Seventeen weeks, seven thousand clicks, and across three states in record Aussie summer heat… Is that any way to treat an 830kg four-seat urban runabout?
We did so anyway, and it’s with a heavy heart we bid bye-bye to our $13K-driveaway Suzuki Celerio. For few cars this cheap would still feel cheerful after so much time.
From the post-COTY judging curiosity that sparked us to include the Thai-built sub-B supermini in Garage, through the holiday season, then into the first few months of the year, 1FU-3RE never erred. Unlike the pretty but flawed Suzuki Alto, few corners have been cut to keep the price low.
The Celerio certainly works well in its intended environment. For starters, thanks to some very utilitarian boxiness combined with a substantial 1.5m-high roof, entry and egress is easy.
Once inside, deep side windows, thin pillars and lofty seats help lift the ambience, aided by some unexpected attention to detail. For example, there’s the dotty upholstery, metallic brightwork, elementary Bluetooth set-up with decent audio streaming and wheel-mounted phone buttons, and very ’80s Alfa-style eyeball air-vents.
Speaking of ventilation, it is ample, though all that glass does tax the air-con on sweltering days. And a suitable driving position is not difficult to find despite no telescopic steering adjustability, the seats are comfy (they only look flat), the classy if basic instruments are the very definition of clarity, and there’s storage galore.
Importantly, thoughtful packaging equals ample space for four adults, while the sizeable (2425mm) wheelbase also results in a better-than-average 254-litre boot. In fact, the Celerio’s size makes it feel like a car from the class above.
It drives like one, too.
Lusty yet still quite subdued, the 50kW/90Nm atmo triple is quick off the mark, and an intelligently geared five-speed manual transmission makes the most of the 998cc engine’s limited power. The fact it pulls so energetically through the ratios – even when laden for a long highway drive – is testimony to the Japanese brand’s expertise at building such strong and seemingly unburstable engines.
Our Celerio also proved frugal, with the long-term average of 5.6L/100km taking in heavy inner-urban commuting as well as open-road touring. And remember, the air-con was blasting constantly and often there were two people on board.
But the biggest shock came with the Suzuki’s dynamic consistency. While not pin-sharp, the steering feels pleasingly weighted and well connected; the handling is predictable and linear, and it will hang on gamely when pushed despite a tendency to understeer; and the ride is astonishingly absorbent, smoothing out surfaces that agitate most rivals.
Down points? The flimsy cardboard cargo cover tore, so that’s rubbish. The front headrests push too far forward (facing them backwards is the solution). And highway driving in the rain revealed the lack of sound-deadening in the rear underside.
We’d also like to see AEB (even as an option), along with cruise control, but otherwise it lacked nothing significant.
In addition to the mandatory stability control and anti-lock brakes, that sub-$13K driveaway price includes six airbags, air-con, remote central locking, power windows, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a height-adjustable-only steering column, space-saver spare and a three-year/100,000km warranty. There are no glaring spec shortfalls.
This neatly sums up the littlest Suzuki after a little more than four months. It may look dowdy to the point of dumpy (especially post-Alto), but the function that trumps that slightly forlorn-looking form is formidable as well as friendly. And the styling definitely improves with exposure.
Even outside its urban comfort zone, the Celerio is a classic case of being more than the sum of its parts.
GET IT INDIA
In emerging markets like India where the roads and environment are challenging, the Celerio is often the sole family car, which necessitates more rear-seat space, greater ground clearance and a beefy torsion-beam rear suspension. Translated to Aussie conditions, these might help explain why the Suzuki takes to our open-road blacktop with surprising ease; this month we tallied 2700km of effortless mostly highway driving in 1FU-3RE without fuss, though we did miss cruise control.
CELERIO VS USED
At the bottom end of the market, a new-car warranty could be the only thing separating the Suzuki from, say, a perfectly functional 2013 Toyota Yaris YR with 60,000km on the odo for similar money. Despite the second-hand alternatives often being slightly larger, with the practicality of five rather than four seats and a more powerful engine, in important ways such as space utilisation, running costs, ride comfort and that intangible joie de vivre, the Celerio puts forward a compelling case.