Ssangyong is officially back. The third-biggest carmaker in South Korea has relaunched as a factory operation Down Under, its line-up spearheaded by the dual-cab Musso ute.
At the moment, our Musso is a lifestyle-focused beast with a sharp price and relatively upscale interior, but it isn’t a true workhorse. That’s set to change when the long-wheelbase Musso XLV touches down. Given the importance of dual-cabs in Australia, it's kind of a big deal.
Ssangyong boldly claims it wants to chase the Ranger and HiLux with the XLV, which has a longer tray (+310mm) and wheelbase (+110mm) than the Musso SWB. That means the bed measures 1610mm long, 1570mm wide and 571mm deep.
Launched at the Geneva motor show, we drove the car at the Pocheon Raceway about 90 minutes north of Seoul, on a very mild 'off-road' course, and on the highway.
It looks almost identical to the short-wheelbase from the outside – barring the longer bed, of course – but the XLV has been treated to a few tweaks under the skin. Besides the longer wheelbase, the base car swaps the coil-sprung rear from the short-wheelbase for a load-focused set of leaf springs.
Payload jumps to 1020kg with the leaf springs, up from the 790kg offered in the SWB with its five-link rear suspension. Braked towing capacity is up to 3000kg in global Ssangyong literature, but the company is pushing to have the car certified for 3500kg in Australia.
Only the entry-level model will come with leaf springs, however. Mid- and top-spec cars will get the same five-link set-up as the SWB, which drops the payload to 1010kg. Given the number of dual-cabs getting around with empty tubs, the slightly smaller capacity shouldn't prove too much of a hindrance in Australia.
Power comes from a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine putting 133kW and 420Nm to the road through a switchable four-wheel-drive system and a standard automatic transmission. It's down on displacement compared to some of its rivals (the HiLux has a 2.8-litre, the D-Max a 3.0-litre, the Ranger up to a 3.2-litre), but matches the Isuzu for torque and falls just 30Nm short of the HiLux.
Ssangyong hasn't ruled out bringing a two-wheel-drive entry-level car at some point, but don't hold your breath for the moment.
The engine is a seriously smooth mover, which reinforces our experience with the SWB Musso at home. Peak torque joins the party at 1400rpm and is available for a long time, not just a good time, cutting out at 2800rpm. NVH is a real strong suit too, with hardly any vibration sneaking into the cabin at idle, and revs pile on smoothly.
It's also nice and quiet on the highway, where the engine and six-speed automatic combine for fairly effortless cruising. The transmission is crisp at lower speeds, and does a good job keeping the car in its torque band – at least it did during our limited highway time.
Ssangyong says towing is a key concern for its buyers, so refined highway manners are important. Mike Costello noted a bit of indecision between fifth and sixth at 100km/h in his local review of the SWB, so we'll have to keep an eye out when we have more time with the car.
There are no paddles and no proper sequential-style shift options – instead, you get a cheap-feeling toggle switch on the side of the gear lever. Paddles are handy on a track, which isn't any ute's preferred environment, but they're also useful if you're keen to take advantage of engine braking downhill.
Tacky shifter aside, the cabin is a nice place to spend time. Our top-spec Ultimate tester had leather seats (heated and cooled, naturally) and a lovely leather steering wheel, along with an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system and a 7.0-inch colour screen in the instrument binnacle.
Keyless entry, a surround-view camera and an electro-chromatic rear-vision mirror are all included as well. The seats are comfortable, even if you're gangly like me, and the steering wheel telescopes, something not even the most expensive Ranger can claim. It feels like an SUV inside, just like the short-wheelbase model.
The rear seats continue that theme, and are trimmed in leather with heating and the ability to recline. There are roof-mounted grab handles for all four passengers, and a fold-down padded armrest, while legroom is acceptable for the class. A proper four-wheel drive (the ones without a tray on the back) offers better accommodation for teenagers and adults in the rear, then.
The standard equipment list is going to be generous when the XLV touches down. Like the SWB, autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning and parking sensors at all four corners are standard on the range-topper, along with six airbags.
Although not all of that will be standard across the range, even the entry-level car will get AEB, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
Sure, the Triton and Ranger have both recently gained range-wide AEB, but there are lots of dual-cabs out there lacking the technology. Well done Ssangyong.
Compared to the SWB, the XLV will have a slightly higher basic specification to justify the fact it's more expensive out of the box. How much more expensive hasn't been confirmed yet, but Ssangyong says it plans on making pricing "sharp".
"There will be a definite change between entry short-wheelbase and entry long-wheelbase," said Andrew Ellis, head of communications for Ssangyong Australia.
"We will be charging more for long-wheelbase, so we need to add more features in for the customer. In addition to the greater carrying capacity, and size of the vehicle, there will be more features inside the car."
A seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty will be standard for all buyers. We spoke with a couple of Australian dealers, all of whom listed the warranty as a huge selling point.
Here's where you want to hear: What the leaf-sprung Musso is like on the open highway. We'd love to tell you, but the only Musso XLV on offer during our Korean drive had the five-link rear. Hmmm.
With that in mind, we can confirm the longer-wheelbase Musso rides very similarly to the car currently offered in Australia. That means it seemed relatively pliant on the highway, although a set of small, tightly packed imperfections on the racetrack's back straight revealed a slight jitteriness.
It'll be interesting to see how the leaf-sprung car handles a decent payload, given the SWB and its coils suffered some serious sag with about 500kg on board during our most recent review. After all, Ssangyong says it sees the coil-sprung model as a "city ute", while the leaf-spring model will be more of an "entry-level, leaf-sprung workhorse... but with some nice features inside".
Our test car was also running a Korean suspension tune, whereas we'll eventually get our own in Australia, so final judgement will need to come when the XLV touches down locally. We'll also have to hold fire on talking about the car's off-road performance, given we only drove the car slowly on a very gentle gravel slope.
It scaled the mound easily, but so did the front-wheel-drive petrol Korando. Read into that what you will.
Ground clearance is listed at 220mm, putting the Musso behind the Ranger, D-Max, BT-50 and Navara, but ahead of the Triton and Colorado. We'd suggest that long rear overhang could put a cap on your departure angle, although no figure is quoted.
As with the SWB, the longer Musso will be offered in three trim grades, topped out by the Ultimate. Seven colours will be available, along with a choice of black/grey interior trim. A brown leather cabin package will also be on the menu, bringing with it heated and cooled seats, electric adjustment and lumbar support in lower-grade cars.
Ssangyong is expecting the bigger, pricier Musso XLV to outsell its smaller counterpart when it arrives in May.
"The feedback we get from [the dealers], the feedback we get through our social media, everyone's looking for this long-wheelbase ute," said Ellis, flanked by nodding dealers.
We'll need to drive the model with leaf springs to pass judgement on its workhorse credentials, but the longer wheelbase and tray don't appear to have impacted the SWB's nice cabin and smooth powertrain. Ssangyong says it wants "a Musso for everyone", and the makings of a good dual-cab range are there.
We're looking forward to investigating further when the Musso XLV arrives in Australia.