‘Cheap’ doesn’t have to mean ‘cheap and nasty’. It’s a memo that seemingly every budget car manufacturer seems to have missed in recent years. Thankfully, someone at Suzuki got it, and made sure the new Celerio is as enjoyable to drive as it is affordable to buy.
Don’t get me wrong, the Celerio doesn’t feel like a luxury vehicle by any means, and the cabin is still adorned with hard plastics on the dash and doors, but it’s all rather solidly screwed together – dash rattle is non existent, all the dials and buttons feels secure, right down to the fog lamp button, something that other budget cars seem to struggle with (I’m looking at you Datsun). The cloth interior feels of a good quality, and the seats are supportive and comfortable, unlike those in the Renault Sandero; although the driver’s seat sits too high up and could do with some height adjustability. But the interior is very spacious considering the small size of the car – affording both front and rear passengers ample leg and head room. The boot is large too, and the low load-sill makes it easy to pack the full 235 litres (1034 with the rear seats folded flat) to capacity.
The Celerio is also decently kitted. Available in 2 spec levels, GA and GL, the GL variant on test comes equipped with air conditioning, central locking, electric windows, fog lamps, power steering, and a radio with CD, MP3, and USB capabilities, as well as Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming. It’s safe too, featuring ABS and dual-airbags across both the GA and GL variants and a 3-star Euro NCAP test result; with a passenger cell that maintains structural integrity in the event of an accident; making it one of the few budget vehicles meeting what should be basic safety requirements. (You can watch the NCAP test video below)
So the basics are covered; safety and specification, and at a price of R124 900 for the top spec GL, and R109 900 for the lowest specced GA, it meets the requirements of a budget priced car rather well. But whilst the Celerio is safe, well specced, and solidly screwed together, it’s the way it drives that really sets it apart from the rest of the budget crowd.
The Celerio is powered by a 1-litre 3-cylinder petrol engine that develops 50kW @ 6000rpm and 90Nm @ 3500rpm. They aren’t the most potent of power figures, but in a car that weighs a modest 835Kg, the engine certainly has enough poke to get you where you need to go. It goes about doing so in a most cheerful manner, the 3 cylinder thrum burbling along with much character. At low RPM it’s prone to a small amount of shudder, but the engine is keen to rev out beyond this, and once the little 3-pot hits its stride it hums along with great gusto and a growly soundtrack to match.
Despite the lack of capacity, the engine’s eagerness to rev and its torquey nature makes it more potent than the figures would suggest. The engine easily outshines the 1.2-litre 4-pot found in the Suzuki Splash – and with consumption figures of 5.1l/100km over our 7 day test period, it outdoes the larger 1.2-litre mill in the efficiency stakes too.
Driving the front wheels via a 5-speed manual gearbox, the gearing in the Celerio is matched spot on for the power and weight of the car – getting it up to speed quickly, and enabling highway speeds to be reached with little fuss, noise, or struggle. The light clutch takes evenly, and the gearshift is light and short of throw – a no fuss affair that makes swapping gears an almost fun experience when winding up the little engine. Even in 5th gear at 120km/h, the Celerio is still able to accelerate; but surprisingly, even at those speeds, it feels stable, comfortable, and remarkably quiet. A conversation can still be held with ease, as the cabin is insulated superbly from road and wind noise – to the level of vehicles R50-60 thousand more expensive than the little Suzuki.
But the lack of noise that permeates the cabin isn’t the only quality that surpasses the price of the Celerio, as the suspension seems to be specced to a level well above what the R125 000 price tag would suggest. Blemishes in the road surface are dealt with swiftly by the Celerio, as it rides deftly over bumps and potholes – the 14-inch steel wheels and 165/70 profile tyres helping cushion the ride quality over abrasions on the road surface.
On rapidly changing surfaces and mid-corner bumps, the Celerio’s suspension soaks up the changes with ease, the steering wheel lightly communicating the changing surface whilst keeping its bearings true to where I decide to point it. Even on dirt roads, the suspension remains unfazed, floating over whatever trouble lies beneath. If anything, the suspension is maybe a tad too bouncy – but as the wheels never lose grip with the road surface it’s a forgivable sin and a welcome one when the car is loaded with more than one passenger.
The more I drove the Celerio, the more it impressed me. The lightly weighted steering is direct and communicative; never fussed by changing surfaces below, and always eager to change direction. The tight turning circle of 9.4 metres makes city driving, and parkade navigation a pleasure, but remains stable and unruffled at highway speeds. Nimble and easy to handle, the Celerio is perfect for both the city commute and the long highway journey; and it feels wonderfully solid in either scenario.
Even the brakes, typically a weak point on other Suzuki’s such as the Swift and Splash, felt solid and communicative. The bite is progressive and the pedal provides good feedback, whilst being effective and highly capable at the same time. With ABS as standard kit across the range, wet roads aren’t much of a worry either when braking, as the wheels won’t lock up under anything but the hardest braking.
The Celerio is a solid all-round competitor. With 165mm of ground clearance it can tackle most tarred and un-tarred surfaces with ease; and the combination of safety, solid build quality, a thoroughly impressive ride quality, and top quality cabin insulation all make it a hard proposition to ignore. Throw in a cheerful personality, and engine that’s frugal yet full of character and it’s not hard to see why the Suzuki Celerio has impressed me so much in my week of testing.
Where other manufacturers skimp on safety, equipment levels, noise insulation, or engine technology, Suzuki have gone the whole 9 yards and built a thoroughly complete vehicle that ticks all the criteria needed in a budget car and then some. Where other’s feel flimsy, the Celerio feels solid; where others are barren in spec, the GL on test has all the kit you need and want; and most importantly, where other cars fail NCAP testing, the Celerio proves itself a safe companion for the first-time car buyer.
With all these qualities, it’s no wonder the Suzuki Celerio is our new benchmark in the budget car segment – to say it’s the most complete vehicle in its price bracket would be an understatement. Spacious, frugal, solidly built, safe, cheap, and cheerful to drive… if only that driver’s seat dropped a little bit lower.
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50kW @ 6000RPM
90Nm @ 3500RPM
5 Speed Manual
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|Fuel Consumption (Regular driving, combined cycle):||
Front Wheel Drive
|Price (as tested):||