IAIN ROBERTSON 

Nobody can feel as blighted by high prices as we do at present in Blighty, writes Iain Robertson, and ferreting out car bargains can mean ditching long-held beliefs about value-for-money, although Suzuki is trying hard to maintain a ‘budget’ stance.

Is there anything in life these days that does not make us reflect on its actual affordability? Let’s face it, the High Streets of our nation seem to be over-populated by ‘Pound Shops’ and a proliferation of LIDLs and Aldis suggests that our broader pursuit of ‘bargains’ may also fuel the fires of environmentalists, nutritionists and quality exponents in far from equal measure.

When I was at school, just prior to the decimalisation of our national currency, I can remember paying irregular visits to its Tuck Shop, where a slightly larger roll of Polo Mints, contrasted with today’s stock pack, cost 3d (old money and perfect for a brass ‘thrupenny-bit’) and a similarly more generous Mars Bar was a whopping 6d (again, an ideal transaction for a sixpenny piece burning a hole in an already ‘holed’ trouser pocket). Ironically, while the Mars Bar was an undoubted luxury item, even then, the Polos were sweetie currency but we were unlikely to utter many complaints about prices.

Mind you, a new, everyman Ford Cortina Mk3 (in 1971) cost £963 (the equivalent of £12,294 today), while the more iconic Jaguar E-Type V12 was a bolder £3,139 (£43,866 today). The Dagenham-built Cortina was sold as a ‘Standard’, no-frills model, powered by an asthmatic, 1.3-litre, four-cylinder engine that developed a weedy 58bhp, which was some contrast to the 5.3-litre V12 and 272bhp of the Coventry-built ‘cat’. As a measure of how much pricier cars have become, while accepting that today’s equivalent of the Cortina is Mondeo-shaped, an increase in equivalent list price of 37% for an entry-level Ford model is still hefty. Eclipsing it by a margin of 256.8%, for the equivalent Jaguar (F-Type SVR), highlights the extraordinary value-for-money the brand used to offer.

Around 50 years ago the equivalent of a Suzuki Celerio 1.0-litre was the BLMC Mini 1000 Mark 3, which cost around £660. A brand new Celerio costs £9,649 but its only real rivals hail from Romania (Dacia), South Korea (Hyundai/Kia) and Eastern European-built French models (Citroen C1, Peugeot 108 and also the Toyota Aygo). The Suzuki is a sub-compact by any definition, although it benefits from having five-door access to a surprisingly ‘Tardis-like’ interior, where four large adults (or three teenagers across the back seats) can fit in moderate comfort.

Being of a narrower but taller body-style, its parking and manoeuvrability in built-up areas is little less than phenomenal, thanks to a tight turning-circle. Considering that it is a base model (SZ3 in Suzuki-speak), its specification is quite generous. Rather than the poverty-spec of fifty years ago, the Celerio features a rev-counter, lights-on and key-in reminders, gearshift indicator, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB radio, rake adjustable steering column, front and rear electric windows, remote central locking, alloys, trip and economy-meter and manual air-con, although the manually operated, stalk-controlled door mirrors hint at more rudimentary origins.

However, that is not the reason to acquire a Celerio. Size and low operating costs are the clear precursors and, with a puncture repair kit, rather than a spare tyre in the boot, its 254-litres of luggage space (which can increase to a maximum of 726-litres, with the 60:40-split rear bench flipped forwards), delivers practicality in the keenest of terms. While the original Mini, notably without today’s safety and security features that add both bulk and weight, was a packaging marvel, the baby Suzuki musters similar values in a more modern vein.

Powering the Celerio is a 998cc, three-cylinder, 12-valve engine that develops a lively 68bhp and an impressive 90lbs ft of torque. Although it is the same capacity as the original Mini motor, twice the power and torque figures highlight engineering modernity. Revving it out to the red-line it can despatch the 0-60mph sprint in a zesty 13.2s, running out of puff at a top speed of 96mph. However, it cruises at indicated motorway speeds without effort (3,000rpm equates to 72mph) and no need to drop down a gear, or two, in its fingertip-precise 5-speed manual transmission, to effect safe overtakes. Given a decent stretch of German autobahn, it would top 100mph indicated and actually feels decently planted, despite tipping the scales at a modest 835kgs (coincidentally around the same as a Mark Two Cortina).

As a measure of how far cars have come in efficiency terms, the 1.0-litre, normally-aspirated engine provides an achievable 65.7mpg on the Official Combined test cycle, although many owners will return upwards of 70mpg with due care. Emitting 99g/km CO2 keeps the road tax requirements to £125 in year one and the standard £145 annually thereafter.

Delightfully weighted power steering provides not only good feedback from the road but also excellent high-geared responsiveness. The other controls (brake, clutch and throttle) are equally well balanced and the five-speed shifter slips effortlessly between gear ratios. The Celerio hauls up effectively under emergency stopping conditions and the conventional pull-up handbrake, between the front seats, holds the car securely on hills.

In fact, conducting the Celerio on a broad mix of roads, it becomes abundantly clear that it is exceptionally well-engineered and stable, despite its relatively narrow track. Equipped with antilock brakes and an electronic stability programme, even pushed to extremes, the car’s dynamics are managed competently. For such a small car, its overall dynamic balance is outstanding. There was a time, when vehicles in this class were considerably more demanding of the driver and, without underscoring the brand names, the products hinted at earlier, as potential rivals to Celerio, are simply not as driver-satisfying as the Suzuki.

It corners with confidence and rides like a car two classes up, its suspension damping proving to be exceptionally resilient, undisturbed by road surface imperfections but riding on our ‘third-world’ surfaces in compliant, controlled comfort. As a result, the Celerio imparts a very ‘grown-up’ character that just adds to the overall smile factor inherent to it.

Naturally, there is an ‘elephant in the room’, related to the car’s overall build quality. Well, get used to it folks, because cars in this price category feature paper-thin doors and body panels that flex worse than the scenery on some low-rent TV shows. Yet, the Celerio still manages to feel solidly assembled, free of rattles and creaks and the doors shut with a ‘thud’, rather than a tinny ‘clank’. It is worth remembering that it possesses a decent NCap crash test rating, as well as being packed with features that you never have seen, or even heard about, on cars of more than thirty years ago.

Conclusion:     Inexpensive to buy, representing moderate value for money and proving to be very cost-efficient to live with, a Suzuki Celerio provides base-line motoring in the right spirit, with total dependability as a most welcome feature. It is also significantly more practical than you might give it credit for.