Suzuki hit the sweet spot with their second-generation Celerio, upsizing its value proposition with the new hatchback’s roomy dimensions, and updating its refined powertrain with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that’s easily gamed into delivering remarkable hybrid-like performance.
Bigger but still nimble
Introduced late in 2015, the new Celerio turns the badge into a plus-sized A-segment hatchback with uncompromised seating for five adults and a weekender’s worth of luggage space with its best-in-class 254-liter cargo compartment. It’s now longer by 10cm with a proportionate lengthening of the wheelbase by 9cm, and it boasts of better headroom with a height increase of 7cm.
Those stretched dimensions now tracing straighter character lines seem to have brought more efficient options for making the unibody rigid enough. At 830kg, the new Celerio weighs slightly less than its previous generation model—to the tune of 30kg when comparing base variants. And weight savings did not come from thinning down the metal, this much is clear. The second-gen Celerio is thick-gauged enough to make it slightly heavier than the same-sized Toyota Wigo at 800kg, and the larger Mitsubishi Mirage at 820kg.
Handling and comfort are well balanced. She’s poised when cornering, the steering remains precise and body roll is managed well enough to keep the driver in confident stasis while steering and shrugging of G’s. The bigger dimensions leading to a longer wheelbase and wider tracks might even have improved the Celerio’s sporty demeanor.
Supple enough for both comfort and for keeping all four wheels planted, the suspension feels robust enough, the ground clearance sensible enough, for confidently taking on those occasional softroad challenges. And the wheels mount sedan-sized 165/65 R14’s—good feet under a light sub-compact, good enough but also shrouded by roomy fenders that can take wider rubber if you feel like tweaking those tires.
They kept the engine from the last generation Celerio, and with good reason. The K10B engine, with three inline cylinders displacing just 1.0L, delivers a surprisingly wide powerband and flat torque curve. Torque reaches useful strength long before the published peak of 90NM at 3500rpm. On rollout, there’s already 65NM on tap, or 72 percent of peak, at just 1000rpm. Then, for accelerating, bringing it to 2000rpm keeps things smart enough, putting out 80NM, or 88 percent of peak, and with the engine still at a quiet purr. From there on, torque reaches peak at 3500rpm, and stays above 90 percent until 6000rpm. The engine gets throaty only at around 3000rpm, comfortably above the turns you’ll need for smart acceleration in city driving.
On the automatic gearbox variant, the powertrain is completed with a two-range JATCO CVT7, the same continuously variable transmission used on the Mitsubishi Mirage CVT variant. The CVT7 adds an auxiliary gearbox between the CVT’s pulleys and the shaft to turn the drive wheels. With this auxiliary gearbox and its low and standard gear ratios, the pulleys meant to have continuously varying diameters are kept compact while still delivering a generously wide range of gear ratios starting with a deep bottom ratio of 1:4.07 in the low range, and going up to an exceptionally tall overdrive ratio of 1:0.55 in the standard range.
With this configuration, there’s low range gear reduction to multiply torque for fully loaded and/or uphill situations, and high range overdrive to turn the Celerio into a low-revving highway cruiser. Predictably, in the organized mass fuel-eco test conducted by the Department of Energy and by Petron last May, the Celerio CVT variant got top numbers overall with combined highway and city mileage pegged at 29.4km/l.
In the face of the common complaint against CVT’s, about the rubber-band effect that typically plagues continuous variable transmissions, the Celerio offers an excellent workaround that could get the hatchback to performing as close to a hybrid as you can get without it being, you know, an actual hybrid. (Read on for a lighter take on how this can be, but see our related story, Gaming the Celerio CVT, for a deeper look into the mechanics of what we discovered).
As on most automatic gearboxes, conventional or CVT, the Celerio’s JATCO CVT7 uses a hydraulic torque converter to connect engine to transmission. Torque converters both tolerate and exploit slippage—tolerated because it’s a physical fact, there being slippage when you’re pumping fluid from an impeller to a rotor to transmit torque, and exploited because that slippage causes gear reduction that in turn multiplies torque. And that slippage is eventually eliminated with a lock-up clutch that creates hard contact between the torque converter’s pumping elements. Lock up happens late in the cycle, particularly on conventional automatic gearboxes, kicking in when the vehicle has reached cruise, after shifting all the way up to top gear.
While slippage is left to occur, it’s what actually causes that unpleasant rubber-band effect in CVTs. With hefty throttle, the torque converter’s slippage multiplies torque that quickly tapers off as the driven rotor catches up with the impeller’s revs. This complicates the task of the CVT’s controller, putting it behind the curve as it hunts for ideal gear ratios and corresponding pulley diameters. Result is momentary excess torque at insufficient speed, the engine roaring too much for the amount of force it delivers (that rubber-band stretching before coming back taught again).
The Celerio’s JATCO solution is elegant: since the torque converter feeds into a continuously variable system (no distinct gears, no shift shock), the CVT7 gearbox triggers the lock-up clutch early on, as early as during roll out, in fact. To bring it into play, use this Rule of Twos as described in our related story, Gaming the Celerio CVT: roll out by just stepping off the brake pedal and then easing in the gas to bring revs up to 2000rpm, no higher, and then wait for about 2 seconds. That much gas for that long will get you to 20km/h where you’ll notice revs dropping to 1500rpm. That’s your cue, the lock-up clutch is in and you now have hard, no-slip contact in the torque converter.
Go gentle on the throttle for those crucial seconds on roll out and you’ll be able to step on the gas however you like afterwards, and this while being treated to the Celerio’s surreal alter ego. With an engine that offers rich torque early on, that’s quiet until you want it to be otherwise, and with no slippage in the system to induce the dreaded rubber-band effect, this gamed Celerio will make you think Suzuki had somehow added an electromotor under the hood … she’ll be that zippy, and quiet.
And, beyond defeating that slippage and its rubber-band effect with this workaround, there’s also the option to come back out of clutch lock-up with a shift from standard down to low range on the CVT7 to contrive a fast-twitch kickdown where there shouldn’t be any, not on a CVT. (See our story on gaming the Mitsubishi Mirage CVT and find the parameters for doing this contrived kickdown safely on the larger hatchback that features the same JATCO gearbox.)
For all comers
At a friendly P549K for an eco-friendly fuel miser, drive her right and the Celerio CVT is the closest you’ll come to experiencing a hybrid without it being, you know, an actual hybrid, and at the fraction of the price.
Nevertheless, there are fans who lament the upsizing upgrades that, in their view, make the Celerio less sporty, no longer a pocket rocket. But the engineering is pretty much intact, made more elegant on a hatchback broken out of its small car niche and brought closer to the mainstream big leagues.
The numbers show it: the Celerio was Suzuki’s main growth driver in 2016, delivering an increase of 134 percent over the previous year’s older model sales (see their news release). And, what really should matter to all fans, both old and new, is that the young Celerio line is growing up but remains as sporty as when it had started out … you just have to look deeper to see it.