Out with the ageing Alto and in with the brand-new Celerio. Suzuki's small-car offensive continues unabated with the launch of their latest city slicker, bringing striking styling and decent safety kit to the bottom end of the new car market. Suzuki calls the latest addition to their range an “extra large small car”, but this doesn't mean that it casts a large shadow.
Instead, they're trying to convey the idea that a small car can actually offer the spacious cabin and good equipment levels you'd normally only associate with something from a larger class.
At first glance, the promise of an “XL small car” holds true. Within the confines of its diminutive footprint (it's only 3.6m long, and rather narrow), the cabin offers enough space to comfortably accommodate four adults, and the luggage compartment can hold an impressive 235 litres with the rear seats in use. Folding down the rear seat (with a split-folding function in the high-line GL variant) liberates a maximum of 1034 litres – a total volume that rivals some mid-sized hatchbacks.
The Celerio also rivals many larger cars with its standard equipment levels. Even the entry-level GA variant is well-equipped, with power steering, air-conditioning, a basic sound system, ABS and dual front airbags. The top-level GL adds electric operation for the windows and side mirrors, central locking, and an improved sound system with steering wheel controls for the radio, which gains Bluetooth- and a USB port. Alloy wheels are only available as an extra-cost option, in keeping with the Celerio's price-conscious approach.
The one area where the Celerio definitely isn't “extra large” is under the bonnet, for hiding behind that smiling visage is a miniscule 1.0-litre 3-cylinder engine. Without the advantages of either a turbo charger or direct injection, total power output is modest: the driver has a mere 50 kW to work with, and because the peak torque value of 90 Nm is only attained at 3500 r/min, the gear lever needs to be stirred with some enthusiasm to achieve satisfactory acceleration.
However, the little mill revs quite happily, with the thrum typical of triple-pot engines. It's also impressively economical: with an official average consumption figure of only 4.7 ℓ/100 km, a single (35 ℓ) tank of fuel should be good for at least 700 km in the hands of a conservative driver.
There's even an automatic option available for drivers who prefer their city cars to come with two foot pedals instead of three. Instead of developing a heavy, costly automatic transmission, Suzuki adapted the normal five-speed gearbox with an array of actuators to do the shifting for you. These automated manual transmissions (AMTs) were quite fashionable a few years ago, being popularised by Ferrari, Aston Martin, and BMW, but they've since been replaced by quicker-shifting (and smoother) dual-clutch automatics. It remains to be seen how the Celerio's AMT performs, as we didn't have opportunity to drive it during the launch event. But it would be fair to guess at leisurely and less-than-smooth gear changes in cars so equipped. Still, it's nice to know that lazy drivers have the option of avoiding a gear lever altogether.
Seeing as the Celerio replaces the Alto at the entry level of Suzuki's local range, prices have been kept under tight control. The GA starts at a mere R109 900, the manual GL retails for R124 900, and equipping a GL with the AMT adds another R11 000. Suzuki offers their buyers a simple choice: around the R125 000 mark, you can have either a well-equipped Celerio GL or a larger-engined (but less luxurious) Splash GA. Either way, there's bound to be a small Suzuki to suit most budget-conscious buyers’ requirements. But at this end of the market, it might make the most sense to simply opt for the cheapest of the lot: a Celerio GA.