Tivoli, XLV, Rexton and Musso from November, headlining reborn Korean brand's return as a company-first OEM-funded distributor

Korea’s third brand, SsangYong, has confirmed it’ll start selling cars again in Australia from this November, after a two-year absence. It'll be armed with three SUVs and a dual-cab ute, and about 20 dealers from the start.

The range will comprise the Tivoli small crossover to rival to the Hyundai Kona, its larger XLV spinoff to fight the Nissan Qashqai, the new-generation Rexton 4x4 competitor to the Ford Everest or Isuzu MU-X, and its coil-sprung Musso dual-cab pickup spinoff.

Beyond this, 2019 will see a stretched-tray version of the Musso available with either leaf- or coil springs at the rear, a completely new-generation Korando medium SUV to compete with the Hyundai Tucson (potentially designed by Pininfarina, given both have the same parent company), and a mid-cycle update of the Tivoli.

More interestingly, the company will now import and distribute its range through a factory-distributor model based in Melbourne, rather than paying a third party marketing and logistics service (Ateco) as it did before. This lets it play a longer game and take more control, at least theoretically.

Australia is the company's first market outside Korea, from a global footprint of 127 countries, with this model in place, and therefore it becomes a much more significant part of the wider business. Our market is perhaps the world’s most cluttered, and desperately hard to crack.

“Australia will be SsangYong’s first direct [export] operation. Typically we use distributors but Australia’s competitiveness means we want to get in there and run the business ourselves,” said the company’s export division chief, Daniel Rim.

SsangYong — whose majority owner and chief capital investor is India’s Mahindra and Mahindra — is a small company. It’ll sell about 150,000 units this year around the world, with 42,000 of those belonging to export markets led by Western Europe (UK, Germany) and South America.

When asked what to expect regarding pricing and positioning, Rim said it’d be competitive with the other Korean companies (Hyundai and Kia), and that its somewhat prescient long-term SUV focus meant it saw parallels with Subaru — another small-scale brand.

“Australia is a very competitive market, we are going to be very competitive price wise and product wise,” he added. It’s worth noting SsangYong sold about 18,000 cars here over the years and established a reputation for homely design, yet decent reliability.

SsangYong claims customer care will be key, aruging that it's done all it can to look after customers locally in its absence, servicing cars and fixing any issues — including few ‘goodwill’ jobs outside the warranty. That said, any relaunch comes with baggage.

All the cars that come to Australia from now under its new distribution model will get a long warranty, with the company known to be crunching the numbers on a Kia-matching seven-year program. At the bare minimum all its cars will have five-year warranties.

The company also plans to invest in suspension tuning programs to localise its cars like the other Korean brands — its managing director in Australia, Tim Smith, previously worked with Kia before leading China’s Haval locally — and to offer 4x4 accessories and lift kits.

In short, it’s investing a significant proportion of its export budget into Australia and plans for a long-term tenure. Time will tell.


A quick look at SsangYong’s four launch models:

Tivoli

The sub-$25k, Suzuki Vitara-sized Tivoli (4.2m long) is the oldest model in SsangYong’s range, dating to 2015. A mid-cycle upgrade is due next year but we will likely get the existing model for a year or so.

It will come with a 1.6-litre petrol engine making 94kW and 160Nm, or a diesel with the same displacement making 84kW/300Nm — that latter figure is good for the class, as is its 1500kg tow rating.

It will come with front- or all-wheel drive options, and a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Outside there are various bright colour choices and the availability of a contrasting roof.

Inside it has a large 423L boot and above-average back seat space, equipment including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, seven airbags, and safety tech such as autonomous emergency braking, collision alert, lane assist and high beam assist. Its NCAP rating is only four stars however.


XLV

This is a derivation of the Tivoli launched in 2016, and is 240mm longer for more cargo space.

The back seats are able to recline, or fold flat, and the company claims it’s got one of the biggest boots in its class. Expect it to be pitched against the likes of Honda’s HR-V, which it aligns with in terms of packaging.

The mechanicals and equipment are otherwise in line with the Tivoli. That 1.6-litre petrol engine promises modest performance given the slight extra weight impost of about 50kg.


Rexton

The 4850mm long fourth-generation Rexton will be SsangYong’s flagship. It’s a body-on-frame SUV like the MU-X, Everest and Fortuner, with part-time 4x4 and low-range gearing for proper off-road ability.

The hero engine is a Euro 6-compliant 2.2-litre turbo-diesel making 133kW/420Nm, channeled via a Mercedes-Benz seven-speed auto, used in the 4x4. There’s also a FWD model with a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol making 165kW/350Nm, matched to a six-speed Aisin automatic gearbox.

SsangYong claims a towing capacity of 3.0 tonnes and is targeting grey nomads and weekend warriors. Given the success of Isuzu in this space without much brand equity beforehand, the Rexton stands a decent chance.

Standard features will include AEB, collision alert, lane assist and high-beam assist, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, cross-traffic alert and seven airbags. There’s also an 8.0-inch touchscreen and large digital driver’s trip computer.


Musso

The Musso ute was spun off the Rexton, not the other way around, though its version of the 2.2 diesel makes 133kW/400Nm and has either a six-speed manual or six-speed auto box, the latter again supplied by Aisin.

SsangYong claims it’s the only ute in its class with a 6.7 tonne GCM, meaning it can carry a tonne in its tray while towing three tonnes.

Inside you can expect it to have most of the same equipment as the Rexton, putting it at the pointy end of the ute class. The launch model has the short tray option and coil springs, whereas the longer-tray option from next year will offer either coil or leaf springs, the latter giving it a better payload.

Expect the Musso to get the most attention, with pricing likely to sit between something like the LDV T60 from China and the established set led by the HiLux and Ranger. We can say now that it’s an imposing thing that looks better with sports bars and chunky tyres.

Keep an eye out next week for a series of introductory reviews on the XLV, Rexton and Musso, sharing our initial thoughts and more product information.