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An acknowledged fan of smart compact cars, Iain Robertson puts the latest version of Suzuki’s first-rate tiddler to the test and discovers that it is automatically better than any of its potential rivals.

 

Intelligence can boast of single-minded gravity. Applied appositely, its effects can be far-reaching. While its attachment to human endeavour offers broader implications, it is the all-encompassing and often enhancing properties that it conveys, which warrant its status and raise mundane to fresh levels of achievement. If you are wondering where this spectacularly tenuous diatribe is headed, just look in one direction, the latest Suzuki Celerio.

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Okay. You can stop scratching your scalp. Celerio is the questionably smart new city car that has a tough job to expedite, within Suzuki’s UK line-up of models. Introduced earlier this year, its first task was to replace not just the long-standing Alto but also the moderately attractive and slightly larger Splash models, in a two-for-one deal that could have been described as ‘suicidal’. After all, Suzuki may possess a worldwide brand recognition that is someway above its fairly humble standing but, in our market, its strength lies in its motorbikes, quads and marine engines; cars remain a decently stable but still modest annual turnover for the firm.DSC_2096_edited

 

Unlike the premium branded motorcars that have been pumped into our car parc, as though they were the automotive equivalent of sliced bread, Suzuki took a heartfelt decision to refine its model availability in the UK by dropping Splash but introducing a slice of visual trickery at the same time. While the Celerio’s bloodline lies clearly with the popular Alto, thanks to its distinctive boxiness, it is only by parking one alongside the other that you can perceive the ‘Tardis-like’ nature of the newcomer. In driving a Celerio, the good Doctor Who would perceive tremendous familiarity.DSC_2097_edited

 

Clearly a sub-compact, the Celerio is anything but Japanese ‘Kei-class’, even though its visual slight-of-hand might suggest it. I stand six feet and six inches tall in my socks but I can still slip behind the steering wheel of this five-door car with consummate ease and, from the driver’s seat, I have not only got plenty of headroom but also hip and legroom too. While I might struggle to sit behind myself, if you understand my proposition, without sliding the seat forwards on its runners, another adult of around five feet ten inches could fit in behind me, without too much issue. Although a third split-rear bench occupant would need to be a lot smaller, there is a seatbelt for that rare occurrence, which leads me to suggest that packaging is a primary facet of the Celerio’s great and intelligent appeal.

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While access and egress are vital aspects, driving the car is also a comfortable proposition. In fact, so supportive are its seats that I would have no problem at all entertaining a 200-miles (plus) drive, knowing that I would step out of the car at my destination without compromising backache. Of course, I need to remind you that I operate a Czech city car on a regular basis. This member of the VW up!, Seat Mii, Skoda Citigo family has never ceased to surprise me with its competence. It is clearly a tremendous compliment to the Euro-tiddler that Suzuki used it as a benchmark, when developing Celerio.

 

Even though some friends have questioned the viability of many of the longer trips that I have undertaken in my baby Skoda, which have included from my Lincolnshire abode to the far north of Scotland, to central France and to most points north, south, east and west in our country, it has never failed me and I prefer driving it to any of the many test cars that land at Chez Robertson. Interestingly, my car is also a two-pedal automated manual version (after all, why acquire a city car, if you have to shift gears all the time?), which happens to be the main reason that I have found the latest version of Celerio to be such an intelligent small car.DSC_2100_edited

 

Typical of car owners, I shall invariably justify my model, not merely to myself but also to critics of my choice and, although it is the first time that I have admitted it, the Citigo falls short in the area of its transmission, in direct comparison with Celerio. For many years, I have been a Suzuki cars fan and I am delighted to confirm that my fascination lies not so much in the build quality of the firm’s cars (as some models have been a touch flimsy) but in the superior core engineering. Put plainly, you seldom hear of Suzukis sidelined by mechanical failures. Their engines and transmissions are virtually bulletproof.

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What differentiates the Celerio’s use of an automated, single-clutch transmission over that of the VW Group effort is manifold. For a start, in ‘automated’ mode (left in ‘D’), progress is smooth and shifts are speedy, unlike the ASG system used by my car, which is so jerky that I use it in ‘manual’ mode all of the time and modulate my throttle foot to ensure jerk-free gearshifts, which obviates my original desire for that gearbox choice! Secondly, in ‘manual’ mode, the shifts in the Celerio are significantly swifter and less demanding on the driver. Perhaps more importantly, the sequential shift mechanism works in a more natural ‘forwards for downshifts’, rearwards for upshifts’ manner. When you are braking and downshifting, your body moves forwards in the seat. It’s natural. So, too, is the movement of hand atop gearstick. Very few carmakers apply this more logical and correct mechanism (in fact, BMW is one of the few). In addition, there are none of the silly over-riding limiters employed by VW Group that restrict manual shifts under certain circumstances, which means that the Suzuki can be worked more efficiently at times.

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The automated gear ratios are identical to those of the manual car and, while Suzuki makes only conservative claims on performance, even suggesting that the manual could be up to three seconds speedier for the 0-60mph benchmark (13.2 vs. 16.1 seconds), my timing test showed that the difference was in tenths of a second. The stated top speed is 96mph (identical for either version), although I managed to attain 109mph in fourth gear; pretty impressive for a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder car producing just 65bhp. Much of this potential lies in the low kerb weight of just 845kgs. Fortunately, the Celerio does feel a lot more substantial than the figures suggest.

 

There is a minor issue with pricing, in that Suzuki values this first-class example of single-clutch-automated ‘boxes at a fairly hefty £800. The VW Group ASG alternative, which is principally identical but simply does not work as effectively, costs a little less at £665. The other aspect lies in Suzuki’s creation of a single trim for this model (SZ4), which is also the highest specification for Celerio, which means, in effect, that customers desiring a lesser SZ2, or SZ3 specification, perhaps to save some funds, cannot benefit from the flexibility of the new gearbox. Mind you, as the car is only £10,214 (on the road, including £415 for the red paint), it represents fairly decent value for money. My Citigo’s on-the-road price was almost £1,400 more.

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Trim differences between Citigo and Celerio mean that the Suzuki benefits from DAB radio, Bluetooth tethering and electric rear windows, although the Skoda is equipped with 15-inch alloy wheels, while the Celerio makes do with 14s. My admiration of the Suzuki is tempered only slightly by the ‘Kobun-tei’ (Japanese traditional paper house) flimsiness of its doors and, while they pass the N-cap crash testing procedures with flying colours, the solid thunk of the Citigo’s doors does highlight a potentially more solid construction.

 

As to the car’s handling, it possesses the feel of a much larger model, complete with outstanding suspension damping, accurate steering and very sweet cornering characteristics. The ride quality of many small cars can be quite choppy but the Celerio transports its occupants comfortably and in a stable manner.

 

Conclusion:   A simple truth emerges from driving the Suzuki Celerio. Why spend inordinate sums of money on a new car, when you can satisfy transport needs simply, inexpensively and intelligently with a new Celerio. This is a model as happy in town, as it is cruising at typical main road speeds. It is comfortable, well-equipped and loads of fun. Does it make a decent business proposition? Of course it does and it is a sensible choice too. Easy to park, cheap to run (62.4mpg on test), emitting just 99g/km of CO2 and inexpensive to insure (Group 7E), Suzuki Celerio displays its IQ in the best ways possible.

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About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).