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We review the Maruti Suzuki Celerio
Driven February 2014
It’s not an automatic. Not in the traditional sense, at least. Which is why Maruti decided to call the technology 'Auto Gear Shift'. But since it is decent and warranted a proper platform, they have put together an all-new car, christened 'Celerio'. It means 'celestial river', or so we came to know when a fellow journalist inquired the source of the unique name. No connection, but post the initial skepticism, it is an easy name to get used to.
Pretty much like the car.
Coming to the technology part of it, automatic gearboxes have traditionally known to be less fuel-efficient than their manual siblings. Which single-handedly has kept many Indians away from what would be an automatic choice for our troubled traffic conditions. Traditionally, they have also been expensive to build and maintain, which kind of hammered the final nail into the coffin. So, to get away from convention, Maruti engineers tried something unconventional, yet, simple. So, what the Celerio gets is an Auto Gear Shift (AGS), which is inherently a five-speed manual transmission like any other, but this is coupled to a unit that hydraulically controls its working. This unit sits right on top of the transmission and eradicates the presence of a manual clutch. So, what the driver needs to do is use the gearshift like in a traditional automatic, and simply put it in D (drive), N (neutral) or R (reverse). There is no cog for park – like there isn’t in a manual box – and you have to yank the good-old handbrake for that.
Not surprisingly, the box works like a manual which means shifts are quite noticeable. Especially upshifts, as the unit tries hard to keep pace with your throttle position. Power comes from a one-litre next-gen K-series three-cylinder unit. It feels surprisingly smooth and free-revving in the five-speed manual version of the Celerio but is always on the leash in the automatic version. The AGS isn’t meant for spirited driving like in the most expensive German cars, but in our regular Indian traffic, it makes for a stress-free routine. Floor it, and you will hear the engine cry out in protest and the gearbox climb through the ratios with very pronounced pauses. If you are an expert of sorts, then, thankfully, you can shift gears quicker with a manual change option. This is quite welcome and makes the Celerio less restricted to drive on the limit when you get a chance on the open highways.
But the best part of this gearbox is the fuel-efficiency. ARAI verifies it at upwards of 21kpl, but in the real world, the on-board computer was indicating over 18kpl, which for an automatic is downright brilliant. In fact, the manual version, that we drove later (albeit on the limit), was indicating close to 15kpl. Maruti claims maintenance will be low too, simply because the ’box is essentially not very different from a manual.
Just like its transmission, the Celerio doesn’t try to be overtly extravagant. It is designed to be a conventional-looking hatch that looks like a cross between the shapes of an Estilo and an A-Star. It isn’t Grand i10 pretty, but keeps things pleasant with a wide prominent grille and large headlamps. Interiors are spacious and there is enough legroom and headroom that belies its tiny proportions. Ride is supple and steering feel is a good mix of being not too heavy or too light. Plus, it is reasonably pointy and you would be confident enough to push it in between lanes while overtaking. Yes, overtaking you can do reasonably easily with the manual version, but for the automatic try not to be too heroic. Strangely, in a bid to keep costs down and make the automatic more accessible to buyers, Maruti isn’t offering it in the top-spec ZXI. That comes only in the manual version where you get dashboard-integrated music system, steering-mounted audio controls, ABS and even Bluetooth. Although it does say if customers demand they can offer AGS in the ZXi at a later date, which should make it a more wholesome buy.
But even otherwise, the Celerio AGS is a welcome break from the mundane and offers a very practical automatic gear-shifting option in the budget segment. It isn’t an automatic in the true sense, so it doesn’t offer uninhibited levels of performance, but offers similar levels of convenience. More importantly, it offsets its shortcomings by offering unmatched fuel efficiency, which does make many of us sit up and take notice. After all, useable and practical alternatives are not always available for the aam aadmi.
3cyl, 998cc, 67bhp, 90Nm, 5M/5AGS, boot capacity: 235l, fuel tank: 35l, kerb weight: 810-830kg, Rs 3.9-4.96 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi)
Pros: Passenger space, seats, fuel efficiency (AGS variant), performance (manual variant)
Cons: AGS not enjoyable on highway, doesn’t get full feature list variant
A frugal and practical city car with the added benefit of automatic gearbox-like comfort. Not a fun car, but a boon for many mundane lives.