In the ute-loving Australian market, there seems to be two camps: those who spend big on popular models like the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, and Isuzu D-Max, or those who chase value and end up with an GWM Ute or LDV G60 in their driveway.
And somewhere in the middle sits the 2021 SsangYong Musso.
The Musso is on the verge of being replaced with a facelifted model in the coming months, which means you can expect to see some run-out deals on the horizon from SsangYong. But before it gets its first model update since its 2018 release, we thought we would give ourselves a refresher on the dual-cab ute from South Korea.
What you're looking at is the 2021 SsangYong Musso XLV Ultimate priced from $41,790 drive-away. This one has been optioned in Space Black paint for an additional $495, and also has a 3500kg tow bar and Redarc electric brake controller for an extra $1614 and $599 respectively.
The XLV means it's the big one, with the tub stretched out by 300mm for an additional 251L of capacity, and the wheelbase given an extra 110mm to help spread the load.
Being the XLV Ultimate, it's the top-of-the-line variant, which adds a swag of gear to the features list – but reduces the maximum carrying capacity from 1025kg in the lower-spec Musso XLV ELX to 880kg. Still decent.
At 1570mm wide, 1600mm long, and with a depth of 570mm, it comes with a very usable tub, and it's particularly good with the water-resistant 12-volt plug in the back. The highly popular dual-cab Ford Ranger may be able to carry 70kg more in its tub, but the Musso beats it on the tape measure.
At the other end of the SsangYong is a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine putting out 133kW of power and 420Nm of torque, sending it to the wheels through a six-speed Aisin automatic transmission. The unofficial 0–100km/h sprint is done in roughly 10 seconds.
But in both performance and price, the top-spec Musso is more closely matched with the mid-spec Mitsubishi Triton GLX+, with its 2.4-litre turbo diesel offering 133kW and 430Nm for $43,690 drive-away.
For venturing off-road, our Musso offers selectable four-wheel drive with low-range and an automatic locking rear differential for added traction – though road tyres do come as standard on the model.
The manufacturer claims 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres, but surprisingly I ended up returning 8.1L/100km – assuming the computer wasn't fibbing.
On the safety front, buyers get autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, high beam assist and six airbags. There's no ANCAP rating for the Musso or Musso XLV however.
The Musso comes standard with LED daytime-running lights, fog lights, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, cruise control, leather steering wheel, push-button start, a 7.0-inch colour display between analogue gauges, and an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Move up to the Ultimate and you'll get synthetic leather trim, comfortable heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, 360-degree camera, HID headlights, proximity entry, tyre-pressure monitoring, black 18-inch alloy wheels, blind-spot monitoring with lane change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert.
|2021 SsangYong Musso XLV Ultimate|
|Engine||2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder|
|Power and torque||133kW at 4000rpm, 420Nm at 1600–2600rpm|
|Drive type||Part-time four-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||8.9L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.1L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||Not tested|
|Main competitors||Mitsubishi Triton, GWM Ute, LDV T60|
|Price as tested (drive-away)||$44,498|
Looking at this extra-long dual-cab ute from the outside, its proportions don't really give away its size. It looks just as it should, despite the extra length tacked onto the end. So when I slid behind the wheel, it made sense that there's a ton of head room above my noggin, which sits atop my roughly 180cm (6ft) frame. The Musso is just a little bigger in every direction, without stepping into the category of an American full-size pick-up. It's big but proportionate.
But it doesn't feel oversized or unmanageable on the road. Yes, you have to be aware of its longer wheelbase in tight corners, but it never felt intimidating or demanding. It never asked anything more of me as a driver, and I appreciated that.
Nor does it feel slow – or particularly fast, for that matter. Relaxed but capable. I rarely felt the need to push the car, I just let the engine torque and the gears swing me up to the speed limit. It might be why my fuel economy figures came back lower than expected.
While the load-carrying rear coil suspension seems to do a good job of taking on the lumps and bumps in the road, it's the Musso's chassis that is by far the most disappointing part of the ute. It's just a bit floppy. Whether it's due to the extended wheelbase not being appropriately reinforced, I don't know, but there was a lot of vibration and shake echoing through the vehicle when it was being driven unladen.
It did feel to me as if the chassis let the car down. It deserves better. But it's hard to be mad at the Musso, because it's honestly a really nice place to spend time. The quality of the touch materials is surprisingly very good, as is the overall fit and finish. This is a legitimately great interior, and it's in a dual-cab ute from Korea.
Two things sprang to mind; the first thought is that there are aspects of this interior that are genuinely better than some found in high-end German SUVs of recent years. There's a solidity in the Musso I really wasn't expecting to find.
The second thing was a memory. More than a decade ago, my mate drove me home in his German premium sedan, and it really annoyed me that you could feel the tooling and witness marks on the inside of the interior door handles. They looked all nice and chrome when you were seated, but they felt plasticky and rough when being used. I was astonished that nobody had thought to evaluate that experience of touch during the car's development.
With the Musso, though, it really feels like someone's been through the interior to check which surfaces are touched and used, and tried to improve the experience as best they could. I didn't care that the heater controls were made of plastic, because they had a knurled finish that both looked good and felt nice to the touch.
Then there are the ergonomics and buttons. Everything falls to hand easily, and can be identified in an instant. I love good design, but I don't believe it should ever come before function. And here, in this ute, it's a great balance of both.
Another thought: Hyundai was launched in Australia in 1989 or so, and was the butt of jokes for a decade. SsangYong eagerly followed, launching the very square Musso SUV locally after 1993.
While Hyundai has grown to produce quality cars on the same level as Toyota, Volkswagen, and BMW, sitting in this 2021 Musso, it really feels like SsangYong has followed a similar trajectory. Okay, so it's not quite at the level of the Toyota HiLux or Volkswagen Amarok, but the gap really isn't as great as some may have you believe. The Musso is nipping at their heels.
On the road, the engine is refined and the cabin quiet when at speed. Not just good when compared to other commercial vehicles, but well insulated as a passenger car.
Then there's the little rocker button on the side of the shifter, which allows you to manually shift. It's not suited to slapping through gears in a street drag, but more along the lines of down-changing when you're pulling a heavy load and you're about to hit a steep bit. And that hints at what the Musso is about.
You might think you want a huge Japanese four-wheel drive to tow your caravan around the continent, but the Musso XLV Ultimate really feels like it's been designed and built for the grey nomad. It's comfortable, easy to use, and great value.
In this pre-facelift guise, it's a smart-looking thing too. Perhaps not a leader in this area, but certainly less controversial than Mitsubishi's offering.
Though the Triton most closely matches it on paper, the Musso outclasses the Mitsubishi with superb interior fit and finishes, and still hands back more change after the contract is signed. It's also worth mentioning SsangYong's excellent seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.
It's a shame, then, that the 2021 SsangYong Musso XLV Ultimate occupies a no-man's land – a space somewhere between the class leaders and the entry-level offerings, as it's neither best-in-class nor the cheapest.
But it really should be praised. It's excellent value for money for what it delivers, and offers more of what you would expect from the pointy end of the segment, but at a pricepoint that's closer to the other end of the scale.