Where it sits: The top version of SsangYong’s unique–looking ute. The range starts at $29,990 for the two-wheel-drive manual with automatic adding $2000.
- by Robert Wilson
SINCE it re-emerged as an independent marque from the wreckage of Daewoo in 2002 SsangYong has been peddling its wares in Australia with modest success. It is the most expensive of the Korean brands, which keeps sales restrained. To pay $13,990 for a Hyundai Getz is one thing, to fork out $49,990 for SsangYong’s flagship Rexton SUV is commitment on another level. About 2300 buyers will make the SsangYong leap of faith in Australia this year
What do they get for their money? Uniqueness. SsangYong follows its own path. Its truck-building heritage shows up in separate chassis underlying all its models and in styling its philosophy seems to follow Oscar Wilde’s dictum that be that the only worse thing than being talked about is not being talked about. Better for an upstart maker to be noticed and reviled than blend into the background.
The ultimate expression of this idea is the SsangYong Stavic people mover, which has generated much more vitriolic ink than its modest sales could ever justify. Motoring writers love it because it gives them license to give their nasty side full throttle. Writing for another publication I once said the Stavic was so ugly owners should be careful not to leave it parked on the street on council clean-up day.
The Actyon provokes similar responses. While the overall silhouette and proportions are fine, to some eyes the clash of angles in its front styling makes it look like one of those unfortunate vehicles you sometimes see on their way to the panel beater after rear-ending the car in front.
I see an avian influence. It looks like a giant – and not very happy – bird of prey with its beady eyes and massive beak. But get over it – or stick a bullbar on it if you live in the country – because the surprising news is that the Actyon Sports is not all bad.
The Actyon Sports is a ute version of the Actyon SUV and like that vehicle is available with petrol and diesel engines in two and four-wheel drive. CarAdvice drove the top model in the ute range, the diesel Limited automatic, priced at $39,990.
Utes are not known for their generous standard equipment but the Actyon Sports Limited is equipped to something approaching luxury car levels. It has ABS, rear disc brakes (rare in this class), a quite appealing set of 18-inch alloys, climate control air conditioning with rear ducting, electrically-adjustable heated front seats, reverse parking sensors, power-folding mirrors, rain sensitive wipers, manual headlight levelling and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. The Actyon’s front airbags were rare in any 4WD ute until recently – but it missed the chance to up the ante by having side airbags.
The range begins at $29,990, for the basic two-wheel-drive model with rear drum brakes and 16-inch steel wheels. But even it has a standard plastic tray liner, immobiliser, keyless entry, alarm, front and rear mudflaps, front and rear fog lamps, electric windows, power mirrors, a four-speaker CD sound system with steering wheel controls and air-conditioning, not bad in a sector where some manufacturers will charge you more than $50,000 for a vehicle with no internal mirror adjustment.
Cabin fit and finish are fine but some of the plastics are hard and brittle in feel. Control layout is a little eccentric, with large circular clusters of buttons for minor functions, although all the major systems are more-or-less where you’d expect to find them. The handbrake is on the left of the transmission and the indicators are on the left of the steering column. Anyone familiar with Korean cars will recognise the tobaccoey interior smell and over-tanned steering wheel leather of the Actyon as common with most cars from that part of the world.
It’s a roomy cabin by ute standards, with plenty of head room and above average rear seat comfort. There are no child seat anchors although there are bolt-holes for them and there’s only a lap belt for the centre back-seat passenger. The front seat is also well bolstered and a closer, more supportive fit than often found in this class of vehicle.
The other aspect of roominess in a dual cab ute is the tray. At 1275mm long, 1610mm wide and 540mm deep the Actyon Sports’ tray is between 150 and 200mm shorter than that of a typical Japanese competitor but wider and deeper. The press kit mentions an 828kg load limit for the tray, up 200kg on the old Musso ute.
SsangYong have long had a technical cooperation relationship with Mercedes-Benz and the Actyon’s 2.0-litre diesel engine is based on a Mercedes-Benz design. With common-rail injection and a variable geometry turbocharger it delivers a respectable 104kW at 4000rpm and 310Nm at 1800rpm. SsangYong claims fuel consumption of 8.7 litres per 100km for the auto and 8.0l/100km for manual versions. On test it used 10.5 l/100km.
On the highway it cruises along with passenger car levels of refinement, only rarely does it need to be pushed hard enough to deliver the thrashing, braying sound that diesel utes used to inflict on their drivers from the moment the key was turned.
But there’s a major irritant in the way it coordinates with the Actyon’s Australian-made four-speed automatic. (that’s right folks, the same box as in Ford Falcons so at least overhauls will be cheap). Turbo lag, or more accurately, a combination of boost threshold lag,a modest torque endowment and a two-tonne mass can be a hassle when trying to move off smartly from rest.
Typically you’ll spot a gap in traffic while trying to get on to a busy road and push down the pedal. Nothing happens, you start saying “come one, come on, come on!”and then you bolt forward just as the gap is closing. After a whjile you learn to compensate and anticipate but spoils an otherwise impressive combination that is smooth-shifting and suffers less than expected form only having four speeds.
Off-roading was limited to a brief excursion over some rather damp fire trails but a 2.48:1 low range reduction ratio is good sign that the Actyon Sports might be a reasonably useful device in the bush . It’s selected by a small rotary switch rather than a lever. Unfortunately there’s no rear limited slip differential, which could be a weakness on muddy or severely rutted tracks.
On road it impressed with a very refined manner at highway speeds. Ride is well above ute standards thanks to a five-link coil-sprung rear axle –passenger car technology until a few years ago. There’s none of the unladen tail-happiness that afflicts many other utes and although it gets jiggly and a little noisy over broken bitumen there’s no effect on directional stability. In some competitors the driver would be working the wheel like Ari Vatanen just to keep in a straight line.
That’s not to say the Actyon is any sort of sporty handler – it isn’t. It handles like two-tonne 4WD ute – but it feels a touch above the pretty low dynamic standards of its class. Despite being rack and pinion the Actyon’s steering is not great, with virtually no communication about what’s happening at the road surface. It’s reasonably accurate at straight-ahead, though.
The Actyon Sports is no beauty – but its not the beast I’d feared it would be. If you’re looking for a ute that has comfortable passenger accommodation, good fuel consumption and your loads are bulky rather than heavy, it is worth putting on your shopping list.
SsangYong Actyon Sports
Engine : 2.0 litres
Power : 104kW
Torque : 310Nm
Top Speed : N/A
Luggage capacity: 1275x1610x540mm
Safety:ABS – front airbags – front seatbelt pre-tensioners and load limiters
ANCAP Rating : not tested
Turning Circle : 12.4 M
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km Fuel
Fuel tank: 75 litres
Combined Consumption : 8.1- 8.7 litres/100km
Fuel Type : diesel