Some days are diamonds, and some days are stones. Good old John Denver summed it up so well, didn’t he? Now, you might think a day behind the wheel of the 2015 Ssangyong Korando SX would fall definitively into the stone category, but it isn’t as bad as you might think. We spent a week with the front-drive Ssangyong Korando SX petrol auto to find out just how "not bad" it actually is.
You will reach a point in your life where you no longer care what people think of you. Well, most of us do anyway. It’s liberating - and often cheaper. Wear whatever you like, cut your hair, don’t cut it, ignore fashion entirely, drive whatever kind of vehicle you like too. When our self-awareness is at its height, badge snobbery prevents most of us from driving vehicles like the Ssangyong Korando, but once upon a time that elitism made us exclude the likes of Kia and Hyundai too - and look where those two brands are now.
So, can the Korando step out from under the weight of not being cool enough, to actually be a half decent car? Let’s find out.
In the CarAdvice garage, we had the 2.0-litre petrol engine and auto transmission with 2WD. Current pricing is an attractive $25,990 driveaway (though regular pricing is $27,990 driveaway). The inline four-cylinder produces 110kW at 6000rpm and 197Nm at 4000rpm. Not stratospheric by any means but those numbers appear to be stout enough to get around town without having to absolutely cane the Korando. But more on that later.
The engine is paired to a six-speed automatic in SX trim, and the combined ADR fuel claim is 7.9L/100km. On test we saw figures that fluctuated between 9.5 and 10L/100km, with only a short 50km freeway run to assist in keeping that number lower.
Smaller manufacturers like Ssangyong are interesting beasts, and we’re often left questioning what they are doing competing in an incredibly cut throat market like Australia. That's not meant in a "what the hell are you doing?" way, but more in a "why are you making an entry into a market that is going to be so obviously difficult to succeed in?" way. Take a look at the Korando and it isn’t obviously cheap in appearance, either in a styling sense or in the cabin. The pricing is sharply competitive though, and it means that buyers willing to take the punt can end up driving away in a decent enough compact SUV without breaking the bank.
The exterior styling is neither offensive nor groundbreaking. Ssangyongs of old could never be called attractive (see the Musso), but there’s nothing wrong with the styling of the Korando when weighed against others in the segment. The exterior styling and execution is actually pretty cohesive, its compact dimensions helping to keep the footprint as diminutive as it is inoffensive.
Despite that compact exterior, step inside the Ssangyong Korando and you’re met by a cabin that is more spacious than you would have expected, especially in the second row. The act of stepping inside is easy too, because the seating position is as close to perfect as you’ll get. The driver’s position is comfortable and spacious as well, offering great visibility.
The centre stack instruments appear to be mounted quite high and their appearance is very basic, but they clearly display what they need to display. Outside of Bluetooth phone connectivity, don’t expect much in the way of high-tech inclusions, though. I found the Bluetooth impossible to work out, but fellow tester Matt Campbell is obviously a lot smarter than me because he reported that it was as easy as any vehicle he’s used. Once he explained how to connect a phone, it become a whole lot clearer. It seems you don’t connect via the car with the Korando, but you connect via your phone. No screen means no reverse camera either, which is an omission that is becoming harder and harder to overlook at any price point (though Ssangyong dealers can fit an aftermarket system for you).
The basic instrumentation, button design, indentation and steering wheel-mounted controls all work well, and there’s also plenty of storage in the cabin. You’ll find safe spots for wallets and phones, the cup and bottle holders are sensibly placed, deep door pockets offer extra storage and the glovebox is big enough to be useful. The luggage area is large enough for family duties too; you’ll fit two medium- to large-sized cases back there, or plenty in the way of gym bags and sports gear. It’s not as big as some in the segment though.
The trim and fittings within the cabin don't feel cheap, either. All the touch surfaces, and the fit and finish are within what we’d expect at this price point, with only the lack of tech/infotainment/high-res screens leaving you nonplussed with the interior execution. The seats remain comfortable even after a few hours behind the wheel and we had two second-row passengers comment that comfort and space were excellent. Yes, they were fully grown adults. On that point, the second-row seat backs recline to an appreciable angle, meaning passengers can relax back there on longer drives.
While the engine is quiet and refined enough, and the six-speed gearbox is adequate, neither fall into a category we could title "smart". 110kW and near enough to 200Nm should be enough to move an SUV in this segment along reasonably effortlessly, but that seems not to be the reality in this instance. The engine delivers its power in such a way that you feel like you always have to work it 10 per cent harder than you’d like and the gearbox seems to find new and inventive ways to end up in something other than the optimal ratio for the speed you’re doing.
The pair gets the job done around town and up to highway speed, but if you drive the Korando back-to-back with virtually any other SUV in the segment, it doesn't particularly shine. When you’re not working the engine hard, around town at low speed for example, it is quiet, vibration free and unobtrusive. Around town, the Korando’s compact external dimensions mean it’s easy to manoeuvre and park, and three-point turns don’t ruffle any feathers either. The steering is heavier and slower to respond than we’d like, but you do get used to it. Still, it needs to be noted that it requires a bit of effort at low speed.
The other important area that lets the Korando down is ride. Comfort and compliance namely. So harsh was the rebound around town, that we (double) checked the tyre pressures to make sure there weren’t any silly-buggers going on. With the 17-inch rims fitted to our test vehicle, Ssangyong recommends 32psi all round. The rears had 31psi, while the front two tyres had 34psi and 37psi each. With everything levelled back out at 32psi, we headed back out into the urban jungle to discover that there had been only a marginal improvement to the ride quality and bump absorption.
What it means is that the Korando can crash over bumps that it should really iron out, and it transmits that crash harshly through the monocoque chassis. It makes for a less-than-comfortable ride over any kind of less-than-perfect urban road. Now, it’s here that we would often opine that a harsh ride can be forgiven if it is offset by exceptional handling at speed, but sadly there’s no such payoff behind the wheel of the Korando. Push it even remotely enthusiastically and it doesn’t want to play ball. It has a tendency to hop and skip, and when upset by poor surfaces, it doesn’t settle back down comfortably or quickly enough to get away with the harsh bump transmission. We can live with a 2WD that claims to be an "SUV" if our hand is forced, but an SUV needs to ride with more compliance than the Korando.
Importantly for buyers on a budget, the Korando backs up its sharp pricing with sensible warranty and ownership terms. The 2015 Ssangyong Korando SX auto is covered by a five-year/100,000km warranty and that is backed by five-year/100,000km roadside assist. Service intervals are 15,000km or 12 months.
The current Korando is a better vehicle than the model it replaces, which scored a six overall in our review back in 2014. The problem is that the market has moved on. With that in mind, we're again going to score the current Korando a six overall.
So, while it’s not a case of the Korando winning the budget game just yet, the product is better than it used to be, and improving all the time. The Korando’s ride could be improved immensely with local suspension tuning, and the diesel engine should, in theory, make for a more effortless experience on the road. What the Korando does do well is translate its budget pricing without ever feeling cheap, and for some buyers that will be enough to get it over the line.