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First Drive: Maruti Suzuki Celerio VXI AGS

What is it?

The Maruti Suzuki Celerio is the first AMT (automated manual transmission) powered car in the A+ segment. Unveiled as the A: Wind concept in late 2013, it has replaced the A-Star and the Estilo hatchbacks here after its launch at the 2014 Auto Expo.

With urban areas getting increasingly congested and consequently traffic jams becoming longer (both in length and time) this technology seems to be gaining popularity among Indian buyers.

It offers the convenience of an automatic gearbox but sans the high costs and without the loss in efficiency normally associated with conventional automatic transmissions.

The Maruti Suzuki Celerio VXI AGS (auto gear shift) has been priced at Rs 4.70 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi). It has been targeted at those looking to upgrade from a smaller vehicle or for someone who is buying a car for the first time but has the budget to move beyond the basic offerings.

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How is it on the inside?

Step into the cabin and you are greeted by a two-tone beige and black setup. It has all the typical Suzuki elements that have now become common across its models.

This variant, VXI AGS, gets chrome interior door handles, power windows all around and a manual AC which is quite effective and cools the cabin really quickly.

Our test car had a few of the Maruti Suzuki extras (a.k.a MGAs) like a 2-DIN Kenwood music system (with no Bluetooth connectivity), door sill plates and front foot well ambient lighting. There is sufficient space at the rear thanks to the upright seating position and tall roof but only for two adults or three children. 

In terms of convenience, there are six cup holders across the cabin and the boot space has been pegged at 235 litres which is the second highest in the segment.

The car has been built to a cost and so the quality of the elements in the cabin as well as the trim feels that way too. However, we can expect that they will be long lasting though the beige elements are almost certainly going to get stained over time.

How does it drive?

The AMT technology, dubbed ‘EZ Drive’, uses an electronic control unit to work the hydraulic actuators that engage and disengage the clutch. It is the same five-speed gearbox and clutch unit found in the manual version, a move done to minimise costs.

Slot the car into ‘D’ mode and after just the briefest of delays, it lurches forward. There is a noticeable action with every gear change as the car upshifts. The system has been designed to change gears at different RPMs depending on the throttle input and will downshift if you keep it pinned. It is a bit slow to respond but is more than enough for urban driving conditions.

You can also slot it into the manual mode and control the gearshifts yourself. The changes are instant and it holds the gears till you shift. As a safety mechanism, it will not allow you to drop too many gears in a single attempt nor will it allow you to stay in a higher gear at a lower RPM.

A significant amount of vibrations can be heard and felt in the cabin when the car is idling but this smoothens out when you press the throttle. The ARAI fuel efficiency figure is 23.1kmpl.   

Small Maruti Suzuki cars have always been known for their decent ride quality and this is no different. Most of the bumps are absorbed pretty well and it is only when you hit a really bad pothole that a resounding crash can be heard and felt in the cabin.

The steering is heavy at low speeds but feels better as you go faster. The 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine produces 67bhp and 90Nm of torque. The latter has been spread out decently and there is a good mid-range which will allow you to move along in traffic smoothly and maintain decent highway speeds. The brakes have initial bite and are progressive up to a certain point but would require you to plan your moves in advance especially when travelling at higher speeds.

The seating position for the driver is typical Suzuki like, upright and close to the steering wheel. There is no height adjustment and so for taller people this may be a slight issue as they would have to sit closer for a better view outside.

The windscreen both in the front and back allow a good view of the surroundings allowing for ease of manoeuvrability in tight spots where all around visibility is a priority. In terms of ease of access, all the control surfaces are easily reachable ensuring that the driver will not have to remove his left hand from the steering wheel for too long or stretch too far.    

Why should I buy one?

It is the automated manual transmission which is a boon for today’s increasingly congested urban roads. The feature list is pretty decent for the asking price and it is actually quite a good looking car, a selling point for the ‘selfie’savvy generation.

Lastly Maruti Suzuki’s excellent sales and service network has allowed it (the Celerio) to climb well above the rivals as it is averaging 7,000 units every month since being launched last year.   

Where does it fit in?

The Maruti Suzuki Celerio rivals the Hyundai i10, Ford Figo, Chevrolet Beat and the Datsun Go+. the i10 and Figo are both previous generation vehicles.

The Go+ is the only seven-seater while the Beat is the funkiest looking of the lot. The Celerio’s USP then is its automated manual transmission. 

Photos:Sanchit Arora

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