Cars with big diesel engines may be in the news for all the wrong reasons but the two models you see here are as far away from the controversies as can be. While it helps that they are not luxury cars by any stretch of the imagination, what will keep unwanted attention off them is that they run amongst the smallest and most efficient diesel engines in the business.
Where the Maruti Celerio, with its twin-cylinder, 0.8-litre turbo-diesel unit delivers an ARAI-tested fuel economy of 27.6kpl, the best among all small cars, Tata’s latest three-cylinder, 1.05-litre turbo-diesel engine that debuts on the new Tiago also delivers a very frugal 27.3kpl in the Indian Driving Cycle.
In essence, these are cars tailor-made for those looking at low running costs. But which one offers the more complete package?
We won’t go too deep into the subjective issue of design and styling but we think you’ll agree when we say the Tiago has the more appealing form. The well-proportioned Tata looks fresh and chic, and a whole lot more interesting than the functional looking Celerio. This holds true for their cabins as well.
Tata has outdone itself by giving the Tiago a cabin that wouldn’t seem out of place on a more expensive car. The textured finish to the smartly laid out dash, the rich seat fabrics, the roof lining and even the damped operation of the glovebox lid lend this space a premium ambience. It’s well thought out too. Outside visibility is good and there’s lots of space to store odds and ends.
Count the number of storage spaces and you’ll find the Celerio’s cabin closely matches the Tiago’s in practicality. But, it’s a level or two down on design and execution. Again, where the simple dashboard places the important controls within easy reach and even houses the high-set gear lever, it looks staid and unremarkable.
The Celerio’s front seats, with their fixed headrests, don’t appear special either but they do offer good comfort. The rear seat is comfortable and supportive too but where it makes a mark is in terms of space. Legroom is really impressive and there’s more than adequate headroom as well. The large windows further help the airy feeling inside. Suzuki designers have really made the most of the Celerio’s small footprint.
The Tiago’s cabin is roomy in its own right but it has smaller rear windows and less rear leg- and headroom. Some might find the rear seat backrest a touch too reclined too.
Power windows, electric mirror adjust, height-adjustable driver’s seats, steering-mounted audio controls, audio systems with USB, aux-in and Bluetooth for music streaming and telephone functions are some of the features you can expect on the top-spec versions of both these cars. However, the Tiago gets a more comprehensive sound system which includes four speakers plus four tweeters. The Tiago’s infotainment system can also be hooked up to your smartphone to relay sat-nav instructions. Rear parking sensors and a cooled glovebox are some of the other features exclusive to the Tiago. The Celerio does offer the versatility of a split rear seat though.
In terms of safety, the top versions of both cars get dual airbags and ABS, though neither car offers the protection of adjustable rear headrests.
Small engines are good for fuel economy, not so much for power and performance. In this respect, the Celerio seemingly enters the competition with a big disadvantage. Its two-pot motor churns out just 47.6hp though peak torque is an acceptable 124.5Nm. The Tiago’s larger three-cylinder mill, on the other hand, makes a far more respectable 70hp and 140.2Nm.
The Tiago is hence unsurprisingly the quicker of the two, completing the 0-100kph dash in 17.52 seconds, the Celerio taking 22.66 seconds for the same. In terms of top speed, the Celerio will also max out at 138kph whilst the Tiago will pull to 161kph.
But, weighing in at 900kg, the Celerio is a full 180kg lighter than the Tiago diesel, and hence feels more responsive than the Tiago, as long as you are in the right gear for a particular speed. However, the Celerio’s engine gives you a very narrow rev range to operate in, so you have to keep the engine revs within that band. The clutch is light but gearshifts call for a firm shove.
Where the Celerio simply disappoints is in refinement. The engine sounds quite agricultural with its distinct diesel clatter . The Tiago’s three-cylinder engine, in comparison, runs a lot quieter and the more generous sound deadening on the body helps too.
Drive at high speeds or just uphill and you’ll also find the Tiago has the legs on the Celerio. The Tata hatch has adequate pulling power from 1,500rpm on and this reduces the need to work the occasionally notchy gearbox and short-travel clutch. Still, you need to make sure you have the engine reved up for a quick overtaking move.
Drive the Tiago and the Celerio on the same roads and you’ll notice subtle differences in how they tackle surface imperfections. The Celerio has the flatter high-speed ride but feels that little bit firmer over the rough at low speeds. The Tiago, on the other hand, rounds off the bumps better but is also more susceptible to vertical movements at speed. Still, it’s the Tiago that feels more sure-footed at all times. The Tiago’s steering is devoid of feel at the straight-ahead position but it’s better weighted than the Celerio’s slightly heavy steering. The Celerio’s steering also doesn’t self-centre sufficiently and this is an irritant. At corners, the Celerio comes across as an easy handler but higher grip levels and the sportier dynamics means the Tiago is the car that you’ll enjoy more.
With class-leading fuel economy, incredibly low running costs and the reassurance you get from buying a Maruti, the Celerio diesel should have rocked the market. However, the Celerio’s mediocre refinement has been its biggest impediment in achieving mass acceptance. The Celerio diesel scores decently on other parameters but it’s not a car that will top anyone’s wishlist.
Quite to the contrary the Tiago brings in a degree of desirability into the segment. It’s attractively styled, comes with a well-finished interior and promises to come loaded with features. The engine isn’t the liveliest around but the overall driving experience makes up for the lack of pep. Additionally, Tata has priced the Tiago diesel range from Rs 3.94-5.54 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), successfully undercutting comparable Celerios, which makes the new Tata a tremendous value proposition. Although these prices are introductory and could go up later, it seems Tata has learnt a lesson from the Bolt’s pricing strategy (widely perceived as on the higher side). So, with the new Tiago, the budget end of the diesel hatchback segment is Tata’s for the taking.