You can’t help but feel a little bit sorry for the new Suzuki Celerio. It was all going so well for the latest entrant into an already crowded segment.
Just about every motoring journalist and their dog had converged on the Leicestershire countryside and come away with a sense that Suzuki had done a pretty good job. Many would have approached the Celerio with low expectations, so it probably overachieved. Job well done, then?
Well not exactly, because within days of the UK press launch, a couple of Suzuki Celerios on test with What Car? and Autocar suffered total brake failure at 80mph, prompting Suzuki GB to pull the little car from sale. This led to an extended recall covering cars in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Rotten luck for Suzuki GB, but far better to discover the issue in a controlled environment, rather than out on public roads.
Suzuki has since revealed the problem relates to a fault in the brake pedal release mechanism in right-hand drive cars. A delivery of modified brake components is expected very soon.
So not the greatest of starts, which is ironic for a car that seems to have a problem stopping. But hey, the Suzuki Celerio will return fighting fit, which on the evidence of the first drive, is actually good news. No, the Suzuki Celerio isn’t going to send shockwaves through the sector and keep rival car companies awake at night through worry, but it remains a perfectly acceptable car. And if it makes people think twice about buying a Mitsubishi Mirage, its return to the road can’t come soon enough.
The Suzuki Celerio is one of those awkward cars that makes things difficult for industry analysts and those obsessed with putting things in boxes. You see, the industry gets carried away with A-segment this, B-segment that and general nonsense about sectors. But in the real world, how many buyers actually give a damn where their car fits? If they like the car and find it suits their needs, they’ll buy it. So the fact that the Celerio isn’t a city car or a supermini is neither here nor there.
Like the Honda Jazz, the Suzuki Celerio bursts out of its segment, but can’t quite reach the heights of the segment above. Suzuki calls it an “A+ compact car that exceeds A segment standards and gives class-leading interior space”. And to be fair, Suzuki has a point.
Whether you’re sat in the front or back, the Suzuki Celerio feels surprisingly spacious. It’s perfectly reasonable to suggest you could drive a Celerio whilst wearing a top hat and still have headroom to spare, although I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t put this claim to the test. This theme continues in the back, where the levels of head and legroom are high. And none of this has come at the expense of boot space, which stands at a generous 254 litres. In this respect, it has the larger Suzuki Swift well and truly licked, as this can only manage to offer 211 litres.
The good news continues when you move on to the level of specification, too. Even the entry-level Celerio SZ3 gets air conditioning, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth, alloy wheels, six airbags and ESP as standard. Not bad for a £7,999 car. It also means that upgrading to the top-spec SZ4 is largely a cosmetic exercise. For an extra £1,000, Celerio SZ4 buyers are treated to electric rear windows, front fog lights, electric door mirrors, four speakers, body-coloured mirrors and a chrome front grille. Oh, and a rather curious passenger side seat back pocket.
In both cases, the Suzuki Celerio feels like good value for money. There’s a genuine sense of getting something extra for your money and if space and specification are high on your list of priorities, the Suzuki Celerio is worthy of consideration.
Not that you’ll ever aspire to owning a Suzuki Celerio. It’s the kind of car that appeals to non-car people. A functional, perfectly acceptable, easy-to-live-with motor car. So it should have no problem appealing to owners of the now defunct Alto and Splash models. The Celerio is actually replacing two successful cars and anyone who has lived with either of these two models will find much to like in the new Suzuki. Except maybe the price.
An entry price of £7,999 is admittedly good value for money and it doesn’t feel like you’re being shortchanged. But the outgoing Alto cost £7,199, a price that dropped to £5,995 during Suzuki’s long-running VAT Free offer. And asking a Suzuki customer to fork out an extra £2,000, albeit in return for a bigger car, is going to be tough. At this end of the market, the price is key, and a digital radio and Bluetooth connectivity may not be enough to convince buyers to shell out an extra £2k.
Does the Suzuki Celerio look good? In a strange way, yes. It may lack the charm of the Fiat Panda or the styling perfection of the UpMiiCitigo, but it’s nicer to look at than the likes of the Mirage, Sandero or i10. Arguably it needs the polished alloys, chrome grille, body-coloured mirrors and front fog lights to look its best, but I’ll say it again, the Suzuki Celerio looks perfectly acceptable.
But the trade-off for having top hat-levels of headroom is a car that can look a little tall and narrow when viewed head-on. If Mr Tall were to drive a car, this would almost certainly be it. And it’s something you feel when out on the road.
With a height of 1,540mm, it’s one of the taller cars in the segment(s) and it behaves in a way that’s not too dissimilar to the Fiat Panda. Throw it into a corner and it’ll lean heavily, discouraging you from going any quicker. Not that you’ll ever feel like chucking the Suzuki Celerio into a bend. In just about every respect, the Suzuki Celerio falls short of the UpMiiCitigo. The steering – whilst helpfully light in the city – is vague and inconsistent when travelling at higher speeds. There’s also next to no feel through the brake pedal and you sense that performing an emergency stop wouldn’t be the most enjoyable of experiences.
But really, will Suzuki Celerio owners actually care how the car drives? Not in the same way a reader of PetrolBlog would, no. Instead they’ll find it to be a thoroughly pleasant and – yes, here come those words again – a perfectly adequate driving experience. Indeed, they’ll probably appreciate the good ride quality and long gear ratios.
I suspect they’ll also like the interior. It’s all feels typically Suzuki, by which I mean the ergonomics are first rate and everything feels robust and fit for purpose. But the overall quality is a notch or two down on its European rivals and doesn’t even match the likes of the Swift and S-Cross. It all feels a bit dated and out of touch with the rest of the segment. Lowlights include the fit and finish of the heater and blower controls, which looked and felt like they had already seen 10 years of use.
It’s also worth noting that the Celerio is not the most reassuring of places to be when the heavens open. In the space of half an hour, the weather gods chucked a deluge of wind, rain, hail and sleet at the Leicestershire countryside, at which point Robin Brown (pictured above) and I suddenly felt hopelessly exposed. The rain was tapping away at the roof like someone aiming a peashooter at a corrugated roof. The wipers were struggling to keep up with the rain. And all of a sudden the thin metal on the doors made us feel a little vulnerable.
The Suzuki Celerio is not the kind of car you’d relish driving up the M1 motorway in near-monsoon conditions. It feels like an old-school small car, lacking the all-round qualities of some of its rivals.
Yet despite the negatives, there’s still much to like about the Suzuki Celerio. It somehow manages to retain an element of charm and character. Not in the same league as PetrolBlog’s favourite, the Fiat Panda, but for its simplicity and straightforwardness, it deserves some praise.
And put it this way. By killing off the Alto and Splash, the Celerio means there are two fewer cars to get in the way of a good B-road drive. And we can all raise a glass to the Celerio for that. So say goodbye to two cars and hello to the perfectly adequate one.