South Korea’s SsangYong has returned locally under a factory-backed in-house distributor, with the hopes of re-engaging former customers and tempting a new generation of budget ute buyers.
The Musso is big and bold with a premium interior, a promised high level of refinement, and a massive tub in the stretched XLV body style tested here. It's not some utilitarian farm-ready alternative to a used HiLux, then.
Sure, that long tray and the unfinished-looking join with the cabin makes it appear a smidgen gawky. And it is also crying out for a brasher, more typically American grille design. But SsangYong has never been a company with design at its heart.
The 2019 Ssangyong Musso we have here is tested in XLV Ultimate form priced at $39,990, or $6000 more than the base Musso ELX grade. Even the value-packed Mitsubishi Triton GLS is about $9000 pricier, for context.
Reflecting its position near the top of the Musso range, the Ultimate comes highly specified. There's a large touchscreen running Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (in lieu of sat-nav), heated and ventilated seats, cruise control, push-button start, rain-sensing wipers, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Musso also has safety features such as six airbags, blind-spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure alert and prevention, and rear cross-traffic alert. However, it does not have a safety rating from ANCAP because it’s yet to be tested.
We will point out that for $4000 more you can buy the Musso Ultimate Plus with extras such as electric nappa leather seats, HID headlights, and a 360-degree camera.
The build quality and fit-finish are hard to fault, as is the combination of premium and hard-wearing materials. The soft dash padding, ‘Enduro-lite’ seat trims that make a passable go at feeling ‘leathery’, and abundance of silver plastics lift the vibe.
The readout between gauges offers various digital speedo looks, while the centre touchscreen’s interface and fonts are almost a carbon-copy of Volvo’s new designs. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.
The Musso’s comfort and leathery back seats offer space for two adults, air vents behind the console and cupholders, plus child-seat points. However, it’s also the first car I’ve driven in quite some time to only offer a lap belt for the middle-seat occupant, which is quite a throwback.
It's an interior as well appointed and made as those in far more reputable utes out there.
The tub measures 1580mm in length, 1070mm from wheel arch to wheel arch, and 580mm high (compared to 1400mm/1100mm/500mm in a Ford Ranger). It comes with tie-down points and a plastic tub-liner, and also has a 12V outlet.
For reference’s sake, the 310mm shorter overall SWB Musso has a 1300mm tub length.
The Musso here has car-like coil suspension to improve road comfort, though this limits maximum payload to a modest 880kg. The rear suspension sagged a lot with 650kg in the back, lightening the steering and hurting body control.
By contrast, the base ELX Musso on leaf springs can handle a claimed 1025kg, so if you lug heavy stuff look in this direction.
The Musso uses an in-house 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel mated to a six-speed automatic transmission exclusively at this spec level, with a few different modes to change shift timing.
While the Musso's SUV spin-off, called Rexton, gets a Mercedes-sourced seven-speed automatic, the Musso’s Aisin-developed unit is actually tuned better, with less fussiness and indecision at cruising speeds.
While its displacement is small, the engine makes 133kW of power at 4000rpm and 420Nm between 1600 and 2600rpm. By contrast, an Isuzu D-Max's 3.0-litre makes 130kW/430Nm.
It’s remarkably quiet at idle and under throttle and impressively punchy off the line, surprising a number of staffers here with its response. It's an impressive donk for a small company.
The company cites a gross combined mass of 6130kg and a braked towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes, or 3150kg if you’re simultaneously running at full payload, and fuel consumption of 8.9L/100km, enabling a range in excess of 800km.
It proved to be one of the most comfortable and car-like to drive around town in our recent ute-segment mega test, aided in part by its highway tyres rather than all-terrain rubber.
The steering is quite light and responsive, making it a nice thing to drive in urban commuting, though despite sporting car-like coils in the rear it still felt a little jittery and ‘busy’ over corrugated gravel roads.
Equipped with four-wheel discs, it had the second-best braking performance behind the Mercedes X-Class.
The 4x4 system is shift-on-the-fly part-time, with a transfer case and low-range gearing that's decently low for your basic off-road driving, though there’s not a huge amount of ground clearance, especially now there's more wheelbase and rear overhang.
There are no traditional locking diffs, rather a reactive Eaton MLocker. It locks up the differential when it senses more than 100rpm of difference between the wheels. It’s handy, but not as adept at low-speed crawling.
I tackled a series of offset moguls, muddy trails and water crossings with gravelly floors without much issue, despite the highway tyres. I'd be investing in some all-terrain rubber and maybe some new springs to up the ride height, personally.
It’s worth noting Ssangyong is working on a localised suspension tune to be rolled out at a later date, along with some kind of OEM-backed suspension kit for increased clearance. While Ssangyong can’t offer a timeline, the kits should be easily retrofittable.
One thing SsangYong is offering to lure in buyers is an above-average seven-year bumper-to-bumper warranty with roadside assist provided. That’s equally market-leading alongside the Triton.
There’s also a capped-price service scheme at 12-month and 15,000km intervals, with the first five visits presently priced at $375 a pop. SsangYong still has a small network, however.
The Musso is a real surprise packet. If you can get past the frumpy design and have a few bucks to spend on some new all-terrain rubber, its upmarket cabin, long list of features and surprisingly good drivetrain all hold genuine appeal.
As my colleague Josh said on our mega test, "badge-snobs may turn up their noses, but this is a more capable ute than we were expecting. If SsangYong could get its safety score sorted and work on a more conventional design, it would be a no-brainer at this price".