In some European markets, the 1.8-liter was installed in the hatchback and sold as the limited edition Baleno GSR. The Suzuki 1.8 had exactly the same displacement as the earlier Mazda BP engine, but was less powerful with only 121 PS (89 kW; 119 hp) in European specifications. Europe also gained a diesel version, with a 75 PS (55 kW; 74 hp) XUD9 engine supplied by Peugeot.
The Cultus was replaced in most markets by the new Aerio/Liana, which was launched in 2001. In Japan, the sedan was discontinued in November 2001, although the wagon remained until August 2002. The entire range was pulled from the market in Europe and North America in 2002, after one year of overlapping with the Aerio/Liana. The car remained available in many developing countries, including India and Southeast Asia, where it was sold until 2007, when production stopped at the Maruti factory, with the assembly line giving way to the SX4 sedan.