Suzuki Celerio

Look beyond the infamy, and you’ll be surprised

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

AFTER the pert Euromarket Splash turned into the gawky Celerio, many eyes bled, prompting the question “was Subaru involved in the styling?” Next, early versions attracted poor crash-test ratings (since improved but still not ideal) before total brake failure during independent testing, er, stopped Celerio sales dead. Suzuki blamed a faulty pedal bracket, which has since been fixed.

So how is this Celerio CVT, at $13,990 driveaway, one of this year’s surprise packages? Do we have a death wish? Or has the bad boy of the baby car brigade seduced us, like Grease’s Danny to our wide-eyed Sandy?

Suzuki’s beauty school dropout was developed in Japan – not India like the Alto it replaces – by an engineering team that actually gives a damn. It sprung from a four-year development program benchmarking sub-B superstars like the VW Up, Fiat Panda and Hyundai i10. Cars we’d buy.

So take the Celerio’s styling (please!). Short overhangs, a glassy turret and an Austin Metro-esque boxy shape gel in a function-over-form, anti-fashion statement, brilliantly fitting the city-car brief. That’s in stark contrast to the trendy Alto’s tiny windows and fat pillars.

And Celerio’s aesthetics literally improve out of sight once you’re seated in its far-from-nasty cabin.

It benefits from a user-friendly interface, with light flooding in on a pretty Swift-esque dash defined by crisp controls and fiercely effective ventilation.

Suzuki says Celerio is the roomiest sub-B class combatant available anywhere, the upshot of ‘inside-out’ engineering and a wheelbase just 5mm short of the Swift’s. So four adults can sit in spacious surrounds, with Conehead-pleasing headroom and sufficient legroom out back, while the 254-litre boot borders on big, supported by split/folding backrests.

Classy detailing abounds, like the Lena Dunham-esque polkadot seat and door patterns, and Celerio’s doors don’t sound tinny.

The only serious blot is front seat headrests that foul bouffant hairstyles, and an overly reclined and semi-convex rear backrest.

Alert performance is another Celerio highpoint. Addressing one of our biggest Alto issues, the 50kW/90Nm 1.0-litre three-pot actually idles smoothly, though the lumpiness is still there just as power is applied. As you do, a slight shudder is accompanied by a momentary delay before smoothing out again. Pushing the Sport button that locks out the top ratio helps, but the hiccup can be irksome if you’re in a hurry.

Suzuki’s pleasingly smooth CVT is remarkably linear, always lively, and not too droney, with extra oomph in the upper reaches of the rev range adding to this drivetrain’s can-do appeal.

That’s worth keeping in mind, for a stable roadholding attitude means Celerio can be driven flatout through corners like one of the better city cars, supported by sharp steering that allows for precise handling. But stability nannies do butt in frequently.

Conversely, that same helm astounds with ultra-tight manoeuvrability. And the suspension soaks up city bumps like a much bigger car’s. The catch? Some body roll, but then the Celerio kind of rolls with the punches anyway. And the disc/ drum brakes never failed us once.

So Suzuki’s sub-B troublemaker easily outstrips expectations.

Five-star safety should be a given, but Celerio’s perky performance, happy handling, relative refinement and sizeable spec deserve to make waves… once people see past all the notoriety.

Suzuki’s beauty-school drop-out was developed in Japan, not India like Alto

Nissan Micra ST auto $14,990

Friendly styling, eager performance, fun handling and a roomy cabin make Micra one of the more palatable micros. But its miserable interior ambience is enough to wipe the smile off even Mary Poppins’ face.

2013 Suzuki Swift GL auto circa-$14,000

No other micro-class autos are recommended, meaning buyers need to seek a used jewel, like a current-shape two-year old Swift auto. Like the Celerio, it’s a surprisingly spirited performer, with the added refinement of a zesty 1.4-litre four-pot drivetrain.

OR TRY THESE...

Them’s the brakes

In January, UK magazine Autocar experienced two separate total brake failures while performing emergency stop testing in the Celerio, prompting Suzuki to instantly halt sales worldwide. Days later it transpired that in right-hand drive cars, a metal piece in the pedal linkage designed to break away in a serious frontal impact to avoid foot trauma would also do so if the driver stomped hard enough on the pedal.

A thicker replacement piece has resulted – but one that’s still sensitive enough to dismantle as originally engineered to.