A new small car from Maruti is always big news. What makes it even more interesting is that the Indo-Japanese company has a habit of delivering blockbusters every now and then. And that's exactly what the Celerio looks like, a winning proposition, and here's why.
One thing's for sure, it's clearly a Maruti; or should we say a Suzuki. Designed in Japan to appeal to a wide global audience, this clean but safe design is unlikely to polarise opinion. An updated version of the Suzuki grille and the wraparound headlights are clearly attractive, and the tall bumper adds some character as well; but otherwise the design seems quite plain. Still, on the whole, the Celerio’s inoffensive styling should find favour among all types of buyers in the small car segment.
What new owners will also take kindly to is the cabin, which scores really well on roominess. The Celerio is a fairly tall hatchback and Suzuki engineers have used vertical space well to maximise head and legroom. The single-piece front seats offer far more support than their slender frame would have you expect; so clearly progress has been made in making these slim line seats comfy. There's more space at the rear than you'd expect as well, the Celerio feels as roomy in the back as the Brio. The seat is pretty comfortable, with good support for your back. But thigh support is poor and the rear seat base is a tad shorter than we’d have liked. The small, fixed headrests could also be ineffective in preventing whiplash injuries (the type incurred when your neck is snapped back) in the event of a collision. Also, the cabin isn’t very wide, so seating three in the back will prove to be quite a squeeze. It's no Indica Vista, that's for sure.
The design of the dashboard conforms to Maruti’s template and hence is well laid-out and functional. There’s a U-shaped centre console that houses the audio system and air-con controls, while the gear lever comes positioned high up too (ala the Maruti Ritz and Hyundai i10) making it easy to reach. The black plastics on the dashboard top also contrast well with the beige ones used elsewhere in the cabin. But it must be said, overall fit and finish is still not as good as it could have been; we expected a bit more. There is, however, a fair amount of space for small items in the cabin. You get two cupholders up front, a bottleholder each on the rear doors and another recess to hold a bottle behind the handbrake. The glovebox though is not too large. Boot space, at 235-litres, is decent but the high loading lip could be a bother. All but the base LXi variant get a 60:40 split rear seats that folds forward, should the need to carry more luggage arise.
A few driving holidays aside, the Celerio will primarily find use in the hustle and bustle of our cities. So how is it as a city car? Pretty good actually. The Celerio comes with an updated version of the Wagon R’s K10 three-cylinder, 1.0-litre engine. Chief among the changes are the adoption of drive-by-wire, higher compression in the cylinders, redesigned valves and springs (to lower friction) and also the use of a low viscosity engine oil ala Honda. The K10B, as it is called here, also uses higher pressure injectors and features a modified inlet that has granted the engine a wider spread of torque.
Anyone familiar with the standard K10 will immediately notice the big improvement over the old unit - Maruti has really done a good job here. There’s decent power at low engine speeds, the motor is responsive and the engine’s quiet enough till 3000rpm too. Some of the credit for this also goes to the noise absorbing insulation on the firewall between the engine and passenger compartment. Like all of Suzuki’s K-series engines, the K10B likes to be revved, but this considerably increases the noise levels. The engine sounds increasingly thrashy when you approach its 6100rpm rev limiter, most noticeable when you drive it with a heavy right foot. Performance is better than expected. We did a quick test and were surprised; 0-100kph for the manual comes up in 14.9 seconds, which is up there in comparison to cars in its class.
The Celerio also debuts Suzuki’s new five-speed gearbox that is 3.5kg lighter than the one on the Alto K10 and Wagon R. Gearshifts are positive and an improvement over the older gearbox, but the lever still needs some bit of extra effort to slot in. It’s not as light to use as an i10. Also, the three-cylinder engine tends to get into an area of stall at low engine speeds, so you do need to slip the clutch at times and use a bit of throttle when starting out.
For those who want to do away with the bother of modulating the clutch altogether, the big news is that the Celerio will be available with an automatic gearbox, which Maruti calls 'EZ Drive'. While there's no clutch and you select 'D' for drive before you set off, it’s not an automatic gearbox in the traditional sense. It does not use a torque converter but rather relies on an electronic control unit that manages hydraulic actuators to control clutch engagement and gearshifts. What's amazing is that the basic five-speed gearbox is shared with the manual, and that keeps costs low as well. This setup is known to be more efficient than traditional automatics but does lack the torque build-up of a torque-converter auto.
In full automatic mode the Celerio auto performs satisfactorily. In traffic, upshifts are executed in a timely manner and downshifts are pretty acceptable too. You can also shift gears manually in M-mode; you push the lever forward for a downshift and pull back for an upshift, in a BMW-like manner. While this is unconventional, you soon get used to it, and using the gearbox in manual mode is quite nice. The box will even hold on to your choice of gear in manual. This low-cost, high efficiency solution, however, isn't slick in the manner it operates under load. Here, shifts feel slow, the gearbox takes its time, and downshifts also tend to produce a bit of a lurch. Our performance test for the automatic version resulted in a 15.4 second 0-100kph, which isn't bad, all things considered.
More than performance, Maruti wants to market the Celerio automatic for its fuel economy. In fact, its 23.1kpl ARAI-tested figure equals that for the manual Celerio and significantly betters most of its manual-only competition. What helps is the low 800-odd kilogram kerb weight of the car, and the clean manner in which the engine makes power at low and medium engine speeds aids matters too.
Another area where the Celerio may have an edge over its competition is ride quality. The suspension is soft and absorbent enough at slow speeds yet does not make the car feel ‘floaty’ as you encounter mild dips at high speeds. Straight-line stability is good and the Celerio gives you a fair amount of confidence around corners too. The rear of the car does feel soft and soggy as you go faster, but for most buyers, it is the Celerio’s light steering and tight turning circle that will be the highlights.
Coming to equipment, the Celerio will be offered in three variants, each with varying levels of features. Air-conditioning and power steering are standard on the base LXi, while the VXi model gets a rear parcel shelf, power windows, central locking and internally adjustable rear view mirrors. The top-spec ZXi is visually distinguishable by its alloy wheels and body-coloured door handles. In its ZXi avatar, the Celerio also gets an integrated audio player with USB, aux-in and Bluetooth for telephone and audio streaming functions, steering controls for the audio system, electrically adjustable outside rear view mirrors, tilt-adjustable steering, a driver’s side airbag, rear wash/wipe and a rear defogger. Interestingly, ABS and a front passenger airbag are available only as an optional package on the ZXi and have to be purchased separately. Also disappointing to note is that these safety features will not be offered on the automatic version of the Celerio that will only be sold in LXi and VXi variants. Maruti’s logic for this is that a fully-loaded Celerio automatic would work out to be too costly and would find few takers.
That brings us to the price. We expect the Celerio range to start at Rs 3.9 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) for the base manual version and at Rs 4.9 lakh for the automatic. At these prices, the Celerio would go head to head with the Hyundai i10, which sound like a good fight. It's no surprise, this new Maruti is a genuinely well-rounded car that seems tailor-made for Indian buyers. It may not be wildly exciting to look at, but it is smart, easy to drive and efficient. It's also a car that gets the basics right. It's spacious, well put together and backed by Maruti’s fantastic after-sales network. Expect a long waiting list for this one.