LDV T60 2019 luxe (4x4), SsangYong Musso XLV 2019 ultimate

2019 LDV T60 Luxe v SsangYong Musso XLV Ultimate comparison

Battle of the budget utes

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Two curious contenders face off at the lower-volume end of Australia's hotly contested ute market.

The two most purchased vehicles in Australia are dual-cab utes, so it’s no surprise that lesser-known brands are now seeking to carve out some sales of their own.

The pair here lack the badge recognition of those top-sellers, the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger, but offset this by offering sharp pricing, lots of luxury features, and reassuring warranties designed to lure the curious and cost-saving across.

One contender is the LDV T60 produced by China’s largest carmaker, Shanghai’s SAIC, and distributed here through a separate company called Ateco, which has previously distributed brands such as Great Wall and Citroen.

Another former Ateco-managed brand is Korea’s SsangYong, which has returned locally under a factory-backed in-house distributor investing substantial sums to win over local buyers. Its Musso dual-cab is the other contender featured here.

The T60 certainly looks more conventional, with traditional proportions and blingy silver sports bar, side steps and roof rails. It’s actually a fairly impressive-looking truck, especially once you’ve added some chunkier tyres and given it a lift.

The Musso is big and bold, but that long tray and the unfinished-looking join with the cabin makes it appear a smidgen gawky. It is also crying out for a brasher, more typically American grille design. Yet looks aren’t everything. What of the substance?

Pricing and specs

The LDV T60 is tested here in mid-level Luxe grade. It wears a drive-away price of $37,331, though at the time of writing was advertised for $35,490 drive-away with an automatic transmission and $2000 gift card.

The Musso is tested in mid-range XLV Ultimate form, and is priced at $39,990 drive-away, also with an automatic transmission.

That makes each of this pair about $15,000–$20,000 cheaper than an equivalent HiLux SR5 or Ranger XLT, though the gaps to the value-packed Mitsubishi Triton or Holden Colorado are a fair bit narrower.

Neither challenger truck is lacking much when it comes to equipment, though it’s important to note that both grades come in less-luxurious Pro and ELX grades (respectively), which cut the entry prices further.

Both models here come with touchscreens running Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring in lieu of sat-nav. They also get heated seats, cruise control, six airbags, blind-spot monitoring, push-button start, rain-sensing wipers, and alloy wheels (17-inch on the LDV, 18-inch on the SsangYong).

The Musso adds nifty ventilated seats, plus extra driver-assistance features such as autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure alert and prevention, and rear cross-traffic alert, all of which must be commended. However, it does not have a safety rating from ANCAP because it’s yet to be tested, unlike the five-star LDV.

The LDV T60 lacks safety features despite nailing its structural crash test, but has more mod-cons than the Musso including leather-trimmed and electric-adjusting seats, a 360-degree camera view instead of the SsangYong’s rear-view unit, and LED headlights in place of halogens.

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 fact the LDV is a smidgen cheaper yet has more mod-cons puts it in good stead, and while we welcome SsangYong’s addition of more driver-helping safety technologies, the impact is diminished without a crash rating.

Cabins

On first impression, the LDV’s interior is impressive for the outlay. It features a massive 10.0-inch centre touchscreen that leaves rivals’ units for dead. The leather steering wheel and seats, red stitching, and car-like fascia all have showroom appeal.

Sure, the interior quality feels half a step below most competitors (agricultural Isuzu D-Max excepted), with cheap-feeling trims, though this is forgivable given the price. And someone stepping out of any previous-generation ute will be impressed.

We dislike the lack of telescopic steering wheel adjustment (ditto on the Musso, which also deserves an ergonomic-related kicking), and while the promise of a 360-degree camera is nice, it’s quite low-resolution and hard to use in bright light.

The infotainment system’s user interface looks slick but takes some adjustment. There’s also some needless replication – for instance, the climate control is operated by buttons but displays changes on the touchscreen. Okay, that’s a nitpick.

