TRIO LEADS RESURRECTION
Korean marque returns, displaying confidence after a two-year hiatus
Only a mother could love the previous generation SsangYong line-up. While the mum of SsangYong Australia’s managing director Tim Smith has a deep affection for the new Tivoli compact SUV, she won’t be alone. Looking like a blend of Suzuki Vitara and Mini, the Tivoli is the star recruit among a trio of new variants spearheading SsangYong’s return to Australia after a two-year hiatus.
Armed with a seven-year, unlimitedkilometre warranty — matching the industrybest benchmark set by Kia — and standard safety gear including autonomous emergency braking and forward collision warning, SsangYong has relaunched with 32 dealers and a strong drive-away pricing proposition.
The Tivoli starts from $23,490, a sevenseater Rexton begins at $39,990, while the dual-cab ute range has models priced from $30,490. An extended version of the Tivoli, called an ELV with an extra 238mm at the back, has a starting price of $31,990.
“I don’t want a flash in the pan. We are here for the long haul,” Smith says.
SsangYong’s resurrection is also factory backed. Australia is the brand’s first factory subsidiary — the Mahindra-owned outfit has previously only worked globally with distributors.
Like successful Korean brands Kia and Hyundai, SsangYong is currently preparing an Australian tuning team which will make suspension and handling changes for improved performance.
Bolstering SsangYong’s chances of success is the popularity of SUVs and dual-cab utes. SUVs are outselling passenger cars, while utes secured three of the top 10 positions on Australian sales charts last month.
The Tivoli is forecast to be the biggest seller, but Smith can see a big opportunity with the dual-cab ute, where he hopes to “throw a cat among the pigeons”.
Musso utes, and the Rexton SUV, come with a 3.5-tonne towing capacity and 350kg tow ball rating. Early next year will also see the arrival of a longer wheelbase version of the Musso that Smith claims will have the biggest tray in its segment and raise the payload from 790kg to 1020kg with a leaf spring rear suspension.
That will be followed by a major model change to the Tivoli, which includes a 1.5-litre turbo petrol, as well as an all-new mid-size SUV rumoured to be the next Korando.
Marketing manager Mitch Wiley has the greatest challenge: convincing Australians they can trust another brand — but the marque has already addressed its greatest hurdle. Design.
“The previous iterations of these cars have been polarising. There are a lot of people who love what they look like and there are a lot of people that might question it, but it is in the eye of the beholder,” Wiley says.
Safety will include autonomous emergency braking and forward collision warning standard on every model. The Tivoli will, however, launch with a four-star crash rating due to low rear child occupancy performance. Other models are yet to be finalised.
Radar cruise control is also not available,
even on high-end variants, despite having the forward collision software.
The engines all come from the South Korean carmaker, with the only lingering partnership hangover with Mercedes-Benz a seven-speed automatic gearbox found in the Rexton.
Surprisingly, across the range SsangYong has robust performers. They’re not perfect, but they’re far from horrible. Only diesel versions of the Tivoli were available to drive at launch, but it’s expected petrol variants — particularly the 1.5-litre turbo variants coming next year — will be the big sellers.
Acceleration in the diesel is strong and linear, and apart from some road rumble on coarse surfaces it feels accomplished.
Attack a bend with too much vigour and the Tivoli pitches, dives and the body rolls — something which will no doubt be addressed by local tuning changes which are planned for next year.
Gravel driving exposed traction control calibration weaknesses where it constantly engaged and overruled the driver. However, bitumen will be its primary turf which is where it performed without too many complaints.
Hard plastics are used across most surfaces in the Tivoli, indicative of its price point, although the seats are comfortable.
Those wanting more space can opt for the XLV, which adds 238mm in length and expands the boot to a class-leading 720 litres.
Entry-level variants start from $23,490 and come with 16-inch alloys, along with a seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
Mid-spec ELX comes with the diesel option, dual zone aircon, tinted glass and HID headlamps.
Ultimate has all-wheel drive and is exclusively diesel. The top spec gets strong specification for the $33,990 drive-away price tag, including sunroof, leather trim, power adjustable heated and vented front front seats
as well as 18-inch alloys. Two-tone versions cost an extra $500.
Boot space is reasonable at 423 litres, but when the rear seats fold flat there is an awkward lip. The load area is only flat in Ultimate models with a full-size spare.
SsangYong is in a hurry to gain a foothold in Australia. The Tivoli will receive a major upgrade mid-2019, but SsangYong is desperate to gain some early brand traction.