Car reviews - SsangYong - Actyon Sports - Dual cab ute range
Smooth, responsive engine slick six-speed manual and auto transmissions
Room for improvement
Suspension lacks finesse, interior beginning to look dated, handbrake placement, low payload
30 Mar 2012
By PHILIP LORD
THERE must have been more than a few in the crowd screwing their faces up when SsangYong first whipped off the covers of the previous Actyon Sports.
With styling – if that is the appropriate term – that married a 1950s grille to a fussy, late-1990s organic-design body, it was - in a word - awful.
Local representatives at the time tried vainly to pass off the styling as ‘unique’, insisting it provided a point of difference in a market populated by trucks that looked too much alike.
It didn’t work the Actyon sold in a dribble over ensuing years to bargain hunters who really appreciated the savings over other utes much more than they liked owning a good-looking vehicle.
Even SsangYong tried to soften the looks by fitting a less gaping grille as part of a 2008 update.
Thankfully, the new Actyon is much more attractive. The all-new angular front-end sheetmetal is almost Mitsubishi-like, and while it doesn’t integrate perfectly with the rest of the restyle, this SsangYong is so much better looking it’s hard to criticise it much.
You do wonder though, if SsangYong was going to go to all this trouble why didn’t it also fit different wheels – they’re the same as fitted to the previous mid-spec model.
Slide onto the driver’s seat and while there’s a new dash, it all looks very similar to the old model. The same switchgear and seats are used, but the overall impression is of good quality.
Insert the ignition key and there’s the familiar, annoying SsangYong feature – a chime to tell you to put on your seatbelt. Then there is another chime to tell you that you have opened the door to get out. There may be more, but thankfully we did nothing to set them off.
The driving position is good, with clear vision to the front and sides and a surprisingly easy view out back because of the pick-up tray’s upwards taper. The seats are comfortable too, with good side and under-thigh support and plenty of adjustment available.
The view of the instruments and access to controls is pretty good, although the column wands at first seem at strangle angles (and then you realise they are perfectly placed if you keep your hands at the ten-to-two position) and the handbrake is too far away over on the passenger’s side of the centre console.
And maybe it’s just the relatively large-diameter steering wheel, but the steering does seem low-geared and makes for more wheel-twirling in the ‘burbs than seems necessary.
Having steering reach adjustment instead of only rake would be nice, too. You also wonder what the array of blank control buttons on the centre console are for I suppose at least it gives you somewhere to fit switches for accessories such as driving lights.
The new engine is a subtle tool. You might think it’d be pretty workman-like, given it is a diesel, but it is far more refined than that.
This is a smooth, tractable turbo-diesel… wait, is that a contradiction in terms? In this case no the 2.0-litre engine supplies torque as low as 1000rpm and from 1500 it builds steam slowly but surely.
This is the kind of turbo lag you want to have, because it is almost absent and the transition from no boost to turbo boost is seamless, which is not a given with many turbo-diesels that seem to have an on-off switch that flicks on when the turbo has spooled up.
The Actyon Sports’ 2.0-litre is similar to Volkswagen’s excellent Amarok 2.0-litre turbo-diesel – but the Actyon needs only one turbo to do it, and not the more complex sequential turbo system the Amarok has.
So the engine lacks the big output numbers of most of its competitors - that is a fact – but it outguns most of them in its low-rpm response and smoothness.
Mind you, It won’t reach its redline at 4500rpm without putting up a fight – at 4000rpm the tacho needle almost stops, as if the engine has reached a rev-limiter. This is not unusual for a diesel, but it does require a short-shifting method to gearchanges if you’re in a hurry.
Luckily, there won’t be a problem with the gear shuffling – this has to be one of the sweetest truck gearboxes on the market. It has light, positive, short shifts, as you might find in a well-sorted manual car.
We sampled the automatic 2WD model as well, and while the six-speed auto has reasonably crisp shifts, it isn’t a stand-out among its peers like the manual version is. The auto does have all the trick features, including steering wheel-mounted shift buttons, and it will hold gears to the redline if you really need it to.
We averaged fuel consumption of 10.0L/100km, admittedly in mostly an urban setting, so with a light foot on the open road it would likely drop down to the claimed average of 8.0L/100km.
It has all been sweet milk for the Actyon Sports so far, but with its suspension, things turn sour. The tuning appears to be the same as in the previous model, and so much like many Korean 4WDs and commercials since the mid-1990s until a few years ago.
That is, the springs seem too soft – at the front, at least, and the way SsangYong has countered that is to valve the dampers so their initial damping is stiff. This results in a terrible ride at low speeds, with the body wobbling and shaking everywhere but on completely smooth roads.
On a smooth freeway, the tray-backed Actyon seem to run the sweetest, but on a rough road the front-end bounces around and the dampers just don’t seem quite able to keep up.
Having driven a BL Sorento SUV with quality aftermarket suspension a few years ago – which transformed the Kia from a bouncing castle to a smooth tourer - it is easy to see ways of sorting out this problem.
But, out of the box, the SsangYong is not really in the running for suspension tune honours - which is a shame, because with its coil-sprung live rear axle, it would have a good chance of bettering the leaf-spring competition.
In all, however, the new Actyon Sports is a pleasant surprise. It has some very competitive elements – such as its smooth powertrain - and while there are a few clangers like the suspension tune and low-ish payload, this is a well-priced ute that needs to be taken seriously.
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