SsangYong’s history lies in building Jeep-based 4x4s under licence for the military way back in the 1950s and it’s a heritage the brand hangs on to.
While other car makers try to fill every gap from city car to luxury SUV, the small Korean manufacturer has stuck to what it knows, with a focus on rugged, inexpensive 4x4s, pick-ups and SUVs.
The Korando was its first SUV, launched in 1983 and has been a permanent feature of the range ever since. After eight years of service the third generation has been retired to make way for this fourth generation and, as with other recent new SsangYongs, the difference is staggering.
Everything from its looks, design and interior layout to the materials, comfort and quality are light years removed from the ugly, rough and ready last-gen car. That isn’t to say it’s class-leading in these areas – this is a tough segment where it’s up against everything from the Seat Ateca and Nissan Qashqai to the VW T-Roc and Peugeot 3008 – but in every aspect it is at least able to compete, helped by a relatively low price and generous equipment.
Every Korando gets cruise control, auto lights and wipers, keyless entry and a suite of driver aids including auto dipping headlights; autonomous emergency braking system; lane keeping assist, traffic sign recognition and driver attention alert. Starting at £19,995 it just undercuts the perennial best-selling Qashqai. At the other end of the range, the tested £31,995 Ultimate is around £4,000 cheaper than a similarly equipped Qashqai or £2,500 less than a Seat Ateca and features leather seats (heated and ventilated in the front and heated in the rear); dual-zone air conditioning; a nine-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto; 10.25-inch configurable digital instrument cluster, automatic LED headlights; a power tailgate, plus an automatic transmission and four-wheel-drive mated to the diesel engine. For day-to-day driving you’ll want for little more.
The presence of four-wheel-drive in a segment where most buyers ignore it is a reflection partly of the brand’s history and partly of its established customer base, who want an affordable machine with some off-road ability. Many also want it to be able to tow a caravan or horsebox, hence it being engineered to offer a towing capacity of up to two tonnes as well as being able to tackle more than a muddy car park.
On the road the focus on maintaining some ruggedness is clear as it leans and wobbles more than some of its contemporaries but the ride strikes a reasonable balance for comfort. SsangYong claim class-leading refinement and it’s certainly quiet enough, with little intrusion from wind or tyre noise.
SsangYong Korando Ultimate
Price: £31,995 Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder diesel Power: 134bhp Torque: 239lb/ft Transmission: Six-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive Top speed: 112mph 0-62mph: 12 seconds Economy: 43.5mpg CO2 emissions: 170g/km
What the cabin isn’t isolated from is the noise of the diesel engine. The 1.6-litre four-cylinder isn’t the quietest, smoothest or quickest on the market. With 134bhp it offers economy of up to 48.7mpg and, with the automatic gearbox, gives the Korando its impressive towing capacity but it lets it down among some tough competition.
Coming in December is a 1.5-litre turbo petrol which is far more pleasant. An early drive of the four-cylinder unit reveals that it’s far smoother and quieter than the diesel and in a market that’s abandoning diesel it is is expected to account for three-quarters of Korando sales.
It loses out to the diesel in the economy and torque stakes but in every other way the 161bhp petrol unit feels like the better choice, especially when matched to the six-speed automatic transmission. Like many rivals in the segment, the petrol will only be available in two-wheel-drive but will come with the choice of six-speed manual or automatic gearboxes.
Unlike its big brother the Rexton, which competes in a fairly small segment, the Korando has it tough. While it’s a vast improvement over the old model and is overall a decent car it still struggles to match the best of its rivals in outright quality or driving experience. Where it fights back is in value, space and the promise of rugged performance for buyers looking to tow or regularly head off-road.