Car reviews - Suzuki - Celerio - Hatch
Value for money, lively chassis, real-world fuel economy
Room for improvement
Restrictive driver's knee room, preferred Alto name, some unrefined build quality
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29 Jan 2016
Price and equipment
FOR a majority of drivers, a car does not need multiple turbochargers, a nine-speed transmission, leather this and electric that. What some Australians want is affordable and reliable independence.
So let's cut straight to the chase at $12,990 driveaway the Suzuki Celerio is Australia's cheapest car and no matter which way you look at it, that is one of its strongest selling points.
It is only pipped at the price post by Mitsubishi's Mirage, but the Suzuki's rival is priced at $11,990 plus on-road costs and by the time all the tax and dealer delivery charges are tacked on and the cheques are signed, the Suzuki will be rolling out of the showroom for less cash.
Therefore, everything about the little Suzuki must be viewed in that light. If it does everything that Suzuki says it will do on the wrapper, then it is already an impressive package.
What you do get for a snip under 13 grand is five-door compact hatchback with six-airbags, seating for four, ultra-frugal fuel economy, a decent sized boot with load-through rear seats, Bluetooth, Isofix child-seat anchors and capped-price servicing.
Our test car was even dressed up in an attractive pearlescent white, which was confined to the realm of prestige cars not that long ago.
In terms of luxury and appearance, the Celerio's cabin does not immediately strike you as exactly palatial on first encounter, with its blend of basic materials and colours, and a few surfaces that deflect when prodded.
But we weren't expecting Audi interior quality in a $13K car and if you can look past that, you will find a cabin that makes very good use of the limited volume found in any city runabout.
While legroom in the front seats was limited, particularly for the driver who has limited knee room thanks to a narrow and shallow footwell, the Celerio occupant space scores well in head and shoulder room for all spots.
In addition, its cabin is bright and airy with lots of light flooding through the large windows.
Compact car seating can typically make drivers feel as though they are perched on top of the seat rather than sitting in it, but the Celerio's driver position is better than most, particularly for the taller occupant.
At the back end there is a 254-litre boot which is easily accessible through the high tailgate position which opens without electrical assistance – simple, tried and tested.
Its capacity is above average for the segment but if you need even more, the 60/40 split rear seats fold, freeing up a whopping 1053 litres of space.
Use of space, layout and comfort gets a big tick from us.
Engine and transmission
If you pick up the Celerio brochure we recommend skimming over the tech specs of its three cylinder engine because its naturally aspirated 1.0-litre capacity and 50kW/90Nm output won't get you excited.
Instead you should flick to the bit where it says the manual Celerio weighs just 830kg, because that should get you excited. Not even the tiny Mazda MX-5 sportscar or weeny Mitsubishi Mirage can match that.
Suddenly its bantam engine starts to make sense – especially when you pair it with the standard five-speed manual gearbox and take the tiny Suzuki for a thrash.
With so little mass to drag around, the three-cylinder does surprisingly well and where many manufacturer's interpretation of the three pot has resulted in a reluctant and vibrating power delivery, Suzuki appears to have drawn on its motorcycle experience.
The dinky donk is very happy to wring out to the redline all day, providing good acceleration, a charismatic note and progress that couldn't be further from the tiresome performance we were expecting.
We particularly liked the clutch and accelerator feel which is direct and connected, while many other rivals feel insulated and as if electronics and fly-by-wire technology is insidiously intervening for no reason.
That pleasant and honest mechanical sensation extends to the manual gearbox as well, and we loved flicking through the five speeds to make the most of the charismatic engine.
Ironically the Celerio provides a more purist driving experience than many other infinitely expensive options.
And if that wasn't bonus enough, the bantam weight also promotes frugal fuel consumption seemingly irrespective of our driving style. Suzuki states an average of 4.7 litres per 100km but we managed a still excellent 5.7L/100km.
At least that's what we determined after translating the annoying economy gauge, which displayed in kilometers per litre.
Ride and handling
Out on the open road, the baby Suzuki lets in a fair bit of road noise but no more than you would expect from an affordable hatchback, but we certainly would not sacrifice its tiny kerb weight to stuff more sound insulation into the various panels.
If the wind and asphalt roar is really getting on your nerves we would normally recommend turning up the stereo a notch, but the asthmatic four-speaker system is not great quality.
A better course of action is to find a windy route and distract yourself with the hilarious handling.
The Celerio's combination of minimal weight, revvy engine and manual gearbox have resulted in a completely unexpected driver's car. It is light, nimble and involving or in a word – fun.
No it won't generate 1G in corners and yes the brakes would probably not last after a few laps of Phillip Island, but the beauty of the Celerio's chassis is that it is fun at safe speeds.
A spongy brake pedal took some getting used to and was a little too reminiscent of the fault that delayed its arrival, but stopping was never a concern.
Driving the Celerio feels like you are in full control and at the wheel of a real car, not a dulled-down and numb shoe box that tries to compensate for inexperienced drivers with nagging electronics.
Safety and servicing
That said, if a driver does push the little Suzie too far, all the usual safety accouterments are there to keep things facing the right way up.
There are other models that scored more than the Celerio's four stars in ANCAP safety testing, but it still gets six airbags including the all important curtain type, ABS, electronic stability control, EBD, brake assist and Isofix seat anchors with top-tethers.
Skinny 165/65R14 tyres, rear drum brakes and a tiny naturally aspirated engine might not grab the performance enthusiast, but they are all features that will keep running costs and servicing to about as little as you can find in a new car.
Suzuki's capped-price servicing will help too.
In a time when cars try to do so much, the Celerio is a refreshing departure from models that set out to be everything to everyone.
There is no doubt the little Suzuki is great value without having to sacrifice bare essentials but it goes further than that.
On the one hand its unpretentiousness will appeal to those who just want a car that is easy and low-cost to own, but that objective of simplicity has also made the Celerio enormously likable and fun to live with too.
Mitsubishi Mirage 1.2 ES from $11,990 before on-road costs
Australia's cheapest car on paper offers a good option for those who just need a simple low cost car. It brings cheeky looks, the lowest insurance bracket and an irresistible Mulberry metallic pink paint option, which may account for the 66 per cent female uptake.
Nissan Micra 1.2 ST from $13,490 before on-road costs
Nissan refreshed its micro-car offering in April last year, which brought a long-overdue facelift and extra technology such as Bluetooth, and some flashy extras including LED tail-lights. The update also brought a price reduction for the Ti top-spec Micra.
Holden Barina Spark 1.2 CD from $12,890 before on-road costs
Holden's offering in the compact segment is also comparable on spec, performance and price, but pertinent shoppers will either wait for the all new version which launches soon, or keep an eye out for some likely run-out deals.
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