As a young professional living and working in the Metro, I experience urban driving conditions on a daily basis. There's not much room to go around on city streets, there's heavy traffic everywhere, and there are tight parking spaces in most establishments. Today's high fuel prices don't help either.
These were the points I considered months ago that led me to own a hatchback. Why? It’s because most of these cars have compact dimensions that make them great for weaving in and out of traffic. The small footprint means parking is a breeze, and the small displacement engines are easy on the fuel bills.
So yes, when I was invited to drive the 2022 Suzuki Celerio, I was delighted because I can pretty much relate. My daily driver serves the same purpose. But of course, there are a lot of matters to discuss: Is it great as a city car, does it perform well, and is the price justifiable?
Well, those questions were answered when we drove the all-new hatchback from Sucat to the Old Grove Farmstead in Lipa City, Batangas.
To start with, it was the first time I had a good look at the all-new Celerio when we got to Suzuki Auto Sucat. And yes, it's bigger and taller than before, but it's still easy on the eyes with its simple lines and curves. It’s a totally new design as the previous generation looked like a baby Swift. The new model now sits more upright, and looks closer to a larger, or should I say, venti S-Presso?
As an entry-level car, I didn’t expect to find leather or other soft-touch materials when I got inside the new Celerio. Most of the interior materials are made of plastic, but I do like how Suzuki added silver trims to break the monotony. Like the exterior, the seats are more upright, but that’s the tradeoff to maximize the car’s extended cabin space with the longer wheelbase, and allows a better field of vision thanks to the high seating position.
Also, all the controls are found at the center of the dashboard, including the power window switches. Sure, it’ll take time to get used to their new placement, but people will understand it’s part of Suzuki's space and cost-saving process, as they were able to use a meter or two less of wiring harnesses for the power windows and door locks. It even saves them the trouble of making separate door sidings for use on left and right-hand drive markets. As a manufacturing engineering major, I can get with that.
We weren’t in Sucat just to look at the all-new Celerio. We were there to drive it. And guess what, the first order of the day was a fuel economy run. Mind you, this drive was done on a Friday and with rush hour traffic, so we won’t come close to the AAP record of 28.25 km/l. But nevertheless, everyone took the challenge seriously (or a bit too seriously?) as valuable prizes awaited the winners.
With the air-conditioning turned off and the windows slightly rolled down, we set off from the dealership. I tried to consume as little fuel as possible by going very light and steady on the throttle during the 68.5-kilometer journey from Sucat to Petron in Lipa. In the end, we were able to achieve 21.47 km/l, meaning we only burned just a little over 3 liters of fuel.
However, I have to say that what we did was not representative of real-world driving conditions and should not be replicated AT ALL. Some of the participants even tried extreme measures to the point where one person almost passed out, as we found out they didn’t roll down their windows the whole trip with the air-conditioning turned off.
After the fuel economy run, I was able to get a better feel of how the all-new Celerio performs. Surprisingly, the hatchback is zippy when maneuvering in city traffic, and its 1.0-liter dual injection engine didn’t feel stressed in maintaining highway speeds, even though it only has 66 PS and 89 Nm of torque. You can feel the inherent vibration of the three-cylinder engine at idle, but it does smoothen up once the car gets rolling.
What I did notice is that the Auto Gear Shift (AGS) transmission can take some time to get used to. Those who just learned how to drive may find the AGS a bit of a challenge to master and is not as user-friendly as, let’s say, the CVT of the previous model. There were times when I gave more throttle to accelerate, but the AGS gave me an upshift. That can prove to be risky, especially when making overtaking maneuvers. Eventually, I got better control by using the manual mode, but you know, it defeats the purpose and convenience of using an automatic transmission.
As for refinement, there’s not much sound deadening and outside noises can penetrate the cabin, but not to the point where we could no longer hold a normal conversation inside while doing highway speeds and driving on concrete. Underneath, the hatchback remains composed when going over bumps, and there were no unnecessary rattles inside. I have to say, the Celerio’s suspension feels solidly built, and that could be attributed to the result of the R&D work done by Maruti Suzuki in India where it’s manufactured. In case you didn’t know, some of the worst roads in the world can be found there, and here.
The ride quality is somewhat compromised when the Celerio is fully loaded. The soft sprung suspension sure does provide a nice ride. But at full passenger capacity, the rears tend to bottom out and give a painful thud when going over humps. From my experience, the Celerio seems to ride at its best when it has three occupants – two in front, and one in the back.
As for its standard interior features, I’ve noticed that the Celerio’s Sony head unit does not come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Yes, it may have Weblink 2.0, but that doesn’t give access to navigation apps such as Waze and Google Maps directly through the touchscreen display. I’m a bit puzzled as to why Suzuki didn’t equip those in the Celerio. The older Swift had one, and its main competitors have them too.
This brings me back to the three questions I asked earlier. Definitely, the Celerio is a great city car. In fact, it’s always been great. For first-time car owners, the Celerio’s size, friendly presence, and good fuel efficiency can provide a smooth learning experience. And yes, the hatchback will perform its purpose well on the everyday drive where it’s made for, though I still have some reservations on the ease of use of its transmission.
But at PHP 754,000, the all-new Suzuki Celerio AGS is priced higher than its class rivals, the Toyota Wigo TRD S and even the Honda Brio RS. Granted, they may be older models, but they come with all the bells and whistles the Celerio doesn’t have.
Interesting as it may be, the Celerio is at a price point where customers have the option to get bigger vehicles loaded with more standard features for just a tiny bit more. And given that people who buy these kinds of vehicles would try to eke out the maximum on every purchase and make every peso count, it may have a big challenge ahead.