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- May 16, 2019
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If there’s one car urban India has been looking forward to in 2014, it’s the Maruti Celerio. And it’s not for its looks, or that it’s going to be another hassle-free Maruti. It’s the Automated Manual Transmission it debuts with. The Indian car industry hasn’t been too welcoming to automatics in the mass-market segment and that’s mainly got to do with the price. It’s just tough financial sense to invest hard-earned money in an automatic that’s not going to deliver on the efficiency front either. But conditions in major cities have reached a point where it’s just too much effort driving a manual gearbox in stop-go traffic. There was a desperate need to solve the price-efficiency dilemma and the popular answer emerging out of it was the AMT.
Popular because manufacturers like Tata Motors and Mahindra scurried to ready their own versions of the AMT just at the news of Maruti launching one. Maruti informs us that 50 percent of the Celerio’s orders are for the AMT clearly indicating the acceptance of this technology, and going by the trend the Celerio is setting, other manufacturers besides Tata and Mahindra should be planning their own AMTs as well. But how is the Celerio as a car and is the AMT really worth the hype it has created?
You’ve read extensively on Zigwheels on this new type of gearbox – what it means, what it does and why it’s touted to be the savior of urban Indian motoring but here’s a recap. The AMT isn’t an automatic, it’s a manual transmission with a electronic control module that shifts gears without manual operation of the clutch. In a sense, you drive it like an automatic as there is no clutch pedal and the only difference is the absence of ‘park’ mode so you stop it in neutral and end yanking up the hand brake when you leave the car in the parking lot. There is no torque converter and mechanically the gearbox is same as the manual besides the ECU. That makes the AMT cheaper to buy. We’ll come to how it is to drive a little later. Let’s take a look at the car first.
The Celerio isn’t much to look at yet it isn’t a displeasing design. Going by the A-Wind concept of which the Celerio is a production version, we would have liked the bit of flair passed on. But Maruti has taken a safe approach and that’s understandable for a company with such a wide cultural reach in the country. The wide grille, blocky headlamps and simple lines on the bumper are all very modest. The rear design feels a bit disappointing as there is no element of note to talk about. Design is very subjective though.
On the inside, we like the neat dual-tone dashboard. It’s a typically fuss-free Maruti and for a car in the Rs 4-5 lakh price point, it grabs aesthetic middle-ground. The steering cannot be adjusted for rake or reach making it tough to get a perfect driving position as the arm stretches straight every time it reaches the top. Tilt-able steering is offered on the top trim but the AMT is available only in base and mid-spec trims. Maruti didn’t want the AMT equipped cars to look as pricier alternatives to the manual variants so the AMT just can’t be ordered with all the bells and whistles. Build quality isn’t too good in certain places, especially noticeable in the door panels as the plastics flex with a slight push. The AMTs don’t get any safety equipment like ABS and airbags since these are available only on the top-spec manual Celerio.
The front seats are very comfortable and the cushioning offers excellent lumbar support. They are a bit narrow though so if you have a stocky build, side support is compromised. Rear seat comfort and space is surprisingly good - I am 5’10” and need to push the driver’s seat almost all the way to the back and even in that position there’s enough space for an equally tall person to sit comfortably behind me. The spacious package Maruti has come up with without giving it a tall-boy shape is commendable.
Powering the Celerio is the same K-series engine from the Alto K10 and the Wagon R. It develops 68PS of power at 6,200 rpm and 90Nm of torque at 3,500rpm. It’s a peppy motor with good low and mid range grunt and only feels strained and noisy closer to the redline. The Celerio weighs just 810-830kg depending on variant and is quite compact measuring 3,600mm x 1,600mm x 1,560mm (L x W x H). This makes it’s a very nimble car to dart around town and on a winding stretch of road. Good visibility from the driver’s seat only improves confidence to drive it harder. The suspension is pliant at low speeds, not too soft to crash into large potholes but not too stiff either. It’s also sure-footed at high speeds and the Celerio’s light steering makes it quite effortless to drive.
Extracting the engine’s performance through the AMT is a bit of an issue though. The Celerio comes with drive-by-wire technology so gearshifts change according to the way you drive. But the rubber-band effect is amply evident, especially in the lower gears. The lag as the engine changes speeds is just a bit too much for comfort in a continuous gear changing environment when you tend to feather the throttle. It isn’t easy to predict a gear change and so you tend to focus on the revs as you begin to map these changes. It gets jerky at low revs while the gearbox decides to downshift or not. Power available on tap becomes a bit unpredictable because of the dim-witted gearbox and slotting into gaps in traffic requires some planning as a result.
A simple solution is to drive in manual mode where you pull the gear lever for an upshift and push it for a downshift. It makes the car more predictable as you can hold it to the redline and extract more performance out of the motor. It will affect its economy though. But set yourself into an easy driving rhythm and the Celerio AMT will sip fuel with utmost restraint. The on-board mileage indicator gave us a reading of 17kmpl in a mix of city and highway traffic and it has an ARAI certified economy of 23.1kmpl. That’s very impressive.
The Celerio AMT in VXi trim cost Rs 4.43 lakh ex-showroom Delhi, only Rs 38,000 costlier than a manual variant. It is also the cheapest automatic by a huge margin available on sale in India. On a budget and in the market for an automatic, you just don’t have another option to choose from. It also delivers well on space and comfort and is fun to drive as a nimble hatchback. Above all, it delivers better mileage than its manual counterpart. The AMT is slow and jerky agreed, but it still makes driving in our perennially clogged city roads easier on the driver. The Celerio AMT is the need of the hour for an urban Indian commuter and a decent overall car otherwise.
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