After a remarkably quiet 2013 Maruti Suzuki has begun spreading its gigantic wings all over 2014. They begin the year with a brand new offering aimed squarely at the Indian market. The Celerio, if you aren’t aware of it by now, is a hatchback that will eventually replace the A-Star and the Estilo. The Celerio is to be launched in the first week of February so it should be in Maruti dealerships around the country soon.
Watch the video of our first drive at the end of the story.
The Celerio is built on an all-new platform that has been in the making for close to three and a half years. A team of around 175 designers, engineers, product planners, visualisers, marketeers etc from both India and Japan have combined their efforts to this end. Except whoever came up with a name that sounds like a veggie in a salad mated to Mahindra’s favourite alphabet is anyone’s guess. According to Mayank Pareek, COO Maruti Suzuki, Celerio means a ‘celestial river’, but don’t ask me what’s the connect, I’m as clueless as you and many Maruti Suzuki employees are!
But get past the name and what you can clearly see its antecedents in the Alto, there are definitely faint hints of inspiration from Maruti’s largest selling car.
From various angles the Celerio brings to mind the Toyota Etios Liva, especially that smiling grille with the twin smiling slats flanking the Suzuki Logo. In fact, if you took off the Suzuki logo and replaced it with a Toyota badge you could easily fool anyone into mistaking this car for the latter. As it is, driving this car on the busy roads around Jodhpur did not elicit much interest from the very people who would in the near future be buying this car, the aam janta! And let me tell you in the past there hasn’t been a single new car that hasn’t grabbed attention on these drives.
At the front, the bumper is a strong element of the design and looks sturdy and well-sculpted, though the inverted curve to the lower air dam and the single fog lamps scooped inside the bumper continue to remind you of the Etios Liva. I like the hood which has this slight clamshell effect to it and gives the Celerio a sporty character.
The side profile is sculpted with two sweeping character lines that appear running parallel to each other. The one running along the shoulder starts at the fender and sweeps upwards towards the rear window with a sculpted kink. The outside rear view mirrors with integrated turn lamps and smaller indicator lamps on the fenders are the only ornaments that give this profile a sparkle. The rear is my least favourite area. The tallish tail lamps look a bit out of place, though the chunky bumpers look quite in sync with the rest of the body shell. The rear tail gate can only be accessed from the outside and not from within the car.
Where dimensions are concerned, the Celerio is comfortably long and wide, though to put it in comparison, it’s shorter in length than the Hyundai Grand i10 though taller by a few inches. At 2.425 metres, however, both hatchbacks share the same wheelbase and that also means the Celerio has substantial amounts of interior space, especially knee room, just like the Grand i10.
The cabin like every contemporary Maruti is outstanding. The quality levels are top notch and the design and layout is simple, effective and yet stunning to look at. The centre console is a smart-looking unit surrounded by a chrome bezel within which the music player and the air-con controls are housed. The steering wheel too looks pleasing, but it’s the top-end variant, the ZXi, that gets the audio and Bluetooth telephony controls on the steering wheel.
The slim seats with the integrated headrests liberate loads of interior space, though I can’t say for certain how comfortable these will be over long distances. The ZXi (optional) variant gets height adjustable seats as well as front fog lamps and alloy wheels as standard.
Now for the mechanicals and the driving bit, the Celerio at present comes only with a 998cc 3-cylinder petrol engine. A diesel will follow but nothing has been set in stone yet. This petrol motor is an updated engine that uses aluminum in its construction and is named the K10B; it’s also called as the K-Next engine. Maruti has worked hard to lower the NVH levels, and while at idle this engine is impressively quiet, as speeds rise it has that typical whine I’ve heard in every small displacement Maruti as you push the engine harder and harder.
The 4-valve per cylinder arrangement allows it to make 68PS of max power and 90Nm of max torque. Now those figures aren’t as hearty as those pumped out by the Grand i10, which has a larger displacement engine, but it’s the transmission that makes all the difference in the Celerio.
The transmission has been big news for some time as Maruti claimed to offer a clutchless driving experience in the Celerio. I’d like to point out at this moment that it’s not because of an automatic transmission. Innovatively, Maruti is using what is called an automated manual transmission, which basically is a sort of a gadget that takes care of the duties of the clutch without there being a clutch pedal in the driver’s foot well. So instead of a manual gear shift stick you get something that looks like an automatic shifter, except if you look closely you won’t see a park mode.
So what may appear to be an automatic transmission, is essentially a manual gearbox cleverly tricked out to perform as an automatic. Is there any harm in that? Actually not, and I do firmly believe this will help a lot of people appreciate the convenience of using an automatic transmission and help them graduate to automatics, especially those driving in crowded urban areas.
With this technology, Maruti has achieved a fuel efficiency of nearly 23.1 kmpl which, they claim, is the same as what you get in the manual transmission, and I don’t dispute that since this is a manual transmission. On long vacant stretches of highway skirting Jodhpur, the transmission feels reasonably smooth. But in urban areas it’s jerky, and unlike a torque convertor, the shift quality isn’t seamless — you can actually feel the clutch being actuated every time a gear needs to be engaged. That also influences you to try and modulate throttle to reduce the sensation of that clutch kicking in and it could never give you that incredible efficiency figure. Nonetheless, for having taken away the effort of having to use a clutch several hundred times even over short distances is something Maruti should be applauded for.
Onto dynamics then. The front wheel drive Celerio runs 14 inch wheels and tyres suspended on a reworked suspension. Ride quality is good, certainly not in the league of older sibling the Swift but it’s comfortable. The Celerio has impressive stability at high speeds and never for a moment felt like it was too light or unsecure. The steering, on the other hand, is an electronic power assisted type and like most EPS systems it’s absolutely dead where feedback is concerned. It feels like it has some heft but has no variable ratio so the weight does not increase as speeds rise. Yet in the city this steering is light and precise enough to let you go scampering through crowded streets.
For a new car that we expect will be priced close to the Grand i10 (Rs 4-4.5lakh), the Celerio packs in quite a lot of simple yet innovative solutions. I think that is what is appreciable in this package. And the automated manual transmission is simply a brilliant idea. Maruti would like to usher in a new era of progress, they firmly believe that like the air conditioning and power steering became essentials over the last couple of decades in cars, automated transmissions will take over the future and they are going to focus their energies in that direction. India’s largest car manufacturer has even larger plans!