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Korea’s SsangYong will return to Australia this November with a more sophisticated corporate structure, and a far less 'stylistically challenged' product range aimed at the market’s growth areas.
The most interesting member of its line-up, the Musso, will tap into Australia’s inexhaustible appetite for dual-cab utes. What it lacks in badge cred, SsangYong hopes to counteract with unarguable value for money.
Buyers may recall both the original Mercedes-engined SsangYong Musso, and its successor model called Actyon Sports, which bridged the market gap between the ultra-cheap Great Wall ute and mass-market rivals such as the Mitsubishi Triton.
It should be more of the same this time, with one notable difference: while its predecessors were ugly duckling pickups aimed at farmers and tradies – and used by the South Korean military, we’d add – this one might pique the interest of ‘lifestyle’ buyers as well.
Not only is the new model wider and taller than the Actyon Sports, it’s as wide and tall as a Ford Ranger, though it’s shorter between the wheels, and overall on account of its rather stumpy tray. A stretched version is due in 2019, with a bigger tub and higher payload.
While entry grades remain a little frumpy, SsangYong offers all manner of tough-truck add-ons such as chunky Cooper tyres, big alloy wheels, various sports bars and a factory lift. It’s suitably macho and imposing, which is not something we’re used to from the brand.
Clearly it's these flagship versions the company will be keen to draw attention to.
It’s also fitted with an interior more or less shared with the Rexton 4x4 wagon, which is a good thing. In an era when utes are used as second family cars, its design and premium touchpoints will raise eyebrows.
The top-of-the-range grades we drove had a 9.2-inch screen with satellite-navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, a 360-degree camera, heated, cooled and powered Nappa leather seats, digital instruments, HID headlights, and even an optional sunroof à la Nissan’s Navara.
Less obvious highlights include the digital speedo, telescopic steering column adjustment, and heaps of storage areas scattered about. The adjustable back seats are also supportive, offer class-competitive space for two big tradies, and get rear air vents unlike most rivals.
In terms of presentation, space and technology, the Musso’s cabin is legitimately good for the class. Of course, we’ve seen a similar approach from China’s LDV with the T60, so we shouldn’t be surprised that fellow low-profile brands like SsangYong feel a need to offer bling.
One potential issue is the lack of a recognised crash-safety score, considering a five-star ANCAP performance is de rigueur in the segment, and vital for fleet buyers in particular. If we were SsangYong, we’d be rectifying that issue as soon as possible.
You get six airbags including curtains for rear occupants, and equipment such as blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-change assist. Almost 80 per cent of the body and chassis is made of high-tensile steel, SsangYong claims. Still, we want to see it crash-tested.
While the days of sharing Mercedes-Benz diesel engines are gone, SsangYong has done a fair job on its own powertrain. It’s a 2.2-litre turbo diesel making 133kW of power and 400Nm of torque from 1400rpm, which is within the class’s average parameters.
It’s matched with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, the latter sourced from Japan’s Aisin. It also meets Euro 6 emissions standards (the UK and Germany are key markets for SsangYong), with fuel use listed as between 7.9L and 8.6L/100km combined.
It’s not quite a Ranger or Colorado, but it seems about as tractable as a four-cylinder Volkswagen Amarok Core's donk. It’s also quiet and refined, with few vibrations or clattering entering the cabin. In that area, it’s well above average. It’s also rated to tow up to 3.0 tonnes (the manual’s rating is 2.8t).
Depending on how much you want to spend, you can get rear-wheel drive, or part-time 4x4 with low-range reduction gearing and a locking rear diff.
As you may have noticed in the images, the tub is curiously short, just 1.3m long, though it's wider and deeper than is typical for the class (1570mm x 570mm), has tie-down hooks and a 12V input, and can be optioned with a tub liner etc.
The launch models will have a measly 800kg maximum payload with this tub style, which comes as standard with rare-for-the-class comfort-oriented rear coil suspension instead of leaf springs.
However, an LWB version is due in 2019 with a 400mm longer tray, the option of leaf springs and a circa one-tonne payload and 6.7-tonne GCM. That’s class-topping if certified to Australian Design Rules…
That refined engine was matched by excellent NVH suppression that kept wind and tyre roar well muted at highway speeds. Rubberised engine mounts, polyester wheel-arch linings, and quadruple-layered seals play their part.
The steering's hydraulically actuated assistance is, if anything, excessive. It’s very light and non-resistant, making it easy on the arms, and the turning circle sneaks below 12m. It’s quite pleasant to doddle about in, though also a little vague.
What lets it down is the unladen ride. On paper, the five-link rear set-up looks the goods, but in practice is turbulent and jittery over any surface that isn’t marble-smooth. With a trailer or tub load it’ll settle down, but it’s crying out for some damper/spring tweaks.
The good news is SsangYong has set up its first-ever in-house distributor to service Australia, and has promised to investigate how to fix this issue, and soon. Hyundai/Kia-style local suspension recalibration looks likely, especially as the UK has also voiced criticism of the ride.
Beyond this, areas where the Musso really needs to shine are value for money and customer care. The fact it no longer takes the option of using an external distributor like Sime Darby/Ateco sets it in good stead to do well in both areas.
In terms of pricing, it would be reasonable for it to sit above the old Actyon Sports, which was $26,990 to $32,990 in 2015. There’s scope to price it slightly above the LDV T60, but it needs to be better value than a Triton, the cheapest of the mainstream ute brigade. We hope SsangYong has the right level of market awareness to make this call.
The other side of the coin is warranty. SsangYong’s global minimum is five years, though in the UK its distributor offers a seven-year/150,000-mile policy. We’d hope SsangYong Australia matches Kia with a seven-year term of its own. Back your product, guys. It's indicated that it will.
As we hope this review has laid out, we have a sense of cautious optimism about SsangYong's rebirth here. Given some suspension tweaks, sensible pricing and sufficient brand-building, the Musso could be a bit of a dark horse in the segment.
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