New Maruti Suzuki Celerio review: High value, tough sell

The first Maruti Suzuki Celerio was launched and driven at a gala affair in 2014, at the Umaid Bhavan palace, no less. Organising a press drive for a cheap-ish hatchback at one of the most luxurious hotels in the world was peak Maruti at the time, and the original Celerio slotted in between the endless ladder of hatchbacks that the company sold at the time, often at just Rs 30,000 intervals. Times couldn’t be more different post-COVID. We have no diesels, much less luxury but a product that feels many steps above.

What is it?

The new Celerio is a high-value hatchback that is positioned in the Maruti line-up, above the Alto and Wagon R, and below the Swift. It is the highest-spec hatchback you can buy from the stables with a 1.0-litre K-series motor. It’s a three-cylinder and is only available in petrol, with the option of a five-speed manual or Maruti’s AGS (Auto Gear Shift) automated manual transmission. It’s a nice-looking hatch that appears larger than it is. At just 3,695mm long, it is shorter than the Swift, but still has presence beyond its siblings lower down the ladder.

The new Celerio is based on Suzuki's lightweight Heartect platform, and weighs in at just 825 kg. Image: Overdrive

The range starts at Rs 4.99 lakh and goes all the way up to Rs 6.94 lakh for the range-topper. On the top-spec variant, you get two airbags, Maruti’s well-regarded and reliable ‘SmartPlay’ infotainment, button-start and Maruti’s second-generation AGS, which impressed us, as you’ll read below. Wheel options are 14-inch steelies and 15-inch alloys, and space is aplenty.

The interior is a clear step-up from the first-gen Celerio's; top variants come with the SmartPlay Studio infotainment system. Image: Overdrive

Interior: Surprisingly roomy

I was not prepared for the sheer volume enclosed by the Maruti Celerio. My initial drive saw me satisfied with the driver accommodations. The fabric seats are a bit narrow, but comfortable, and the seat height adjustment ensured that I had a decent view of the road ahead. The dash is spartan but looks good. There are silver accents around the AC vents that can be other colours if you opt for an accessory pack. Doors and plastics are all dark, and, well, plasticky. There are no fabric inserts for a softer touch, but things seemed put-together fine. No squeaks and rattles on our test drive. Cubby holes are a bit lacking, with two cup holders and a small-ish area to place your phone. The rest of the centre console is taken up by the parking brake. Bottle holders are present and generous, however.

Interior space is downright impressive. Image: Overdrive

When I finally exited the vehicle and went around to the second row to check out the space is when my jaw dropped. With the driver’s seat set for my 5’9” frame, I was literally unable to touch the front seat with my knees when seated behind. I would have to slouch down uncomfortably to get my knees to connect. In fact, seated upright, I was almost able to stretch out my feet entirely below the front seat. Space is extremely good. While we did not test three passengers abreast at the back, the company informs us that it is, in fact, comfortable for three. There’s a minor bump on the floor pan, so it wouldn’t be too bad for the middle passenger.

The 313-litre boot will suffice for most Celerio buyers. Image: Overdrive

Finally, the boot is also generous at 313 litres, and is reasonably practical save for the giant loading lip that will certainly be a task to heave luggage over.

Design: Curvy, somewhat retro, has potential

My impression of the new Celerio is that there are some throwback cues to the design, almost neo-retro. Labels aside, I imagine this car would look rather nice if you’re the boy-racer sort and accessorise it appropriately. As it is, it looks cool with the dark alloys. The pictures speak for themselves. It’s an un-fussy design, but if I had to arrive in a Maruti hatch, I’d still rather do it in a Swift.

A word about tech

This will be brief, and that’s not a bad thing. Maruti’s SmartPlay infotainment system makes its way to the Celerio, and while it does not boast voice-activation for functions, or connected car features, it works just fine when I plug my smartphone into the USB socket. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work fine, and there are steering-mounted controls to navigate things, apart from the touchscreen. The audio sounds okay. One niggle I noticed is that the glossy touchscreen is positioned perpendicular to the dash, and not angled toward the driver. During our sunny Udaipur drive, the glare was enough to make much of the screen unreadable. This could have been avoided by using a different angle, or a matte screen.

