The all-new 2015 Suzuki Celerio is one of the most affordable cars on the market – though its availability has been delayed at the time of writing.
A high-profile brake issue has meant sales of the Celerio have stalled before they could really start – but when it does eventually go on sale, it will start from just $12,990 driveaway for the manual version and $13,990 driveaway for the automatic: clearly this is a car designed with misers in mind.
If you’ve never heard of a Celerio, the car’s predecessor – the Alto – may have a more familiar ring to it. If that still fails to register, this is the cheapest hatchback the Japanese brand sells.
The Indian-built Alto was renowned for its cut-price positioning (at times dipping to $11,490 driveaway for the manual model) and frugality, regularly claiming the title of the most affordable car to own and run in state motoring authority testing.
Suzuki Australia claims the new Thai-made Celerio will “maintain that lead”, with low service pricing (expected to average $217 per six months or 10,000km), a low buy-in price point and a fuel-efficient petrol engine likely to help in that regard. On top of that, buyers who service their car at Suzuki are expected to be eligible for a new five-year/140,000-kilometre warranty.
It seems apparent that Suzuki has decided to offer metal more for your money with the new Celerio. The new model is notably larger than the Alto it replaces, measuring 3.6 metres long (up 0.1m), 1.6m wide (identical to the existing model) and 1.54m tall (up 0.7m). The wheelbase is also longer, spanning 2.42m (up from 2.36m).
The increased dimensions are notable inside the cabin, with the new model offering considerably better headroom for those up front and in the rear, while legroom is also vastly improved courtesy of the wheelbase stretch.
The extra room and decent packaging has also seen the brand manage to improve its cargo capacity, with the new Celerio offering 254 litres of boot space – up a huge 130 per cent compared to the Alto, which had just 110L. Suzuki claims the boot space is "best in class" when compared with its nearest rivals the Mitsubishi Mirage (235L) and Holden Barina Spark (170L). There’s a space-saver spare under the floor, too.
In-cabin storage is also greatly improved. There are larger door pockets for those in the rear, while the front retains slim map-style caddies, but there are new cup-holders between the front seats and a third (bottle) holster that is accessible to those in the rear seats.
The new media system with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming makes for a step up over the Alto, which had neither of those connectivity options as standard.
The stereo system is no Harman Kardon unit, but it has four speakers and a USB input, and the Bluetooth is quick and simple to connect. However, there are no stereo controls on the steering wheel (only Bluetooth phone buttons) and the wheel doesn’t adjust for reach (rake only). Cruise control isn't available on any model.
The interior finishes are of a much higher quality than the Alto, too. The spotty seat and door trim received compliments from a number of people who sat in the car.
The quality of the fit and finish dips away a little when you look closer, though, with the rear carpet of our test car fitted quite loosely, and the engine bay remains coated in primer with untidy blue overspray left for all to see.
While the Suzuki Celerio has the space to accommodate five adults, it retains the four-seat layout (with two rear ISOFIX child-seat anchor points) of the Alto. In some markets the car is sold with a lap centre belt, and thankfully that wasn’t considered for our market.
The Celerio retains its comprehensive airbag count, with dual front, front side and full-length curtain protection (six airbags total), but the company has not yet confirmed an ANCAP crash test rating (the Alto had a four-star score and the Celerio is expected to carryover that score; its main rival, the Mirage, scored five stars).
Powering the Celerio is the same 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine that was seen in the Alto, with outputs of 50kW (at 6000rpm) and 90Nm (at 3500rpm).
A newly fitted continuously variable transmission (CVT) – replacing the Alto’s conventional four-speeder – sees fuel consumption drop from 5.2 litres per 100 kilometres to just 4.8L/100km. The manual version previously sipped 4.5L/100km but now slurps a little more, with claimed use quoted at 4.7L/100km.
Despite the upsize, the Celerio’s weight has come down in comparison with the Alto. That model weighed in at 895 kilograms in manual guise and 920kg with the four-speed auto, while the new version is 830kg with the five-speed manual and 860kg with the CVT.
The difference is noticeable on the road, with the Celerio feeling peppier – particularly upon throttle application from a standstill. The little Suzuki hatch can lunge from the line at times, while in other instances the gearbox could struggle to keep up with the engine, leading to some lurching under acceleration.
That sort of thing is not uncommon for small-output engines teamed to CVT gearboxes, and we’ve experienced similar chugginess in the Mitsubishi Mirage. Suffice to say the new gearbox is a lot more user-friendly than the old four-speeder, keeping the engine revving (sometimes very hard) and keeping momentum rolling where the existing model would have started to feel sluggish and lose some pace.
On the highway the Celerio rolls along at about 3000rpm at freeway speeds, though judging just how fast you’re going is a bit difficult – the speedometer on our test car was reading about 8km/h over, based on a GPS speed reader (and the fact the surrounding traffic seemed to be doing well over 120km/h, based on the speedo in the Celerio).
However, with inner-city buyers the main target, many Celerios won’t see that much out-of-town driving. So it’s lucky the Celerio is a decent little thing to zip about in, with – surprisingly – enough punt to ensure you can dodge and dart if you need to.
The steering helps in that regard. It is quick on-centre, meaning only small movements are required to change lanes, and the size of the car – along with exceptional outward vision from the driver’s seat – means it is simple to pivot in to and out of parking spaces. As with all the other budget offerings in this segment, there are no parking aids as standard, but you can option rear sensors.
Ride comfort is good, with the Celerio’s suspension (segment-typical) MacPherson front, torsion beam rear) offering decent compliance. The front end settles quickly after hitting bumps such as speed humps or potholes at low speeds, while the rear is a little more exaggerated. It is well controlled at higher speeds, too, and while it can’t match the now-defunct Volkswagen Up! for cornering control, it feels solid on the road.
On the aforementioned brake issue, we tested the stopping power – discs up front, drums at the back – and on several occasions we found the response to be adequate, if not exemplary. Still, the fix will undoubtedly be worth the wait for complete peace of mind.
Our biggest complaint about the drive experience is the noise.
There’s a lot of tyre roar, with the rubber drumming on rough road surfaces, while at highway speed on coarse-chip the amount of noise intrusion verges on uncomfortable. There’s no sound deadening in the wheel arches (which also have the dreaded overspray) but thankfully the amount of engine noise intrusion is less than in the Alto. That said, the CVT does mean the rumbly little three-cylinder can drone.
The new Suzuki Celerio is a big improvement over the existing Alto. It offers good space and practicality for the price, and is markedly more polished in terms of its interior finishes and its on-road refinement.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Christian Barbeitos.