With Hyundai and Kia looking anything but close to entering the utility market, the Ssangyong Actyon Sports is South Korea’s dark horse choice for tradies.
For many businesses, picking the right work vehicle for their needs is as much about getting bang for their buck as it is about calling on tried and tested brands.
And the Ssangyong Actyon Sports is not only one of the most affordable dual-cab utes on the market, starting at just $26,990, but it’s also the most fuel efficient in its class, consuming just 7.3L/100km on the official combined fuel cycle.
For those largely unfamiliar with the Ssangyong marque, the company has been around in one form or another since 1954, and is currently the fourth largest car manufacturer in Korea, with global sales of more than 100,000 units across 93 countries.
In Australia, the car maker is best remembered for the Ssangyong Musso luxury SUV, which enjoyed moderate success for a few years, due largely to its much-publicised Mercedes-Benz powertrain and remarkable value.
Ssangyong, however, has also achieved notoriety for questionable styling, perhaps most notably its awkwardly designed Stavic people-mover.
Yet no doubt spurred by the success its compatriots Hyundai and Kia have had with revitalised design languages, Ssangyong is making moves to be literally more attractive to buyers.
The company approached design house Giugiaro to pen its 2010 Korando, an SUV that was not just less polarising but a genuinely fairly handsome-looking thing.
The new Actyon Sports ute isn’t as successful, though the front end has some visual appeal and overall it looks better than its predecessor.
The range includes three model variants. The base model makes no secret of its target market with the trim name of Tradie, the mid-spec is called Sports and at the top is the SPR, all three levels coming with the choice of 2WD or 4WD. Both the Tradie and Sports models also come with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, while the top-spec SPR is only available with 4WD and an automatic transmission.
Powering every model in the range is a relatively small-displacement common-rail (direct injection) 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine,. Performance is admirable though, with the unit developing a healthy 114kW of power and 360Nm of torque, the latter from 1500-2800rpm.
That’s also enough to pull this Ssangyong Ute – tested here in mid-spec SX 4WD auto form with an on-road price of $36,732 – along at a respectable rate of knots.
There’s too much lag under throttle during in-gear acceleration, though, despite the inclusion of a variable geometry turbocharger. That unwanted trait is accentuated by too much travel in the throttle, which can prove mildly annoying after a few hours behind the wheel.
Those issues aside, Actyon Sport’s is commendable in its refinement, proving to be quiet even when under load or up a steep.
There’s no escaping that characteristic diesel clatter at idle or during acceleration, but its intrusiveness into the confines of the cabin has been well muffled through a variety of effective NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) measures.
There’s a new engine cover, and new slanted engine mounts that minimise engine movement and vibrations along with double-layer construction and soundproofing material used in the construction of the dashboard.
The six-speed auto is a good match with the 2.0-litre diesel, offering smooth shifts, although it tends to find sixth gear fairly quickly after accelerating away from a standstill, in the interests of fuel economy.
The 4WD models include a small dial on the dash that allows the driver to switch between 2WD and 4WD High/Low on the fly - a useful fuel-saving feature around the city.
If road surfaces aren’t billiard-table smooth, however, the Actyon Sport displays a disconcerting level of scuttle-shake – the wobbly body effect usually associated with roof-less vehicles such as convertibles due to their reduced body rigidity
It’s a shame, as otherwise the suspension – a car-like double-wishbone front/multi-link rear arrangement – is quite effective at bump and pothole absorption despite being set up to cope with heavy loads.
Not so car-like is the handling, where even mild cornering speeds produce pronounced body roll and the steering is numb and slow, with the latter meaning plenty of arm twirling when manoeuvring into tight spots.
At least the Actyon Sports looks after the person in the main seat with a driver-centric dash that’s also made of soft-touch plastics to help give the Ssangyong a decent score when it comes to cabin design and materials.
Owners will also appreciate standard features that include air-conditioning, remote keyless entry, USB and AUX port, leather steering wheel with controls for Bluetooth phone, music streaming and gearshifts, power windows, electrically heated side mirrors and front windscreen, audio system with four speakers, tray-liner and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The LED instrument cluster is clean, well laid out and easy to read, as is the switchgear.
The Actyon Sports is a comfortable vehicle with supportive seats, but rear legroom is only adequate compared with most of its dual-cab rivals.
The tray is fully lined and has an impressive load area of two square metres. It’s also got more depth than any other vehicle in its class, according to Ssangyong, and has a spring-loaded tailgate for ease of operation.
A 2300kg towing capacity is lower than that offered by most of its competitors, but more critically safety is also lagging.
There are only two airbags across the range and the Tradie variant misses out on electronic stability control, traction control and anti-lock brakes that are standard fit on the SX and SPR models.
The Actyon Sports’ new design and overall package are not going to trouble utes such as the Toyota HiLux, Nissan Navara, Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50 or Volkswagen Amarok, whether we’re talking sales or driving quality.
But the South Korean manufacturer continues to lift its game, and the Actyon Sports is priced keenly enough for budget-conscious buyers to try as an alternative to the cheap yet increasingly popular Great Wall Motors V-Series offerings.