Talk about hiding your light under a bushel. In the year since Suzuki ‘launched’ the all-new Celerio (if doing nothing more than issuing a press release on a news media website qualifies as such), we’ve found ourselves constantly justifying our approval for this $12,990-driveaway runabout.
Replacing the Alto, which was built by Maruti of India, the LF-series four-seat five-door baby that comes to us from Thailand may seem like a retrograde step styling-wise, trading its predecessor’s chic design for something that looks somewhat like Chicken Little on wheels. But along the way Australia’s cheapest new car gains a whole lot more beauty elsewhere, thanks to far better packaging, functionality, quality, refinement, safety and – not least – driveability.
Even a brief spin reveals just how far Suzuki’s base hatch has come.
The Celerio – the name combines ‘celestial’ and ‘river’ in Spanish, but we know not why – is 3.6m long by 1.6m wide and an unusually high 1.5m tall, while the 2425mm wheelbase is just 5mm short of the current Suzuki Swift’s. It therefore transcends its class with more than enough space for four adults and a very reasonable 254-litre cargo capacity.
As well as being relatively spacious, the Celerio’s pleasingly presented and finished cabin also offers clear instruments and controls, heaps of storage and even a couple of unexpected items such as Bluetooth audio streaming with track info and steering wheel-mounted phone buttons.
Its vital statistics also include six airbags, stability control, air-con, remote central locking, power windows, height-only steering column adjustment and space-saver spare.
More vitally, a commanding seating position and deep windows make manoeuvring in tight spots simple, the steering is light when parking but firms up reassuringly at higher speeds, and as zesty as the spirited 50kW/90Nm 998cc three-pot is, the chassis feels planted enough to cry out for more power, yet still delivers an outstandingly supple ride.
Obviously, there has been some clever suspension tuning going on. Over its four-year gestation, Suzuki says benchmarks have included the Volkswagen Up, Fiat Panda and Hyundai i10. All are at the pointy end of the sub-B segment in Europe, though none are currently available in Oz, sadly.
So it’s hardly a shock that, considering its price point, the Celerio went on to surprise the hardened judges at COTY, becoming one of the more charming contenders despite its humble station in life. People just assume this is a shitbox until they slip behind the wheel. Just watching their faces light up when they do is rather satisfying.
Indeed, it was during the recent Wheels Car of the Year examination that sub-B fan-boy and Wheels road-test editor Nathan Ponchard agreed to put the Suzuki under the long-termer microscope. We decided to find out if our admiration is a case of just an ordinary car far exceeding initial expectations, or is there still enough substance to see us through living with it for a few months?
We chose the manual because, despite the (completely adequate) CVT version costing just $1000 more, the five-speeder keeps the price at rock-bottom level.
That’s also why we dismissed the $475 metallic paint option, though the Cerulean Blue and Sunshine Yellow really do liven up the palette nicely.
The only option we did ask for – cruise control – is not even available. Nor, for that matter, is Autonomous Emergency Braking. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the Celerio scores only a four-star ANCAP rating, though that’s partly due to poor pedestrian pelvis protection on impact.
The car’s arrival is a timely one because Kia will attempt to shake up the so-called Micro class with the European-engineered Picanto from about April, while a Holden insider has admitted that the Celerio was one of the yardsticks employed for the MP-series Holden Spark that will soon replace the lamentable Barina Spark. A baby battle royale looms…
This article was first published in Wheels March 2016.