The back seats are well suited for those looking at the T60 as a family or apprentice carrier. There’s room for two 190cm adults, air vents, grab handles, a 12V outlet, door bins, a flip-down armrest with cup holders, and ISOFIX/top-tether attachment points.

The SsangYong’s cabin is nicer, though – indeed, it’s among the best in class. Its similarity to the interior of the related Rexton SUV makes this so.

The build quality and fit-finish are hard to fault, as is the combination of premium and hard-wearing materials. The soft dash padding, soft ‘Enduro-lite’ seat trims that make a passable go at feeling ‘leathery’, and abundance of silver plastics lift the vibe. Given the Musso is also 50mm wider than the T60, it also feels a little more spacious.

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.

While the screen is smaller than the LDV’s, it’s higher in resolution and simpler to navigate the infotainment software. As in the T60, we’d like to see satellite-navigation fitted, but at least in both cars you can mirror Waze, Google Maps or Apple Maps.

The Musso’s comfort and leathery back seats likewise offer space for two adults, air vents behind the console and cup holders, 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.

While the LDV T60’s interior looks impressive and has some excellent elements, its screen resolution and cheap plastics do let it down a bit. It’s trying to feel luxurious but doesn’t. The surprising Musso, on the other hand, has an interior as well appointed and made as far more reputable utes out there.

Trays and payloads

The LDV comes with a sports bar, a cheap-but-durable plastic tub-liner that’s just there to take damage anyway, and tie-down points. The tub area measures 1510mm wide at the tailgate, 1525mm long, and 530mm deep.

The Musso could use a sports bar or something like it to improve the frumpy looks. Like the LDV it has tie-down points and came fitted with a plastic tub-liner. It also has a tool-charging 12V outlet. The bigger tray measures 1570mm wide at the tailgate, 1610mm long, and 571mm deep.

Neither of these ‘premium’ spec grades offers a particularly good payload. The T60 Luxe can haul 815kg, while the Musso manages 880kg.

The LDV T60 Luxe has ‘softer’ leaf springs to maximise comfort over the T60 Pro version with heavier-duty leaves that can haul 995kg. Meantime, the Musso here has car-like coil suspension to improve road comfort, though the base ELX Musso on leaf springs can handle a claimed 1025kg.

For what it’s worth, we loaded both up with 700kg concrete blocks and both remained drivable. The Musso’s rear end squatted notably and nearly onto the stops, though it didn’t undermine the steering or braking beyond the pale, whereas the LDV seemed a little more assured under duress.

If you’re regularly carrying heavy loads, look at the LDV T60 Pro and SsangYong Musso ELX for that. These two here are happier hauling quad bikes, some tools or a few hay bales.

Drivetrains

Powering the T60 is a VM Motori-designed 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine made under license, and mated to a six-speed automatic transmission (a manual is available). Despite the on-par displacement it’s underpowered next to rivals, with 110kW of power at 3400rpm, and 360Nm of peak torque between 1600 and 2800rpm.

The engine is happiest between 1500rpm and 3500rpm, and on either side of this band feels laboured. It’s worth noting that a range of new 2.0-litre diesel engines with single and twin turbos are coming, headlined by the flagship’s 160kW/480Nm outputs.

It’s a particularly gruff engine at idle, and even with the sharper throttle response offered by ‘sports’ mode it lacks the punch its rivals have. It settles down to 2200rpm at 100km/h. Compared to today’s competitors, it lacks guts.

LDV cites a 3.0-tonne braked towing capacity, if you’re not in a big hurry to get where you’re heading, and its 5950kg gross combined mass (GCM) means you can tow the maximum trailer weight at payload simultaneously. At least technically.

The SsangYong 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 Rexton gets a Mercedes-sourced 7AT, the Musso’s 6AT is actually tuned better, with less fussiness and indecision at cruising speeds.

While its displacement is smaller, it makes 133kW of power at 4000rpm and 420Nm between 1600 and 2600rpm – to save you scrolling up, that’s 23kW and 60Nm more than the 600cc-larger LDV’s engine.

