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Maruti Suzuki Celerio VXi with AGS Test Drive Review

Maruti Suzuki Celerio VXi with AGS Test Drive Review

Snapshot: Maruti's new Celerio is all set to revolutionise the Indian automotive industry with its innovative Automated Gear Shift(AGS) system

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Maruti’s biggest success in the recent times has been the Swift, a car which is the hearthrob of a few lakh people. So far, that kind of a success has not been replicated in the recent times with other maruti cars, but the Celerio is poised to change all that, with its clever new technology. This technology is the automated manual transmission, which Maruti calls ‘Auto gear Shift’ (AGS) for short. The Celerio has received an overwhelming response, with more than half the demand coming for the AGS version – it now remains to be seen if consumers whole heartedly embrace what could be the next biggest thing in terms of technology advancement in the Indian automotive market.

Of late, Maruti’s cars have gotten smart in design and the Celerio is proof of this. The front looks good with a sort of chiselled look. The design of the front headlamps is noteworthy, with their sharp silhouettes and profiles, incorporating the parking and turn signal indicators towards the inside and a powerful main headlight. The front grille has two chrome strips running through giving it a very stylish look, and the nicely sculpted front bumper with its prominent chin gives an upmarket feel. Fog lamps are present on some versions, as are turn indicators in the mirrors and alloy wheels.

The side profile is plain, with a rising waistline, and an obvious kink. Maruti learnt with the A-Star that the Indian car buying junta does not like small rear windows, and moved quickly to ensure that the rear windows are large and give a good view out, which is also important in imparting some airiness in the cabin. Available alloy wheels in the ZXi version further enhance the side looks.

The rear end is not so happy, and is remniscent of the Alto 800. It is quite a busy butt – with large tail lamp clusters making the boot hatch look small in comparison. Shod with 165/70 tyres riding on 14” rims, the car looks a bit disproportionate from the back. Also, there is a ugly hatch lifting handle in the middle of it all which is black in the LXi and VXi and body-coloured in the ZXi; takes away completely from the looks of the car. In short, an excellent front end, nice side profile but a butt-ugly rear. Looks are subjective, we understand but merely stating an opinion here…!  

The interiors again are a subject matter for discussion. The interiors are done in a combination of the new colour that’s fashionable for budget cars – ‘greige,’ a combination of grey and beige. Hard wearing plastics for the most part are what are prominent inside, and the design of the whole dashboard is curved with it inside. Maruti calls this a ‘sweeping wave’ design, though the person who named this must have a wry sense of humour. Luckily, the top of the dashboard is black, so it keeps unwanted reflections away on a sunny day. The glovebox is of normal size – neither too big nor too small, and it will hold all your knick-knacks comfortably. Higher trims like ZXi get a fabric insert on the door pads.

The rear seats are quite spacious for their class, and a wheelbase of 2425mm ensures adequate leg room – you don’t have to crouch in the back if you are normal Indian size. The boot space, an important consideration for India is 235 litres, as claimed by the company. Need more? You can flip the rear seats in a 60:40 ratio (only in the VXi and ZXi versions) for more luggage space.

The AGS system is not the only high-tech feature in the car. The instrimentation and the audio system is also quite advanced. Let us start with the audio system, which unfortunately is available as a factory-fit only on the ZXi model, with steering mounted controls. Amongst its many virtues is its ability to pair with two mobile phones simultaneously, using bluetooth technology. While the main phone can be used for phone calls, texts etc., the second paired phone can be used for streaming music through A2DP functionality, a feature protocall now common on most smartphones which have bluetooth. Sound quality is acceptable, but this gee-whiz audio system is present only on the top models.

The other great gadget is the smart instrument cluster. Unusually for a car in this segment, you can configure multiple options on it – including a lane change indicator, security monitoring, locking/unlocking of doors and amyriad of other stuff – looks pretty cool and is also functional with important displays like a distance-to-empty calculator, average fuel consumption indicator and other useful data.

Engine, Transmission and Performance
The engine of the Celerio is Maruti’s well known, tried and tested KB10. A 1.0-litre 3-cylinder unit, this little powerhouse loves to rev its heart out and consequently produces 67 horses with 90Nm of torque for good driveability. A few tweaks to the engine have improved its performance, like the new drive-by-wire throttle system, an electronic accelerator of sorts. Optimising of compression ratio, changing the engine oil etc have reduced frictional losses further and the car is much smoother and peppier to drive. Although 3-cylinder engines are normally dynamically unbalanced and tend to vibrate, the KB10 is a amooth and versatile unit.

The greatest trick however has to be the automated manual gearbox, which Maruti calls the ‘Auto Gear Shift’ or AGS. AGS basically utilises an intelligent hydraulic actuator which functions as an electronic clutch and increases or decreases the gears, taking in factor a variety of inputs like throttle position, road speed, engine speed etc. This is also calculated by the Transmission control Unit (TCU) which drives the gearbox. The best part is that it is a perfectly sealed unit, and you do not evcen need an oil change on this gearbox for 10 years – or 1,60,000 kilometres! That’s durabilty for you. While driving, it functions like an automatic gearbox mostly and is remarkably intuitive. Some people have complained of jerkiness, but if you are used to driving an automatic gearbox, then you will do fine. Otherwise also, it works quite well – naturally it will not be in the league of high end auto boxes, but it is functional and quite efficient. By the way, the Celerio returns a fuel efficiency of 23.1 kmpl, even with AGS!

Handling and Safety
The Celerio is a small family car and exhibits the road mannerisms and dynamism demanded of it in its everyday role. The handling is good, and the suspension takes good care of bumps and potholes along the way. The feel is generally good, with the electric power steering giving a good response and weighing up nicely. The 165/70 tyres (155/80 in the LXi) do not inspire much confidence, but are present more for fuel efficiency with their skinny treadprint.

While standard stuff like side-impact beams, a collapsible steering column and a high mounted third brake light is standard, what is glaring in its omisssion are things like airbags and anti-lock braking system (ABS). Ony the top end ZXi gets only a driver’s airbag and a passenger airbag is optional! Even ABS is optional – its time Maruti got serious about the fitment of this stuff…

Summary:The Maruti Suzuki Celerio as it is, is set to revolutionise the Indian automotive industry. It’s a great car to drive, is brimming with high technology features and has pioneeered automated manual transmission, which is somethng that more manufacturers will slowly introduce in the Indian market. This brilliant car however is let down by wonky specifications. The VXi model gets AGS, but it is not available in top level ZXi trim. Add to that, that you cannot specify ABS or airbags in the other trims – but niggling complaints apart, what cannot be taken away is the fact that the Celerio is a brilliant vehicle, with an amazing drive feel. Oh, its available in a standard manual transmission too, if you feel so inclined; but we would suggest you go in for the AGS, as that is a better choice and with prices starting at Rs. 4.14 lakh for the LXi AGS, it simply is clever.

The biggest competitor to the Celerio is undoubtedly Hyundai’s i10. A very good car in itself, the i10 makes a compelling case for itself, with a similar output of 67 horses. However, an automatic transmission is no longer part of the game, though the i10 does come with a lot of goodies; but unfortunately safety essentials like airbags and ABS are amiss here too. Prices start at Rs. 3.87 lakh for the base vanilla version.

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