The SmartPlay Studio infotainment system works well. Image: Overdrive

Also, the Start/Stop button is placed on the extreme right of the dash, about where I would expect the headlight levelling control to be. Additionally, power window controls are placed on the centre of the dash like old Renaults, while the rear window switches are at the end of the centre console toward the rear passengers. This just feels weird and will take some adjusting to.

On the go: Lightness makes everything better

At 825kg, the new Celerio is amazingly light, and its overall performance and efficiency follows from this trait. At over 26 kpl (claimed), the Celerio boasts the title of most fuel-efficient hatchback in India. The 1.0-litre K-series petrol engine makes 65 hp and 89 Nm of torque. Those are modest numbers until you drive the car, which is when it surprises you.

Off the line, the Celerio moves smartly, with either the AGS or the manual ensuring that you’re not waiting around for the engine to do its thing. The motor is torquey and delivers its grunt quite early on. The five-speed manual has well-chosen ratios and shifts smoothly, if not as positively as a Swift. For me, the star of the show has to be the new second-generation AGS, which is a revelation in comparison to any other competing automated manual transmission.

Up until now, I only recommended AMTs to people who simply had to dump the clutch pedal without having the budget for a proper auto. There’s a learning curve to drive AMTs smoothly, and they’re never quite as nice as a traditional automatic, or even a nicely-driven manual. This has changed with Maruti’s new AGS system on the Celerio. For the first time, I can safely say that the automated system will usually shift better than the average driver. Not a skilled driver, or an adept, fast driver; but an average driver. I encountered no jerks typical of an AMT during my drive, and shifts up and down were smooth and drama-free. And most importantly, they were quick. The learning curve, I imagine, will also be a bit gentler. Push the throttle gently, and you get smooth, efficient movement. Mash it, and the system kicks down to give you overtaking grunt. It’s pretty simple, and doesn’t need as much adaptation to wait for the shift to happen, etc.

Body roll is present, but despite being softly-damped, the new Celerio's ride is jarring. Image: Overdrive

Speaking of overtakes, the Celerio makes good use of that 89 Nm, and I did not find myself in any frustrating situations that are typical for me when I’m driving a naturally-aspirated petrol engine. Particularly in cheap hatchbacks, these tend to be barely adequate, and overtakes need planning. This is not so in the Celerio. The light weight means the engine is slightly more than adequate, and 120 kph on the highway is not just a possibility, but a regular occurrence. The motor is also surprisingly quiet. I heard road and wind noise more than I heard the motor, even when kicked down and overtaking. So much so that there’s very little audible feedback from the engine. To me, it sounds like an outdoor pedestal fan more than anything.

The suspension did not impress me as much as the rest of the car. Body roll was present, suggesting soft damping, but over sharp bumps, the shocks slam into the car like they want to break through the metal. It is incredibly jarring and mars the experience of an otherwise nice car. Steering is also extremely light and communicates nothing, but that is likely not a priority for the intended audience of hyper-milers, especially when petrol costs over Rs 100 almost everywhere in the country.

Verdict: A light hatch at a time when everyone wants an SUV

It’s an interesting time for Maruti to be launching the Celerio. For the same amount of money, you can buy a low-spec Tata Punch, and this is the elephant in the room. Maruti has a perception problem, and I am not unaffected.

The new Celerio range tops out at Rs 6.94 lakh (ex-showroom). Image: Overdrive

You see, at 825 kg, the Celerio does not impart a sense of security to occupants. And while Maruti informs us that it meets all Indian safety norms, I feel more comfort from the five-star Global NCAP rating that the Punch has been awarded. If the Celerio is safe, then perhaps we can see some crash test scores?

That apart, the new Celerio is a competent hatch at a decent (not cheap) price that provides ample space for typical Indian families, delivers incredible claimed mileage, offers competent performance and meets basic safety norms. It covers the basics, is elevated above the cheap hatches we’ve seen from the company in the past, but I keep feeling like we deserve more.

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