FIRST DRIVE | Skip the S-Presso, the 2022 Celerio is the small Suzuki you want
The compact car genre has an enduring relevance that is likely to never go out of fashion. Now, more than ever, the virtues of thrifty motoring are at the forefront of consumers’ minds as fuel costs soar amid international relations catastrophes over which the man and woman in the SA street have no control.
For Suzuki, the launch of a new Celerio could not have been timed more perfectly. Countering the prospect of R25 per litre of juice is one of the payoff lines for the new product: it is billed as the most fuel-efficient five-door petrol hatchback in the country. The automated-manual transmission (AMT) version has a claimed figure of 4.2l/100km. It has five speeds.
So does the conventional row-your-own manual we drove at the launch last week. Claimed consumption here is slightly higher, at 4.4l/100km. Our route began in a seedy industrial park in Midrand. We headed into Rosebank via the M1.
From there, nosed down Jan Smuts, back onto the M1 South, before off-ramping into central Johannesburg and negotiating past the urban chaos into the decaying suburb of Lorentzville. By the time we landed back at our starting point, the consumption readout showed 5.8l/100km. Not altogether terrible, given we were driving in a regular fashion – not as though we were on an economy run. Power comes from a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol, producing 49kW and 89Nm.
This K10C motor boasts multi-point fuel-injection (from two injectors per cylinder), featuring cooling jet beneath the pistons and an exhaust gas recirculation system, all aimed at boosting efficiency. An automatic start-stop system is also included. But we turned this off for our drive. The system is intrusive, especially in an environment like Johannesburg central, where you want to be ready to make a brisk dash from standstill if needs be.
Its cabin is expectedly snug: bigger occupants might find themselves touching shoulders. Fellow motoring journalist Phuti Mpyane and I certainly filled out the front chairs of the Celerio, with single-piece backrests, as seen in some competitor cars. Quality is not what you would call poor. Considering the price and position, fit and finish are commendable. Rear luggage space is relatively good too, at 295l — even with a full-size spare.
Underpinning the new model is the Suzuki Heartect platform. The automaker purports the architecture offers a high structural rigidity and low weight. Its layout was also said to afford engineers the space to place each wheel at the furthest corners of the chassis, which brings clear benefits from a handling perspective. Indeed, the dinky Celerio has a kart-like sense of responsiveness, ensuring its suitability in tight city conditions. The steering is light, courtesy of electric power assistance, with a turning circle that could rival that of a small rodent.
What was even more encouraging was its behaviour on the freeway. There were reservations created by the flimsy feel of its daintier sibling, the S-Presso, which is easily swayed by crosswinds and has a nervous persona at the national limit. Thankfully, the Celerio relays a more confident feel at 120km/h. It does not feel as vulnerable to stiff breezes as its stablemate. Interestingly, ground clearance in the Celerio is only 10mm off the 180mm offered by the S-Presso. It uses a McPherson strut setup at the front, with a Torsion beam suspension at the rear axle.
Given the newness of the model, there is no crash test data from any of the international NCAP bodies. On paper, however, there is an assuring level of safety kit. For starters, it is the only vehicle in its category to include electronic stability programme as standard. Two airbags are part of the deal in all models, so are anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, as well as ISOFIX anchorage points.
The basic GA (R174,900) is fitted with 14-inch steel wheels, steering-mounted audio controls, a multi-information instrument cluster and rear parking sensors. It does not have a tachometer, while the grander GL manual (R194,900) does. This is in addition to 15-inch alloy wheels, front foglamps, electrically-adjustable mirrors, front and rear electric windows, a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system, USB connectivity, remote central locking and hill-hold assist. The GL AMT costs R209,900.
For a pricing comparison, the S-Presso ranges from R152,900 (1.0 GL) to R180,900 (1.0 S-Edition AMT). The Celerio feels like the more substantial product, however. Included in the price is a two-year/30,000km service plan, in addition to a five-year/200,000km warranty and roadside assistance plan for the same duration.
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