A call to Pratham motors in HSR Layout and a word with them on the interest in Celerio was enough for them to scramble a car for a test drive. The AMT (automated manual transmission) is lately catching the fancy of many Indian car buyers as well as automobile manufacturers. Maruti, Tata have taken early leads to jump into the business of making this transmission in order to woo two kinds of crowds – ladies who would otherwise find it difficult to drive a manual tranny car and the scores of individuals who are fed up commuting in a 2 to 3 hours gruelling traffic jam each day changing gears thousands of times.
The Celerio was the first of the bunch to sport the AMT, followed by Alto, and news of Wagon R jumping onto the same bandwagon. Tata however have cleverly put in an AMT only currently into their zest sedan, needless to say only on the top diesel variant retailing over 8 lacs ex-showroom. This cost would definitely put off a few prospective automatic car buyers.
On the non AMT side, we do have many cars that already sport an automatic transmission including but not limited to the Maruti Ritz & Dzire, the Honda Amaze, Brio and the City, the Micra and Sunny from Nissan, etc. While these are pure automatics, the AMT is a different experiment to keep the mileage returned at almost that of a manual. While the CVTs like the micra are the most fun to drive, the AMTs are basically trying to address the mundane commute in a much better way.
A couple of pleasantries later, I let my wife drive the Celerio first after which I took to the wheel myself. There are basically two modes provided with respect to the automatic transmission. One is the fully automatic D-N-R mode where the car takes over what to do fully, and the other is the Manual (M) mode with + and – for upshifts of gear or downshifts. This mode must be enough to remind you of the fact that at heart these cars are still the manual ones, but the manufacturers have pulled off neatly the clutch handling part by automating that physical action of engaging or disengaging a clucth.
My drive was roughly about 2 to 3 kms with varying terrain: some smooth roads, few really bad speed breakers, and some roads with potholes. The first part was the fully automatic drive mode. The car picks up rather hesitatingly but settles down from first gear and the gears quickly move upto 2nd and 3rd thereon. The idea of this mode is to bring the car to the highest gear in the shortest time to conserve fuel on the drives. This is both good and bad. Good for the money saved, bad for the thrill lost of driving a manual car. With due respects to manual cars, I would not hinge on discussing those here. The only aim here is to let you know the comfort that AMTs aim to offer and evaluate whether the claims really make sense.
The automatic mode is something I can term as a complete fuss free experience. Release the handbrake and you are all set to go. That’s it. Accelerate when you want, brake when you want and the car simply wont switch off. Wish granted and it performs great wherever you amble the car around. While moving from standstill since it picks up from 1st gear, all the way to 4th, its a smooth acceleration barring a momentary hesitation in second and third to lunge forward. Its not unbearable, and in my opinion not significant enough to delay you so much to get you frustrated (unlike the honda amaze automatic CVT).
While slowing down the car tends to remain in second gear most of the times unless you physically get it to a full stop where it would switch back to first gear. Now when you accelerate rather hard when its on second there is a certain vibration before the car settles down. This is rather annoying but I guess we have to live with this flaw for the remaining creature comforts of an automatic. Its just an overlooked aspect in my opinion and may be addressed in forthcoming revisions of the vehicle after customer feedback.
Now the manual mode. Slide the lever to “M” or “D” on the go as you like. In “M” mode, the onus is on the driver to trip down (pull down the gear lever) each time a gear upshift is needed. For downshifts the level would be pulled upwards. This is more precise for me and its like driving a manual without the clutch pedal but with gear shifts 🙂 And the car can be made to listen to your whims of which gear you want to be on. One clever thing that you expected and is provided as a feature is that you only need to upshift while on the move. If you slow down the car downshifts by itself upto 1st gear. Smart.
Even in the manual mode, the car tries to remain on second gear as much as possible. Not sure why this implementation was done this way, but that is how it is.
For the other bits that are worth liking about the Celerio now. Some colours are head turning in this car – I loved the green, red and blue specifically. The headlamp design, the indicators in the front are certain things that make the car look definitely good and modern enough. The rear seems in my opinion a bit disconnected from the whole frame, but its not totally worthless. The LXi version is for those who dont have money, and the VXi version is for those who have money but still dont get enough features for that money.
