TEST DRIVE: Suzuki Celerio

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Little car big value – Steve Sharpe drives Suzuki’s Celerio

As well as being hugely successful motorcycle manufacturers, Suzuki are best known for their range of small cars in this country.

Models like the Alto and the Splash, the Swift and the quirky little jeep Jimny have all enjoyed an amount of success over the years.

The Swift especially has been shining in recent times, gaining in popularity with the media and the public.

Suzuki enjoyed a record year for sales in the UK last year by shifting 37,395 units, an increase of more than 4,300 cars over 2013 and a 13 per cent growth year on year. Global sales were impressive at 2.8 million units plus two million motorcycles.

And with the new version of the Vitara almost with us, things are looking up for the Japanese manufacturers.

Now we have their new city car, which will replace the Alto and Splash hatchbacks in the line-up.

The city car market is the most recent one and probably the hottest one around at the moment, with most of the major manufacturers having brought out models in the last few years, and the others with models in the pipeline.

The attraction is obvious. Advances in technology mean that small, economic city cars no longer have to rattle the teeth from your mouth on a run to the shops, fall apart when encountering a particularly deep pothole or handle like a shopping trolley.

Cars like, VW’s up!, Skoda’s Citigo and SEAT’s Mii have thrown out the rulebook, and shown that city cars can be comfortable, sprightly and able to tackle longer jaunts than the Tesco run.

Suzuki have weighed up what the opposition have on offer and seem to have ticked all the boxes.

The Celerio is cheap for a start, with prices for the entry-level version starting from £7,999.

And although that’s a grand more than its Alto predecessor, Suzuki have made sure that the extra money means a load more equipment to push up its value for money.

And it is an impressive equipment list for a car of this price – even the base trim includes alloy wheels, DAB radio and Bluetooth and six airbags, while if you move up to the top of-the-range SZ4 cars, which costs a thousand pound more, you’ll get extra goodies like electric rear windows, an upgraded stereo, body-coloured trim, front foglights and a chrome front grille.

But it has to be said that things didn’t start particularly well for the Celerio, with a well-publicised brake failure during a motoring magazine’s testing leading to a recall to fix the problem.

But Suzuki have announced that it’s all sorted now and by the middle of May more than 2,000 new cars had already been driven away.

The other popular city cars like the up! and Toyota’s Aygo, and the Fiat 500 come to that, have an image ranging from quirky to cute, and the Celerio sits somewhere in the 
middle.

It’s quite unassuming but not unattractive, with flashes of the Swift from some angles and a nice front end and grille.

The popularity of city cars has largely been based on the fact that they are cheap to buy but don’t necessarily resemble a budget car.

The Celerio, too, does a good job of disguising that fact.

True the plastics inside the cabin are hard to the touch throughout, but they look nice enough.

Practicality takes precedence over attractiveness and therefore all the controls are straightforward, easy to locate and simple to use on the move.

Where the Suzuki does score highly is in levels of room. When you’re inside the cabin it doesn’t feel like you’re trapped in a cramped city car at all. There’s plenty of headroom and legroom, and it’s easy to get relaxed and stay comfortable.

There is a good size boot, which Suzuki say is best in the class, and various storage areas around the cabin including two cupholders and a glovebox which are handy for odds and end.

But you will struggle to get much more than a bag of sweets and a couple of CDs in the thin door pockets.

The Celerio is a five-door across the range, and unlike other city cars there is a middle seatbelt in the back.

It’ll be a squeeze for the piggy in the middle but it is possible for a small person for limited distances to make it five occupants.

Out on the road, the Suzuki’s one-litre engine manages to perform decently as an all-rounder.

It possesses a nice turn of speed in low gears and is perfect for nipping in and out of town, but it can also tackle motorway cruising well. While you won’t be roaring up the fast lane you won’t be reduced to banging the steering wheel in frustration.

You won’t find yourself needing to drop down a gear too often although put a couple of passengers in the backseats and you can tell the difference.

Once the Celerio reaches motorway speeds it does get noisy with noise coming through the tyres and some wind blowing in through the window edges, but the three-cylinder engine is nicely quiet. An occasional long haul is well within its comfort zone.

The five-speed manual gearbox is also impressively smooth, with no looseness of the gearstick.

Well-weighted steering, a good turning circle and great all round visibility make the Suzuki a doddle to drive around town, and when you venture out onto B Roads the little city car handles things decently.

The car is slightly longer and narrower than the up!, Mii and Citigo and so with a higher centre of gravity there is some body lean when cornering, but levels of grip are good and you always feel in control of the little Suzuki.

Value for money is key in this group, and with a low purchase price, mpg levels in the 60s, low insurance costs and no road tax thanks to across the range sub 100g/kg emission figures, the Celerio does make an attractive proposition.

Throw in an impressive list of standard equipment and the Celerio makes even more sense.

While the little Suzuki doesn’t have the looks of some rival city cars and the interior quality of others, as a value-for-money option that has plenty going for it, it’s hard to beat.

Fact file

Suzuki Celerio SZ4

Engine: 1 litre petrol

Transmission: 5 speed manual

0-62mph: 12.5 secs

Top speed: 96 mph

Fuel economy: 65.7 mpg avg

Price: £8,999 (£9,414 including options)