SUZUKI is attempting to crack the Micro segment with a new-generation sub-B hatch called Celerio. Dreary design and daft badge aside, the five-door runabout represents a real leap forward from the patchy Alto it replaces, and is cheap to boot.
WHAT IS IT?
Built in Thailand, the four-seater Celerio replaces two models – the Indian-made Alto as well as the Euro-focussed Splash that never made it to Australia. Built on an all-new platform, it officially sits in the sub-B segment known as Micro in this country.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
After the heartbreaking failure of the Volkswagen Up and frosty buyer reception suffered by the Fiat Panda, we almost gave up on ever seeing a punchy and perky city car that doesn’t feel like it’s been engineered down to the lowest possible price actually succeed in Australia. Enter the Celerio, a cheapie in price only.
Holden Barina Spark, Nissan Micra, Mitsubishi Mirage, Fiat 500, Fiat Panda
THE WHEELS VERDICT
No provisos are required for the Celerio, despite being the cheapest new auto available. It accelerates strongly, cruises quietly, stops well (finally), sips fuel, steers sweetly, rides comfortably, seats four sufficiently, parks easily, packs stuff in easily and fits into tiny spaces. That the spirited Suzi also slips in less than $14K driveaway is even more remarkable. Yes, foibles abound – biggest of all being a slight hesitation at take-off – but the Celerio’s can-do nature underlines the Japanese company’s decades of experience building capable city runabouts. It ought to be called Cheerio.
PLUS: Value, performance, handling, refinement, practicality, manoeuvrability
MINUS: Dowdy design, CVT hesitation at take-off, 4-star ANCAP rating
THE WHEELS REVIEW
The $13,990 Suzuki Celerio – short for Celestial Rio (Spanish for river) – is one of this year’s surprise packages. Can sub-zero expectations play tricks? Do we have a death wish? Or has the bad boy of the baby car brigade seduced us, like Grease’s Danny to our wide-eyed Sandy?
The thing is, Suzuki’s beauty school dropout was developed in Japan (and not India like the Alto it usurps), by an engineering team who actually gives a damn.
Take the Celerio’s styling (please!). Short overhangs, a glassy turret and an Austin Metro-esque boxy shape gel in an out-‘n’-proud function-over-form (anti) fashion statement, brilliantly fitting the city-car brief. That’s in start contrast to the Alto’s tiny windows and fat pillars.
Anyway, the aesthetics literally improve out of sight once you’re sat in the not-nasty cabin.
The Celerio sprung from a four-year Japanese development program benchmarking sub-B city car superstars like the Volkswagen Up, Fiat Panda and Hyundai i10. Cars you’d actually buy back then. Consequently, the cabin benefits from a user-friendly interface. Light floods in on a pretty Swift-esque dash defined by crisp dials, child’s play audio and climate controls, and fiercely effective ventilation.
Suzuki says this is the roomiest sub-B class combatant available anywhere, the upshot of ‘inside-out’ engineering and a wheelbase just 5mm short of Swift’s. So four adults can sit in spacious surrounds, with Conehead-pleasing headroom and sufficient legroom out back, while the 254-litre boot borders on bigness, supported by split/folding backrests that up the Celerio’s practicality ante.
Classy detailing abounds, like metal console and air-vent embellishments, Lena Dunham-esque polka-dot seat and door patterns, and un-tinny sounding doors. The only serious blot is front seat headrests that foul bouffant hairstyles. Road-test editor Ponchard also complained about an overly reclined rear backrest. That’s like whinging about too much sleep.
Awake and alert performance is another Celerio highpoint. Addressing one of our biggest Alto issues, the related 50kW/90Nm 1.0-litre three-pot atmo engine actually idles smoothly, though the lumpiness remains as power is applied. Note, though, that as you do so, a slight shudder accompanied by a momentary delay follows before smoothing out again. Pushing the Sport button that locks out the top ratio helps, but the hiccup can be irksome if you’re in a hurry.
The pleasingly smooth CVT will have the powerplant plateau-ing near the red line, but it is remarkably linear, always lively, and not too droney, with an extra burst of oomph in the upper reaches of the rev range adding to this unit’s can-do appeal.
That’s worth keeping in mind, for a flat and stable roadholding attitude means the Celerio can be driven flat-out through corners like one of the better city cars, backed up by enjoyably sharp steering that allows for precise handling. Note, however, that spoilsport stability/traction nannies do jut in frequently.
Conversely, that same helm astounds with ultra-tight manoeuvrability. And the suspension soaks up city bumps like a much bigger car’s. The catch? Some body roll, but then the Suzuki kind of rolls with the punches anyway. Plus, the disc/drum brakes never failed us at all, unlike the UK tests that forced delayed the car here.
Celerio CVT’s $13,990-driveaway pricing includes auto transmission, height-adjustable (powered) steering column, air-con, six airbags, stability control, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB connector, remote central locking and a proper glovebox make it feel far from a pauper’s special edition. Another $1K less buys the five-speed manual.
So Suzuki’s latest sub-B troublemaker easily outstrips expectations. The design won’t make a splash and five-star safety should be a given, but the Celerio’s perky performance, happy handling, relative refinement and sizeable spec deserves to make waves… once people see past all the notoriety.
Model: Suzuki Celerio CVT
Engine: 998cc 3cyl, dohc, 12v
Max power: 50kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 90Nm @ 3500rpm
Transmission: CVT automatic
Fuel economy: 4.8L/100km
Price: $13,990 driveaway
On sale: Now