It’s far, far quieter at idle and under throttle, as well, possibly the quietest engine in the class. While the Musso’s 2170kg kerb weight exceeds the LDV’s by 110kg, the SsangYong is far punchier off the mark, surprising a few testers with its pace.

The company also cites a superior GCM of 6130kg and a braked towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes, or 3150kg if you’re simultaneously running at full payload.

The LDV’s claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle is 9.6L/100km compared to the SsangYong’s 8.9L/100km. Both have 75L tanks.

Overall, the T60’s weak point is its engine, which is gruff and lacking the punch of competitors. On the other hand, the SsangYong’s smaller-displacement unit is surprisingly strong and refined, and shows the company’s engineering chops.

Dynamics

The LDV’s suspension comprises double wishbones at the front and leaf springs at the rear. While the Pro has ‘heavy duty’ leaves, the Luxe has a softer set-up as mentioned earlier, reducing payload but also reducing rear-end skipping sans load.

Ateco contacted the renowned Walkinshaw Automotive Group to make some tweaks to suit the Australian market, too, specifically related to the shocks to improve unladen ride quality by adding control. It’s worth noting that the alloy wheels are shod with respectable 245/65 Dunlop Grandtrek all-terrain tyres rather than no-name rubber.

Colleagues who experienced the pre-update say this iteration is much better, and the general unladen ride quality and body control are certainly inoffensive, though there’s still a bit of body roll and notable rack-rattle over corrugations. Unlike most utes, the T60 comes with rear disc brakes instead of drums, which is great.

The 4x4 system is shift-on-the-fly part-time, with a transfer case and low-range gearing. Assisting this is hill-descent control. LDV cites a wading depth of 550mm, and a break-over angle of 21.3 degrees.

The Musso’s platform is shared with the Rexton SUV, and that’s probably why the sound-deadening and stability are so excellent.

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 feels a little jittery and ‘busy’ over corrugated gravel roads.

The update 18-inch wheels on Nexen tyres take a slight edge off ride quality, and while the tyres are okay, I’d look at throwing on a set of proper all-terrains from a company such as BFGoodrich. Like the LDV, it also has rear disc brakes.

The 4x4 system is also shift-on-the-fly part-time, with a transfer case and low-range gearing. Assisting this is hill-descent control. SsangYong cites a break-over angle of 20 degrees.

I tackled a series of offset moguls, muddy trails and water crossings with gravelly floors without much issue in both of these trucks, and they certainly felt no less capable than direct competitors from established brands.

One interesting test for both was to get the front-right and rear-left tyres in the air and see how well the 4WD systems in 4H crawled the ute out. Both did this small test decisively, and neither required to be put into low-range.

Both of these are box-fresh cars, though. It’s the longevity we can’t speak to as yet, and they do not have runs on the board.

Some running costs

The biggest potential cost on these is resale value, which is hard to gauge at this point.

Beyond this, prospective LDV buyers should be reassured by the five-year and 130,000km warranty with roadside assist, and 10-year body anti-perforation warranty. If your T60 is off the road for 48 hours, you get a free loan car.

While it’s still a small brand, Ateco has assembled 80 dealers nationwide across all states and territories. LDV still does not offer a capped-price servicing program, but the service intervals are listed as 12 months/15,000km.

SsangYong goes a few better, offering a seven-year bumper-to-bumper warranty with roadside assist provided. That’s equally market-leading.

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, though.

VERDICT

Part of me would still suggest purchasing a base grade or late-model used version of an established brand; however, the fact that this pair offer long warranties gives some reassurance.

The LDV T60 looks the part and offers a heap of equipment for the cash, though the base Pro is even better value since it's cheaper ($28,990), has a better payload, and the loss of the Luxe’s iffy 360-degree camera hardly matters.

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.

It’s the best of this pair of lesser-lights, though neither of these brands is going anywhere soon. Watch out.

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