Car reviews - SsangYong - Musso - Ultimate
Sharp pricing, luxury appointments, premium cabin, roomy second row, refined diesel engine, relatively comfortable ride, well-rounded steering, strong body control
Room for improvement
No built-in satellite navigation, basic infotainment system, short rear backrest, indecisive transmission calibration, persistent understeer, lane-keep assist would be nice
SsangYong surprises with delightfully pleasing Musso Ultimate dual-cab pick-up
17 Apr 2019
SSANGYONG is back Down Under and ready to make an impact by pushing what it believes is great product that is well-priced, well-equipped and notably backed by a strong aftersales program.
On paper, this sounds like a great strategy when entering the highly competitive Australian market, especially the ute segment, which has been dominated by Toyota’s HiLux and Ford’s Ranger for some time now.
The Korean brand’s Musso definitely has its work cut out for it, then. So, can it realistically achieve a decent segment share? We’ve put its Ultimate flagship through its paces to find out.
Price and equipment
Priced from $39,990 driveaway, the Ultimate represents exceptional value in the ute segment. Where leading dual-cab pick-ups start price-wise, the Musso finishes – and does so without short-changing buyers in any regard.
Standard equipment includes 20-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 255/50 tyres, dusk-sensing 25W HID headlights, LED daytime running lights, foglights and tail-lights; rain-sensing windshield wipers, auto-folding side mirrors with heating and puddle lights, roof rails, a power-operated sunroof and a sports bar. Our test car is finished in Indian Red metallic paintwork, which is a no-cost option.
Inside, an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, a 7.0-inch multifunction display, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, an auxiliary input, an SD Card reader, 110V and 12V power outlets, a six-speaker sound system, power-adjustable front seats with heating and ventilation, heated rear seats and steering wheel, Nappa leather upholstery, keyless entry and start, manual air-conditioning and an auto-dimming rearview mirror feature.
Who would’ve thought that we’d start this review by telling you how luxurious the Ultimate’s interior is? No, we’re serious. Apart from some wind noise over the side mirrors at highway speeds, it’s a lovely place to be.
Supple Nappa leather upholstery (yes, we checked the specification sheet twice) adorns the seats and lower dashboard to great effect, while the soft-touch upper dashboard is also a nice touch.
In fact, even the rough-and-ready hard plastics used elsewhere and expected in a ute look premium! However, the use of vinyl cheapens the door armrests and central storage bin lid, all of which are disappointingly not well-padded.
Nonetheless, there’s really not that much to be upset about here because the luxury appointments in the Ultimate are numerous, including segment rarities like a power-operated sunroof, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats.
Equipment-wise, our only real gripe is the lack of built-in satellite navigation, although Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support does fill some of the void.
In fact, the smartphone operating systems make for worthy replacements for the 8.0-inch touchscreen’s first-party infotainment system that has its functionality limited to media and phone controls. It’s fairly straightforward here.
Conversely, the 7.0-inch colour multi-function display nestled between the tachometer and speedometer is top-notch, proving to be very functional by putting most vehicle settings at the driver’s fingertips.
While the front seats are both comfortable and supportive, it is the rear bench which can manually recline up to 27 degrees and fold flat that deserves more praise.
Not only is it flexible, but the near lack of a transmission tunnels means three adults can easily sit abreast, while headroom and legroom behind our 184cm driving position is about two and three inches respectively.
The rear bench’s short backrest can make it feel a little uncomfortable for taller occupants, though, in which case the headrests definitely need to be moved up high.
Measuring in at 5095mm long, 1950mm wide and 1870mm tall with a 3100mm wheelbase, the Musso is on the smaller side for a dual-cab pick-up – with this perception enhanced by its very thick sports bar – but it still packs a practical punch.
The tub measures 1300mm long, 1570mm wide and 570mm tall, making it large enough to accommodate a European pallet. It has a spray-on bedliner, a 110V power outlet and four tie-down hooks.
Engine and transmission
The Musso is motivated by a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine that produces 133kW of power at 4000rpm and 400Nm of torque from 1400 to 2800rpm.
This is a refined, quiet unit that smoothly delivers its outputs and mercifully avoids the stereotypical clatter of an oil-burner.
While performance is certainly decent, the Musso is definitely no straight-line beast, with progression best described as leisurely.
Naturally, this isn’t such a bad thing in a ute, but we feel a little more mid-range torque would help matters up hills, while power is certainly lacking at the top end.
The Ultimate uses an Aisin-sourced six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission with a manual mode, plus low-range gearing, of course.
Gear changes are slow but smooth, with the manual mode failing to speed things up when called upon via the awkward switch-shifter on the side of the gear selector.
