Brian Bassett finds the same values that created this Suzulight in 1958 still underpin the new Suzuki Celerio supermini today.
SUZUKI does not advertise much nationally in South Africa and this leads to some confusion about the brand and its individual models.
In a snap telephonic poll amongst eight friends, all knew the brand but only one could name a model, namely the Swift.
No one had heard of the Celerio, although one thought it might have something to do with the Honda Brio.
What no one could understand was why I was excited to drive this little car, because of its reputation for space, sound packaging and unusual not-quite automatic gearbox. It is also a sign of ambition and imagination from Japan’s supermini and 4x4 specialists.
We thank Des-Marie Victor, new car sales manager at Honda Fury, PMB, for lending us the car for a few days for review.
Celerio means Celestial River and it is an easy name to remember. Despite the romantic name the Celerio is not extrovert, but a quite conventional-looking hatch, obviously designed to provide as much interior space as possible.
The car projects an air of quality with a prominent front grille and centrally-placed Suzuki badge and, beneath the built-in bumper a further black grille is flanked by fog lights.
At the sides there are sculpted styling features, while a high roof leads to a wide, convenient tailgate and large tail lights.
The car is easy to enter or exit for passengers of all ages. The result is a fairly attractive, wellbuilt, unpretentious car with some on-road presence.
Most Suzuki dashboards look alike. Hard, black, durable plastic, which has been well put together.
Everything is where you would expect it to be. The analogue gauges are right in front of the driver for safety. The air conditioning and audio controls are on the central stack, while the audio and Bluetooth controls are repeated on the typical three-spoke Suzuki steering wheel.
The electric side mirrors and windows have their controls conveniently ledged into the driver’s door. The seats are robustly covered in a patterned material and the driver’s seat is height adjustable. The steering can also be height adjusted.
The interior has excellent headroom and more space than expected. Even at the rear it was possible to accommodate two adults in relative comfort for intermediate-range journeys.
The three rear seatbelts do appear a bit too optimistic, as the two chunky adults I put into the vehicle had no daylight between them. The boot space of 235 litres is class leading and, with the rear seats folded down in 60/40 fashion this rises to 707 litres.
Safety and security
The Celerio, unlike some of the competition, has ABS.
In South African driving conditions I find it difficult to understand why some brands continue to offer their lower-spec models without this safety feature.
The Celerio has driver and passenger airbags, seatbelts for all; child-proof rear door locks, a high-mounted stop lamp, as well as a security alarm and immobiliser.
Performance and handling
The Celerio is a town car and in town the ride is firm but not harsh. Usually one finds that small town cars do certain things well at the expense of others, but the Celerio offers a wide range of talents. The three-cylinder, 998cc petrol engine puts out 50 kW/90 Nm and even when driven hard the car managed 5,5l/100 km, which is very good.
The Celerio is not particularly powerful and 0-100 km/h takes about 18 seconds.
Top speed is around 155 km/h. The car appears composed and secure and in heavy, wild traffic such as you have on a Friday afternoon in PMB, the car is supple and quite athletic.
In fact it has an unexpected amount of dynamic ability backed by good body control on the Midlands back roads.
The steering is responsive and the car is a respectable partner on the N3.
The unique and interesting Auto Gear Shift needs to be experienced to be appreciated and there are those who will not like it, but I personally thought that it represents a effective method of avoiding the considerable cost and maintenance of a full auto box, while providing its convenience.
The box is essentially a fivespeed manual transmission coupled to a hydraulic unit that controls its operation. The unit sits above the transmission and obviates the need for a manual clutch. There is no cog for park so you have to use the handbrake.
Gearshifts are noticeable, especially up-shifts, as the unit strives to keep up with the accelerator position.
While the system works well, it is not for enthusiastic driving, but for comfort in traffic. I personally would use the manual for freeway driving. The point, however, is that, because of the almost-manual nature of the gearbox Suzuki is able to offer great value, low maintenance and brilliant fuel consumption.
Costs and the competition
The entry model comes in at around R128 000 and the GL Auto will cost you about R155 000. The car has a 3-star Euro NCAP rating and comes with a five-year or 200 000 km guarantee and five-year or 90 000 km service plan.
This is a crowded market sector so look at amongst others the Ford Figo, Datsun GO, Honda Brio, Hyundai I10, Kia Picanto, Toyota Aygo, Tata Bolt and Volkswagen Polo Vivo.
The Celerio has all the supermini hallmarks — good head room and athletic handling.