The Celerio needs no introduction; it was the first car in India to feature an automated manual transmission (AMT), bringing the convenience of clutchless driving to the budget hatchback segment. And that’s not all; it is now also the most fuel-efficient car in the country, thanks to Maruti’s new two-cylinder 793cc diesel engine. That, combined with its starting price of R4.65 lakh, makes the Celerio diesel a great value proposition too. The budget diesel hatchback segment is, however, quite crowded today and there are some capable rivals the Maruti will have to better to draw in the sales. The Chevy Beat diesel is the closest direct rival and was one of the first entrants in this entry-level diesel hatchback segment; it’s also very frugal and inexpensive to run. So, which is the car to choose, Maruti or Chevy, two-cylinders or three?
The Celerio has the world’s smallest series production diesel engine on sale in a passenger car. Displacing just 793cc, this two-cylinder engine puts out a meagre 47bhp of power. The Beat makes 56bhp with its larger 936cc, three-pot motor. Neither car is clearly more powerful, evident in their 0-100kph sprint times—22.6 seconds for the Celerio and 18.5 seconds for the Beat. While the Chevy is clearly faster, these figures are not so important for an urban dweller interested in a cheap city runabout. Here, driveability is more important.
On that front, there’s a fair bit of delay between throttle input and power delivery on the Celerio. But cross that mark and there’s a nice pull for a bit, and because the gears are packed so tight, you soon cross 4,000rpm, after which the clatter is quite unbearable. So, it’s best to drive the Celerio in a relaxed manner and the gearbox needs a bit of effort too.
The Beat is clearly the quicker to respond of the two here, the extra cylinder making its presence felt. Driving in traffic, it feels eager, power coming in smooth and early. There is an urgency in the way the Chevy moves and the gearbox requires less effort than the Maruti’s, although the clutch is heavier.
The Beat is also the more refined due to the fact that it has three-cylinders versus two. Yes, there is a bit of a rattle and it does growl a lot too, past 3,500rpm, but it feels smooth on the move and idle isn’t too bad either. The Celerio, on the other hand, sounds like a pneumatic drill on start up. There is a sharp clatter at low speeds and though it smoothens up as you spin the engine faster, there’s a lot of noise past 4,000rpm.
Both these cars have decent road manners. The Celerio, with its long-travel suspension and high-profile rubber, offers a comfortable ride. There is a bit of stiffness that you can feel on occasion, but otherwise ride is good. The little Chevy rides well too but has an underlying firmness in the way it deals with bumps and potholes, so you feel much more of the road below. However, it’s the Celerio that offers the better ride and this is true even at highway speeds, where stability is better too.
Driving in the city, the light steering on both cars make negotiating traffic easy, the Celerio’s steering lacks the precision the Beat has but is the nicer of the two in the city; it’s light and more consistent as well. The Beat feels light at slow speeds and weighs up nicely, feeling only a bit vague at times. The Chevy’s slightly stiffer suspension shocks have made it the nicer of the two at higher speeds and in faster corners, but the Beat feels a bit too nervous and edgy as you up the speeds.
Get inside the cabin of the Celerio and everything seems simple yet well laid-out. Be it the large windows, windscreen, height-adjustable seats, steering wheel or gearlever, they’re all well-placed. The black and beige dual-tone theme looks good. The layered dashboard is also very nicely designed and there are plenty of storage spaces in the Celerio—the cubbyhole under the air-con controls is useful for stashing wallets and mobile phones, while the doors get a bottle holder each and the glovebox is pretty large. However, what we found was that the Beat has a fair number of storage spaces too and the cabin is practical as well.
What lets it down is the fact that it has been around for a while now and its interiors are starting to look dated compared to contemporary competition. The design of the insides is a bit too funky and edgy and the cabin looks like it has been designed with a bunch of 16-year-olds in mind. The centre console is nicer and the buttons function nicely too, but what really lets the Beat down is the seat. Difficult to adjust, it slopes forward, and this means you slide forward a bit every time you brake. There is no thigh support and visibility for the driver is poor too. The Celerio’s front seat is much more comfortable, visibility is better and despite this being a slim seat, support is better too.
Move to the rear and the Maruti’s advantage is evident. There’s much more room and it’s slightly easier to squeeze in three abreast here. Large windows and lighter colours also enhance the feeling of spaciousness. The Beat has limited legroom here and the tall waistline and tiny rear windows can make rear passengers feel claustrophobic.
The Celerio pummels the Beat when you take a look at the price list. The base Celerio diesel costs Rs 40,000 less than a similarly equipped Beat and the difference goes up to Rs 57,000 on the top-spec models. That’s a considerable advantage at this end of the market. The other thing that favours the Celerio is Maruti after-sales service which clearly has the advantage over Chevrolet here. ARAI tests say the Celerio delivers 27.62kpl and the Beat 25.44kpl. In our test, the Celerio managed 16.7 kpl in the city, the Beat wasn’t too far off at 16kpl. On the highway though, the Celerio returned 21.9kpl with the Beat doing 19.1 kpl. So while both are very impressive, the Celerio has the advantage here as well.
The Celerio is the better equipped car here despite being considerably cheaper than the Beat. It gets Bluetooth telephony, electrically adjustable mirrors which are a glaring omission on the Beat that costs R57,000 more. The audio system on both cars offer USB and aux-in ports, but the Celerio also gets Bluetooth music streaming—a very useful feature. This apart, both the cars are quite well-equipped and get features like power windows, power steering, height adjustable drivers seat and trip computer. None of them come with automatic climate control for the air-con though.
Both the Celerio ZDi (O) and Beat LT (O) come equipped with two airbags and ABS as standard fare. If you opt for the lesser ZDi variant of the Celerio or the Beat LT, neither get ABS but only Maruti offers a driver-side airbag as an option on the mid VDi variant.
The Beat kick-started this segment when it was launched four years ago and had the first mover advantage. It is still the car with the better, more refined engine and performance is stronger too. So if these things are important, please check out the Beat before you decide.
The Celerio, however, wins the test because it is a better all rounder. It may be a bit noisier at idle and may not score quite as well for outright performance, but the Maruti does everything a little bit better. It’s more comfortable to sit in, nicer to drive and the big airy cabin delivers the one thing buyers in this segment crave—a feeling of space. In addition, it will be less frequent at the pumps and will be easier on the pocket when you buy it. And then there’s Maruti’s better after-sales network too. The Beat diesel, however, isn’t too far behind.
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