Even overall responsiveness leaves the driver wanting, with spontaneous heavy throttle inputs met with a moment’s hesitation before a downshift occurs.
However, the strangest calibration issue occurs on the freeway, where the transmission will shuffle between fifth and sixth when dealing with the slightest – and we mean the slightest – of inclines. There’s enough torque available that this shouldn’t be a problem.
Claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test is 8.6 litres per 100 kilometres. During our week with the Ultimate, we are averaging 10.5L/100km over 270km of driving that was skewed towards urban traffic over highway stints.
For what it’s worth, Eco and Power modes allegedly decrease fuel consumption and increase overtaking performance respectively, while a Winter setting starts the Musso in second gear to help prevent its tyres slipping on icy surfaces.
The Musso’s maximum braked towing capacity and payload are 3500kg and 790kg respectively. For those that would like to bump the latter to 1020kg (and peak torque to 420Nm), the long-wheelbase (LWB) model looms in the second quarter of 2019.
Ride and handling
The Musso’s suspension set-up consists of double-wishbone front and multi-link rear axles with coil springs, whereas the aforementioned incoming LWB model is instead leaf-sprung.
It’s no surprise, then, that ride quality is pretty good on Australia’s low-quality roads. In fact, we’d go as far to say that it is rather comfortable.
Yes, the Musso can be quite jittery over uneven surfaces when unladen, but its rear end doesn’t skip over bumps in the same, often uncontrollable manner that some of its rivals do.
The Ultimate’s power steering is speed-sensitive, which makes a huge difference as far as driveability goes. Nimble at low speed and stable at high speed, it is pretty much bang on.
To make matters even better, this set-up is well-weighted, relatively direct and fairly quick, and then there’s the decent off-centre feel. Sure, it’s not the best ever, but few utes are as good a steer.
Handling-wise, the Ultimate’s 2192kg kerb weight does make its presence felt at times, but for the most part, body control is strong, with the lean encountered during cornering in no way exaggerated.
Nonetheless, there is a tendency to understeer, like most utes, so the line taken around a bend requires some micro-management. Again, not a deal-breaker, but something to be mindful of.
Dynamically, the Ultimate is never going to put in a sportscar-like effort, but it does feel smaller to drive than it is. To be honest, we’d be quite happy driving it for work or leisure.
The Musso has a part-time four-wheel-drive system with a limited-slip differential. While we’re yet to head bush to test it, traction in 2H was predictably good in dry conditions.
An Australian-market ride and handling tune is currently being developed by SsangYong. Current Musso owners will be able to retrofit the upgrades when they become available, so it’ll be interesting to see how much these already solid foundations can be improved upon.
Safety and servicing
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has not assessed the Musso yet, but SsangYong says it is naturally aiming for a five-star safety rating.
Advanced driver-assist systems in the Ultimate brilliantly extend to autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, cruise control, (crystal-clear) surround-view cameras, front and rear parking sensors, hill-descent control and tyre pressure monitoring. Lane-keep assist would be nice to have, though, given the Musso’s width.
Other standard safety equipment includes six airbags (front, dual and curtain), an anti-skid braking system (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist, electronic stability control (ESC), a traction control system (TSC) and hill-start assist.
As with all SsangYong models, the Musso comes with a competitive seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with seven years of roadside assistance.
Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. A capped-price servicing plan is available for the first seven visits.
We’ll be honest here. We were quite surprised to learn how likeable the Musso is. When stacked up against its rivals, it’s a no-brainer on paper, and now having driven it, its case has grown even stronger in our eyes.
Sub-$40,000 driveway for a fully loaded dual-cab pick-up backed by a long warranty is tempting enough as it is, but then you add in the fact that the Ultimate also drives really well and it’s genuinely hard to mount a case against it.
Whether or not SsangYong finds success with the Musso remains to be seen, but if this is where it’s starting with its relaunch, then that means only good things are to come. Do yourself a favour and test drive the Ultimate. You just might be surprised, too.
Mitsubishi Triton GLS Premium dual-cab pick-up 2.4-litre automatic (from $51,990 plus on-road costs)
Lauded as being the value buy, the Triton is positively expensive when compared to the Musso, but it looks tougher than ever and is not short on key active safety features.
Toyota HiLux SR5 dual-cab pick-up 2.8-litre automatic (from $56,440 plus on-road costs)
The market-leading HiLux is undoubtedly rough and ready, but this leaf-sprung variant doesn’t ride as well as the Musso, while its heavy and slow steering proves tiring.
Ford Ranger XLT dual-cab pick-up 3.2-litre automatic (from $58,290 plus on-road costs)
As our favourite all-around ute, the Ranger stands alone with its nimble dynamics, but the Musso has it well and truly covered for cabin presentation if not exterior styling.
Model release date: 1 December 2018
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