IF you think about Korean automotive manufacturers, Hyundai and Kia are undoubtedly the first brands to pop into your head. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course – lately they have been producing some great vehicles – but there is another marque that is vying for attention.
SsangYong has been selling cars in South Africa for almost two decades and its first model that was launched locally, the Musso, gained quite a cult following, even though the design was, well … strange. Perhaps its popularity can be ascribed to the bold font on the rear window that proudly exclaimed it was powered by a Mercedes-Benz engine.
Over the last few years, the Musso was followed by a couple of SUVs (including the Kyron that formed part of our long-term fleet), bakkies and the oddball Stavic that is so loved by funeral parlours. And then there was silence as SsangYong got caught up in a horrible buy-out by Chinese-owned SAIC that went so pear-shaped that, at one point, workers threatened to burn down the factory!
But that’s all in the past. With the new Korando, there are indications that this revitalised SsangYong has more to offer than just a bargain price tag.
For a start, it’s a good-looking compact SUV. SsangYong enlisted renowned design house Italdesign to pen the Korando’s lines. And it seems to have worked: wherever it went during the test period, members of the public were inquisitive about the vivid orangemetallic SUV. The resurgent manufacturer will surely welcome such positive attention.
It’s not only the exterior that sets it apart from older Ssang- Yong models; the Korando is the company’s first monocoquebodied SUV, which has obvious benefits for safety levels and dynamic ability compared with previous SsangYongs.
Another major mechanical change for this company is that the engine is the first one entirely developed and built by SsangYong. The 2,0-litre turbodiesel unit delivers 130 kW and 360 N.m of torque. These figures are good enough for an acceleration time to 100 km/h in less than 10 seconds and strong in-gear acceleration, making the Korando a very tractable car in city traffic as well as on the open road.
There are a few negative aspects, however. Pin the throttle in town traffic – especially through a turn – and the steering wheel squirms slightly as the front wheels struggle to cope with the torque output. Furthermore, in slow driving and at start-up, you’ll notice the engine’s loud clattering.
The noise dies down as speed increases, however, and it remains smooth through the best part of the rev range. Between 2 000 and 4 000 r/min, where it offers its best performance, the surge of power can be very addictive.
SsangYong claims the Korando sips only 6,1 litres/ 100 km, which isn’t too far off the fi gure of 6,7 litres/100 km we achieved during our fuel run. Unfortunately, the relatively small fuel tank limits the range somewhat.
Although the gearshift is direct and reasonably slick, the clutch proved diffi cult to modulate. A couple of testers praised the light action, but complained that the clutch only “took” near the top of the release of the left pedal. Another point of contention is the electrically assisted steering, which is accurate enough but tardy in its responses to driver inputs.
The ride quality is generally absorbent, but bumps still translate to the cabin on lessthan- ideal road surfaces. Perhaps the handsome 18-inch alloys and relatively low-profi le rubber detract from the overall road poise, but on balance the SsangYong conveys an air of refi nement that few, if any, of its predecessors did.
Similar to its dynamic repertoire, the cabin created mixed feelings in the CAR offi ce. Passengers seated on the rear bench will fi nd adequate leg- and headroom. One of our taller testers (1,87 metres) had more than ample space even when the driver’s seat was set to his ideal driving position. Furthermore, the luggage capacity is augmented by the rear seatbacks that can fold completely fl at.
Unfortunately, the indifferent quality of some of the interior panels and trim materials detract from the Korando’s generously equipped cabin. Certain elements of the instrumentation, knobs and facia can be closely compared with that of the Korando’s closest rivals, the Kia Sportage and Hyundai ix35. Other parts, such as the area above the glove box, the steering-wheel boss and its function buttons, and switchgear on the doors are below the class standard.
There are a few surprise-anddelight features, such as keyless entry (but no push-button start function), integrated puddle lamps in the side mirrors and a handy shopping-bag hook on the inside of the transmission tunnel on the front passenger’s side. However, if you compare the Korando’s interior to those of its main competitors, SsangYong scores points for effort but fails to make the podium.
One thing SsangYong hasn’t skimped on, is a comprehensive service plan of fi ve years/ 105 000 km, which bests the Nissan Qashqai’s sub-par threeyear/ 90 000 km plan and matches that of the ix35.
The Korando represents a step in the right direction for Korea’s “other” manufacturer and, even if it doesn’t set a benchmark in its segment, does offer a viable alternative and an encouraging taste of what’s to come. Some attention must still be given to both quality of materials and mechanical refi nement, but one thing is clear: SsangYong means business.