A year and a half on, you don’t really need an introduction to the Celerio as a car, so we’ll keep it brief. It was added to Maruti’s burgeoning hatchback line-up between the Alto K10 and the Swift, and alongside the practical, popular but rather boxy Wagon R. Its biggest claim to fame though was its interior space and its affordable and frugal AMT autobox, something that’s now catching on with other manufacturers too. However, the Celerio never did quite as well as Maruti perhaps hoped, with the similarly priced Wagon R consistently outselling it.
This new diesel version is sure to bring the Celerio back into the spotlight, and give it a much better shot at the sales charts in our diesel-loving market. Not only is it the most affordable diesel car in India, it also claims to be the most fuel-efficient, with a 27.62kpl ARAI rating. The engine is very significant for Maruti and Suzuki, as it is their first-ever in-house-developed oil-burner. It is the first step in the company’s independence from Fiat (or any other supplier) for its diesel engines. This motor will undoubtedly find its way into other models in the range and will eventually spawn a 1.5-litre, four-cylinder version that will replace the 1.3 Multijet motor in larger Marutis. There’s a lot riding on this car then, so let’s dig a little deeper.
There are absolutely no visual differentiators between this ZDi variant and its petrol equivalent. The styling errs on the conservative side, with only a few flourishes that stand out. The headlights and the part-chrome grille go well together, the 14-inch alloys on this top trim look sporty, and the crease along the doors livens up the sides, but those aside, the overall shape is very ordinary.
The monocoque chassis with MacPherson struts at the front and a non-independent torsion beam setup at the rear is par for the course. What is really impressive is the weight, or lack thereof. Even in this fully loaded ZDi trim, the Celerio diesel weighs just 900kg. But then, it’s also a whole 70kg more than the petrol ZXi, and that’s not only down to the engine, but also to additional bodyshell stiffening and beefier front suspension.
As with the exterior, Maruti has played it very safe with the cabin. The two-tone dashboard uses a rather basic design, and though the instrument cluster is easy to read, it looks very bland. Plastic quality is good, but still not up there with Hyundai. It scores decently on practicality too, and though the front door pockets are slim, the rear ones house bottle holders. There’s another bottle holder between the front seats, a pair of cupholders near the gear lever and a medium-size glovebox. For luggage, you have 235 litres once you get past the tall loading lip, but you can also split-fold the seat for even more room.
Space is a strong point of the Celerio, with good headroom in all seats. Three adults in the back is a bit of a squeeze, but legroom is decent, and you get a good sense of space too. Apart from a slightly short seat squab and the low-set, fixed head restraints, the seats are really comfortable as well. Even the fixed-headrest front seats, though they don’t look the plushest, serve up a good mix of softness and support. The equipment level is acceptable and this ZDi (O) gets features like Bluetooth, driver’s seat height adjustment, steering-mounted controls, electrically adjustable mirrors, ABS and two airbags.
On to what makes this car tick – the brand new diesel engine. You will have read all about this motor (codename: E08A) and how it came to be back, on page 50 of this issue, so we’ll stick to the essentials here. It’s a 793cc, all-aluminium, two-cylinder motor that produces 47bhp at 3,500rpm and 12.7kgm at 2,000rpm. Its primary goal is to be as efficient as possible, while at the same time achieving acceptable levels of refinement, smoothness and driveability. It also has to be light and compact to be effective in Maruti’s small cars, as well as future-proofed for emissions – a tall order when costs have to seriously be kept in check. So what’s the end result?
Turn the key and it wheezes up slowly to a clattery idle, which sounds almost mini-LCV-like from the outside, but settles down as the car warms up. Depress the light, hydraulically actuated clutch and go for first on the high-mounted gear lever, and you’ll notice the shift action is a little firm. It’s a little hesitant to roll off the line, and is a lot smoother if you slip the clutch and feed in some throttle, after which it takes off smartly. It feels a little lazy before the turbo comes in at around 1,800rpm, but get into the solid mid-range between 2,200 and 3,200rpm and the clatter smoothens out. You do, however, hear a persistent whine every time you lift off. Push it to about 3,800rpm and it will pull a little more, but the noise and vibrations return with a vengeance. It will rev to 4,800rpm, but there is just no more power to be had here, and it’s best to move up a gear.
It is a very narrow powerband, but if you can keep it in that sweet spot of 1,800-3,200rpm, you’ll have enough power and decent refinement too. In city driving, you might find it a bit sluggish and jerky at low revs, but that too is something you can get used to; it’s masked somewhat by the short gearing. This car is clearly no performer – something reflected in its 22.66sec 0-100kph time, and in-gear acceleration is not impressive either. When it comes to refinement, a two-cylinder diesel is a recipe for a disaster. Though your first impression is that it’s not as bad as you feared, objectively, you have to admit the NVH levels are just not as good as even a three-cylinder diesel like the one in the Chevy Beat.
Ride comfort is also a Celerio strong point, and that hasn’t changed. You do feel the added stiffness at the front, particularly when you crest a steep speed breaker, but in most conditions, you’ll find a good amount of compliance all round. It also feels quite reassuring at speed, despite its tall, 165-section tyres. The steering is nice and light, but like many modern Marutis, the Ciaz included, it suffers an annoying numbness around the centre position, and a tendency to not return to straight-ahead position freely.
And the stat you’ve all been waiting for; it returned the highest combined fuel efficiency figure we’ve ever tested – 18.8kpl. That’s mainly down to the incredible 16.7kpl figure it achieved in city conditions. The highway figure of 20.9kpl was less impressive, but it’s not surprising, because cruising at high speeds is not this car’s forte. Still, there’s no doubt this is the most fuel-efficient car you can buy today, even in the real world, which is a huge achievement from Maruti.
These days, the imbalance in preference for diesel versus petrol is levelling out, and diesel engines have never worked at the entry-level end of the market because engineering driveability, refinement and economy to a cost has been too much of a challenge. Yet, here comes Maruti developing an all-new, small-capacity diesel engine from scratch for this segment. The company is convinced there are enough ‘die-hard diesel fans’ in India to justify the investment, so was it worth the risk?
The Celerio ZDi’s price comes within a hair’s breadth of the starting price of a Swift diesel, which will make buyers think twice. The bigger concern is that, as with the AMT gearbox in the petrol car, this engine will almost certainly move into more affordable models like the Alto and Wagon R, at which point, interest in the unexciting Celerio could fade once again.
But the reason you’ll want this car is its incredible fuel economy, and the low maintenance Maruti is known for. On that front, the car truly shines, but know that you have to deal with poor refinement and just about acceptable performance. It also lacks the flair of its rivals, but that said, it’s spacious, practical, comfortable and has decent driveability as well. We’re sure the Celerio diesel will be well received; let’s just hope it can hold