If you ever managed a glance at the first-generation Ssangyong Stavic you’ll know why the people-mover was widely mocked for its styling.
It didn’t much matter which end you were looking at, the Stavic’s hunched design made it about as appealing to the eye as a pair of orthopaedic loafers.
It seems incredible the original Ssangyong Stavic was designed by Ken Greenley, the former head of the automotive design course at the Royal College of Art in London in a bid to “capture the essence of a luxury yacht”.
In the end the Stavic’s only saving grace was an effective drivetrain (derived from Mercedes-Benz) along with its acres of cabin space and generous standard equipment.
However, most private buyers just couldn’t get past its looks – effectively relegating the Ssangyong Stavic to a life serving hotel chains and specialised taxi fleets.
Fortunately, the new version represents a decent departure from the old.
What Ssangyong offers now may still be considered a brutish and lumbering design (it’s huge at 5.2 metres long), but the restyle has given the Stavic sharper bone structure and an improved visage up front.
The interior has had a major makeover, too, with a noticeable lift in fit and finish and even more equipment than that included on its already generous predecessor.
Standard are dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, power-fold heated side mirrors, privacy glass for rear windows, automatic headlights, remote keyless entry, cruise control, steering wheel-mounted controls for the audio system, Bluetooth phone and music streaming, front fog lamps and 16-inch alloy wheels. The steering wheels adjusts for height only, though.
There’s no doubt the Stavic offers a fine price and equipment ratio.
Building on its previously established ‘less equals more’ formula, the $29,990 (drive-away) second-generation model undercuts similar-size rivals by some considerable margins.
Only the Fiat Freemont crossover is cheaper at $28,500 drive-away, but at 4.9 metres it’s smaller and is limited by the fact it’s only available as a petrol model for under the $30K mark.
A ‘luxury’ version will join the Ssangyong Stavic range in the second half of 2013 and will be priced from $34,990, adding full leather trim, 17-inch wheels, electric driver’s seat, rain-sensing wipers, roof racks, headlamp levelling and a rear fog light.
All this kit is within easy reach, except for the centrally positioned instrument cluster that can be difficult to read and far from ideal in speed-camera-heavy Australia.
Where the Stavic shines is in the vast amount of cabin and luggage volume it offers. Even with the third-row of seats in place, there’s sufficient space for an entire week’s grocery shopping. If you need more, fold the seatbacks or simply remove the entire bench.
It’s all very flexible, with those individual second-row buckets easily reversed as ‘conversation’ seats. The middle and second rows also slide along long runners, which allow for a host of different seating arrangements.
All seven seats are adult-friendly thanks to their giant-size leg and headroom, though flat cushions in the middle and rear rows results in a lack of under-thigh support.
Older and less agile folks will find the Stavic particularly easy to access, with large doors that open wide, and a relatively low floor height.
Storage could be better, though. Cupholders throughout the cabin are on the small side, the glovebox is relatively tiny, and door pockets are narrow and awkward.
Interior materials and non-damped grab handles are also signs that Ssangyong has stuck to a fixed budget.
Under the bonnet, the latest-generation Stavic swaps the previous 121kW/340Nm 2.7-litre turbo diesel for a smaller, more efficient 2.0-litre unit that makes 115kW of power and 360Nm of torque.
Peak torque stretches from 1500-2800rpm, and while the engine far from disguises the Stavic's two-tonne kerb weight there's sufficient pull to ensure steep inclines are easily addressed even with a family of five on board.
Diesel clatter is also quite muted from inside the cabin on light throttle applications, though ask for urgent acceleration and the five-speed auto can be slow to upshift. The engine rattle is also less than pleasing.
Along with the downsizing comes greater efficiency and improved emissions with the Stavic’s delivering delivering a highly commendable real world consumption of 8.0L/100km during our mostly urban-kilometre test period - against an official combined figure of 7.8L/100km.
Ride comfort is acceptable, though the suspension is generally lumpy and the Stavic's dash and steering wheel shudder when sharper edges are encountered.
There’s a fair bit of body roll in corners, even if you're not driving that quickly, and slow steering makes the Stavic feel particularly cumbersome around town. If you want a people-mover that drives like a car, however, your only choice in the segment is the Honda Odyssey that also seats seven but isn't as spacious.
ANCAP is yet to determine a safety rating, and although the Ssangyong Stavic is equipped with standard stability control, it falls short for the passive safety equipment required in the independent crash tests.
The Stavic gets only four airbags, dual front and dual side, but no curtain airbags to extend side and head protection beyond the front seats to help protect rear passengers.
It’s also worth noting that there are only two ISOFIX anchor points for the three-seat rear bench, although the Stavic at least gets proper lap-sash seatbelts for all occupants.
Some safety and design oversights are a shame because as a seven-seater with a hugely spacious and flexible cabin, a cheap price tag, and a torquey and efficient engine, the new Ssangyong Stavic is otherwise a decently pragmatic offering in the people-mover segment.