2019 SsangYong Tivoli review

First Australian drive

It's an old design, but new to the Australian market. Can it take on the small SUV segment?

Let’s point out the bleeding obvious once again, just for fun: SUVs are selling like crazy in Australia. People are moving away from sedans, hatchbacks and wagons in big numbers – it’s all about small, medium and large SUVs.

‘Sports Utility Vehicle’ is a term that has become so muddied and ambiguous over the years, I’m not exactly sure on what it means. But anyway, that’s a chat for another day.

The point I’m trying to make is: If you’re a new brand in Australia, or you’re returning from a couple of years in the wild, your best and most effective way to make an impact is to sell SUVs.

That’s Ssangyong’s plan of attack, anyway. Along with the big seven-seater Rexton SUV and Musso 4WD ute (another no-brainer segment), Ssangyong is relaunching with its small SUV Tivoli.

The Tivoli lands with three choices of specification, and two drivelines. EX petrol starts at $23,490, followed by ELX ($27,490 petrol or $29,990 diesel). At the top of the tree is the Ultimate, which only has diesel power. It’s $33,990, or $34,490 with a two-tone paint job.

That’s all drive-away, mind you, as with the wider Ssangyong range.

Another thing shared across the range is an impressive seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, pitching the small Korean manufacturer at the lofty end when it comes to product support. It comes with seven years of capped-price servicing (which hasn’t been priced yet), plus roadside assistance for the duration.

The petrol engine is a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder unit making makes 94kW at 6000rpm and 160Nm at 4600rpm. Swing to the 1.6-litre turbo-diesel, and you’re looking at 85kW at 3400-4000rpm and 300Nm at 1500-2500rpm.

Cheaper models come with a six-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive, while the diesel has an automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive in the top specification. When you opt for all-wheel drive the torsion beam rear is binned for a multi-link setup. Unfortunately, we were only able to sample the diesel at launch.

The diesel engine is a relatively uninspiring driver, which doesn’t really let onto its forced-induction excitement at any stage. It’s quite linear, to the point of feeling naturally aspirated.

Running through a six-speed automatic gearbox, it’s neither gruff nor refined in the way it goes about its business. You probably won’t feel underdone in terms of straight-line performance for a cheap, compact SUV, but a touch more go would be nice.

It’s strange and important to note that although the Tivoli is only just now available in Australia, it’s going to be revamped in mid-2019. The look will be refreshed, as will the drivelines: new 1.5-litre turbo-diesel and turbo-petrol engines will be used.

Details haven’t been confirmed, but we expect the new 1.5-litre petrol to have around 120kW and 260Nm. And we're sure the new diesel donk will have a bump in numbers. If you’re able to wait for an updated Tivoli, it’s probably a good idea.

Back to what’s on offer for now: Handling is fine, up to a point. While it steers easily and relatively well, higher-speed progress on twisty roads reveals a disposition for body roll and understeer. A driver’s car it is not. But if you’re punting around town and through traffic, it’s a fairly painless affair.

Like others in the Ssangyong range, safety sits alongside value as the Tivoli's strongest suits. It gets autonomous emergency braking as standard across the range, along with lane-departure warning and forward collision warning. Seven airbags, including one at the knees for the driver, is a good amount.

The Tivoli has managed a four-star rating through Euro NCAP crash assessment, which would likely translate to a similar score in terms of a local ANCAP rating. However, that’s unconfirmed so far.

The interior, while comfortable, doesn’t have a lot worth writing home about. The HVAC controls have a strong 1990s flavour about them, and some of the buttons feel a little flimsy. Don’t forget this is a vehicle towards the cheaper end of the scale, so you need to be more forgiving of cheaper, harder surfaces around the interior.

The second row is quite spacious, and comfortable as well. The boot is of a particularly good size, the floor dropping quite low for a total of 423 litres. Some might find the big lip annoying for loading and unloading gear, and the thin floor over the space-saver spare might not last long.

The second row doesn’t fold flat, but comes close for some very handy overall loading space. It’s another very strong point for the Tivoli, compared to some other small SUVs at the rear end.

Speaking of prices… Just as the strongest fight will likely be coming from Mitsubishi’s Triton and Pajero Sport for Ssangyong’s respective Musso and Rexton, the ASX will likely be the toughest competition for the Tivoli.

Where the Tivoli has a price range of $23,490-$33,990 drive-away, the ASX is $23,490-$37,500 plus on-roads. The Hyundai Kona, on the other hand, is $23,500-$39,000.

Don’t forget the Mazda CX-3, Subaru XV, Kia Soul, MG ZS, Haval H2... you get the idea. While the Tivoli is well-priced, there's no shortage of options in this neck of the woods.

The Tivoli does have another ace up its sleeve: the XLV, with around 245mm of extra sheetmetal behind the C-pillar. The roofline runs a more horizontal line right back to the squared-off back end. If you need a bit more load space but want to keep a fairly small footprint, it might be a good one to look at.

Prices bump up for the diesel-only XLV, starting at $31,990 (ELX auto), going up to $34,990 for the Ultimate specification. Like the Tivoli, a two-tone paint job will cost you $500.

While it’s definitely not as nice to sit in or drive as others in this ultra-competitive segment, the Tivoli provides good value for money. Safety is strong, and that warranty beats much of the competition hands-down.

Those of you looking for something more compelling in terms of design and drive might look elsewhere, but people cross-shopping on value, safety and warranty will need to have a closer look at the Tivoli.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Interior images are overseas specification. Australian-market interior photos have not yet been provided.