The difference is about 50000 bucks and for that money, you get power windows, wheel caps (yea we are still talking like its 1995), auto driver window down (I call this double click down), lots of chrome here and there, vanity mirrors (LXi owners wives would be an angry lot), rear parcel shelf (oh common maruti), 60-40 split seat (necessary in my opinion as a combination of passenger+luggage is possible at rear), central locks, and power windows. This feature set is worth paying the differential amount for in my opinion.
What the car is missing though is Airbags on AMT version which is a big minus (now you remember the indian dialogue “if i am driving slow i dont need airbags” 🙂 ). There is no stereo in either AMT version which is another minus. No seat covers, etc. The rear wiper is present which is much better than defogger. Another point is the gear indicator shows up on the console only in auto mode (wonder why!) if that really matters to you.
I don’t like manufacturers deliberately cutting down on the airbags just to make a model sell well. This shows the irresponsibility from their side on the lives of buyers. Even the impending rules from government for making airbags mandatory would mean they consider only the driver as a human being and provide a single airbag to satisfy the government. What I really hate is the either automatic or airbags choices which are really senseless and idiotic in the year 2015. I wish manufacturers use their heads more than just keep cash registers ringing by selling unsafe cars year on year. I wish someone puts up a petition challenging all this in a big way. For me an optional airbag facility would have made this an A+ car to drive. Unfortunately Maruti for their own reasons cut out that pleasure from buyers and dampened them for good.
So if I buy the car, I guess I’ll be one of those owners who’d have to tell anyone who asks “I am driving slowly why must I need an airbag?” to satisfy my foolishness of buying a car without these. The other way to ask this question is to say “I am willing to pay who is giving me airbags in this combination?” – that’s atleast a better proposition.
The space in Celerio is really commendable for a hatchback, and five people might be able to sit in peace. Overall I found the headroom, legroom and general comfort to be substantial for a car this size and Maruti has really worked on the space part and got this equation right on this car. Given Celerio is coming in with diesel, it would be a right spot that the company has got with respect to having its sales charts on fire. Not that it already hasn’t with whats available.
On bad roads the Celerio is a good boy and handles most bad-boy-road-humps with ease even when loaded upto 4 people and a kid. I really went on some seriously ugly humps and it didn’t bat an eyelid. The handling was good and the occupants did not complain or were thrown about much. I did find the pickup to be slightly less with AC on and 4 people loaded but I need to drive this car more to ascertain whether this is indeed a sore point or not. A 2km test drive was insufficient for me to understand this part. The window was slightly higher to my liking and kids would not be able to see out if they are on the rear seat. The Hyundai i20 is like that and there are some cars such as these which have deep seating which is both good and bad. The driver maybe able to feel the pinch with this kind of seating.
There is no seat height adjust or steering tilt which is really sad as I am pretty sure providing that feature is not going to cost Maruti a bomb. These are mainly missed out to keep that differentiation in sales and in my opinion these are really stupid moves to say the least.
In summary the Celerio is a likeable car for the way it handles, and the space. Sprucing up the feature list can make it the next Wagon R for the next decade or so. The AMT is a breeze and its a no brainer for new drivers. Five adults would be comfortable on this vehicle and on long drives it surely would be much appreciated for the cruises it can offer. The hill holding capability is not yet tested by me but I did see that on a sloping section of road, the car did not move backwards on releasing the brakes which means there is some sort of implementation to prevent that.
The LXi at the time of writing sells in Bangalore at 5.3 OTR and the VXi at 5.8 OTR. The recommendation is to go for VXi as the features are much better. All the colours are nice to look at and Maruti’s service assurance should keep 90% of the customers happy with any purchase you do through them.
There can be many things told about the car, but experiencing an AMT in action is a totally different pleasure and I am sure you would not have any complaints on that front. Until the next car review, this is Srikanth from the Bangalore blog signing off for now.