2018 SsangYong XLV review

Rating: 6.6
Current Pricing Not Available

The practical SsangYong XLV small crossover is not as polished as its newer Rexton stablemate, but a punchy diesel drivetrain and expected sharp pricing will count as positives when it arrives this November.

SsangYong, Korea’s lesser-known brand that lives in the shadows of Hyundai and Kia, is relaunching in Australia late this year as a fully fledged factory-backed distributor.

While its focus will be on winning over existing owners and pushing its Rexton large SUV and Musso dual-cab ute, it’s also set to wade into the rapidly growing small SUV market.

It’ll have two options: the Mazda CX-3-rivalling Tivoli, as well as a stretched derivative called the XLV – short for 'eXciting Lifestyle Vehicle'. Hmm.

At 4440mm long and 1605mm tall, the latter is about the same size as the Nissan Qashqai. Other rivals will include the mass-market Mitsubishi ASX, Suzuki Vitara, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona and Subaru XV (similar name, rather different package) – to name but a small few.

There's also the equally unknown MG ZS from China, which is finding some success on account of bargain pricing and good design. That should inspire SsangYong.

So, what is it? The XLV has actually been kicking around since 2015, so it'll arrive in Australia well into its life cycle. That's an incentive for the brand to make sure it sharpens the pricing accordingly.

While breaking into the cluttered Australian market is incredibly hard, SsangYong has the advantage of already competing in the UK, where it is slowly carving out a niche as a value-packed alternative.

While not as pert or cute as the Mini-esque Tivoli, its edgy design language has some appeal, enhanced by the optional contrasting roof paint. The extra length over the Tivoli is rear of the large C-pillar, accommodating the stretched boot and rear seat area.

As with the Honda HR-V, the XLV is focused on practicality first. The boot is a claimed 720L to the roof (room for four suitcases), which is high for the class, and comes with a bag hook, 220V inverter/power point, luggage net and a hidden compartment under the cargo floor.

The back seats fold flat 60:40 to turn the XLV into a little carpet-lined van, albeit without the remarkable efficiency of the Honda's 'Magic Seats'. They also recline up to 32.5 degrees to accommodate snoozing.

There's ample head room and pretty decent leg room for two adults in the second row, though taller occupants will graze their knees on the (easy to clean) hard plastic front seat-backs.

Cabin storage options are manifold, including bottle holders in all four doors, a centre console that fits an iPad, large glovebox and an open area running above the front passenger's knees.

While the interior design of the brand-new Rexton is positively upmarket, the XLV's feels a half-step behind the class leaders. The quality of the plastics used along the transmission tunnel and on the fascia is a little 'cheap', for one.

On the upside, there are various colour schemes available, with lairy red leather seats an option, as well as various contrasting door cards and backlight colours on the Suzuki-style analogue instrument cluster available.

We should note that a mid-cycle update will come within one year of the XLV arriving in Australia, with what SsangYong says will be a more upscale interior layout. Such are the challenges of relaunching a brand with products well into their life cycle...

Standard features should include a 7.0-inch touchscreen, cruise control, Bluetooth and a rear camera, while features such as leather seats with heating and ventilation, a sunroof, satellite navigation, climate control, and a proximity key will be available. Final specs will be announced closer to launch.

On the safety front, there are seven airbags and ISOFIX anchors, plus preventative tech including autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, traffic sign recognition and high-beam assist.

However, the XLV only has a four-star Euro NCAP crash score, which is sub-par. Read the report on that here.

One of the XLV's differentiators/headwinds (depending on perspective) will be its diesel engine in a class dominated by petrol power. While the Tivoli will get a 1.6-litre petrol engine, its 94kW/160Nm outputs were deemed a little low for the heavier XLV.

Thus, the sole engine will be a 1.6-litre turbo diesel making 85kW of power and a potent 300Nm of torque from just 1500rpm. Claimed combined-cycle fuel use is as low as 5.9L/100km, while the braked towing capacity is a decent-for-the-class 1500kg.

Both front-wheel drive (FWD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) configurations can be had, the latter which can send up to 60 per cent of torque to the rear or be locked at 50:50. You can also expect both six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmissions.

The engine is a little coarse and clattery, but it offers substantial pulling power from just off idle, and might present a compelling case to anyone keen on towing a small trailer, or who lives in a regional area and does a lot of miles.

Dynamically, the FWD models get a basic torsion beam rear suspension arrangement, while the AWDs get multi-link. All get electric-assisted steering with three resistance-level modes.

We drove the XLV briefly on some smooth Korean bitumen and over a basic off-road coarse. We noticed some distinct body roll through corners, and a little bit of busyness over sharp inputs, especially on models with bigger 18-inch wheels.

The fact SsangYong has flagged a program to tune the suspension of its vehicles in Australia, à la Hyundai/Kia, suggests it's aware that its vehicles need some tweaks. That said, few cars in this class are dynamic paragons. We will wait for a local steer to give a final verdict.

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 on certain models. We’d hope SsangYong Australia matches Kia with a seven-year term of its own. It has indicated it wants to do this very thing.

In terms of pricing, the XLV's rare-for-the-class diesel engine means it'll sit at a slightly higher price point than it otherwise would have. As such, the shorter Tivoli will be the real price-leader, kicking off around the $20,000 mark.

We'd suggest the XLV needs to sit 10–15 per cent below the CX-3 and ASX diesels, though that seems like a tough ask. Once the MY19/20 update arrives with its more sophisticated cabin, the company may be in a position to re-evaluate.

It will require some time to carve its path, but then again, having such a spacious interior and a diesel drivetrain at least gives it some clear differentiators from the mainstream. Once we know the pricing, we can be a little more definitive.

There's no doubt, though, that SsangYong's broader range of offerings will set it in good stead to make a better fist of things this time around.

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