Car reviews - SsangYong - Tivoli - Ultimate
Sharp pricing, strong warranty, excellent packaging, great fuel consumption, relatively comfortable ride, decent body control, communicative chassis, standard active safety
Room for improvement
Awkward styling, dated cabin, no rear air vents or satellite navigation, unrefined engine, slow gear changes and steering, jumpy rear end over bumps, prevalent understeer
SsangYong re-enters the fray with solid but uninspiring Tivoli Ultimate small SUV
18 Mar 2019
THANKS to a change of distributorship and the confidence of factory backing outside native South Korea for the first time, SsangYong is back in Australia after a brief absence.
And what better way to kick off the comeback story than to field a competitor in the fastest-growing vehicle segment Down Under? Enter the Tivoli small SUV.
However, with the model set to receive a major facelift in the second quarter this year after being on sale overseas for about four years, is it a bit long in the tooth? We’ve tested the Tivoli in flagship Ultimate form to find out.
Price and equipment
Priced from $33,990 driveaway, the Ultimate represents exceptional value for buyers in the market for a small SUV with a diesel engine, all-wheel drive and surprisingly good braked towing capacity (1500kg).
Standard equipment includes diamond-cut 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 215/45 tyres, dusk-sensing HID headlights, LED daytime running lights and front foglights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, auto-folding side mirrors with heating, rear privacy glass, roof rails, a rear spoiler and a full-size spare wheel.
Our test car is optioned with Dandy Blue metallic paintwork with white accents for the roof and side mirrors, which is a $500 option. As such, the price as tested is $34,490.
Inside, a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, an auxiliary input, two 12V power outlets, an SD Card reader, a six-speaker sound system, a monochrome multi-function display, leather-accented upholstery, a six-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, a power-operated sunroof, keyless entry and start, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror feature.
While the Tivoli might be new to the Australian market, it is a four-year-old proposition overseas, and nowhere is that more apparent than in its cabin.
Yes, the argument can be made that its exterior design isn’t that sharp either, with the rear and side views doing themselves no favours … but, as always, styling is subjective.
Anyway, one quick look at the centre stack is enough to trigger bad memories of plastic slabs with big knobs, elongated buttons and orange lighting.
That being said, the soft-touch dashboard is a nice touch and the hard plastics used for the door shoulders look expensive, which is something we’d almost never say.
Nonetheless, shift your attention to the multi-function display and shock really kicks in as you realise the low-resolution unit is monochrome in 2019! This is disappointing considering how good the high-resolution colour set-up is in the Tivoli’s stablemates.
What does feel new, though, is the 7.0-inch touchscreen that is neatly integrated into the dashboard, although it is unfortunately prone to being illegible in direct sunlight.
The infotainment system that powers it isn’t the best, though, with functionality limited to media and phone controls, as in-built satellite navigation is strangely nowhere to be found, making the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support even more critical.
It’s not all bad news, as the Tivoli does a lot of things right inside. In fact, its packaging is up there with the absolute best in class … if you ignore the shallow open storage tray above the glovebox, but we digress.
Measuring in at 4202mm long, 1798mm wide and 1590mm tall with a 2600mm wheelbase, the Tivoli is small in size but feels large where it counts.
Legroom is plentiful behind our 184cm driving position, while a few inches of headroom is also on offer when sitting in the second row that is wider than most. Yes, three adults could sit abreast in relative comfort, although they would miss out on their own air vents.
Cargo capacity is also very generous, at 423L, but can expand when the 60/40 split-fold rear bench is stowed. In fact, it can recline up to 32.5 degrees to improve comfort or maximise storage space in a very nice touch.
Engine and transmission
The Ultimate is motivated by a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine that produces 85kW of power from 3400 to 4000rpm and 300Nm of torque from 1500 to 2500rpm.
As these outputs suggest, the Ultimate does its best work down low and in the mid-range, with enough shove on offer to keep things moving at a reasonable pace in urban traffic.
Take the Ultimate out onto an open road, though, and it becomes apparent that it doesn’t have much to offer up top, with uninspiring straight-line performance on offer. SsangYong doesn’t quote a zero-to-100km/h sprint time, but top speed is 172km/h.
Either way, this is not the most refined engine, with its coarse note easily heard over the sound system when accelerating. This, of course, is in addition to the stereotypical diesel clatter heard on cold starts.
For what it’s worth, three powertrain settings are available, with Eco and Power allegedly decreasing fuel consumption and increasing overtaking performance respectively, while Winter starts the Tivoli in second gear to help prevent the tyres slipping on icy surfaces.
The Ultimate’s six-speed Aisin torque-converter automatic transmission is partly to blame for this mediocre effort, offering up gear changes that aren’t always the smoothest or quickest.
While the transmission is responsive to spontaneous throttle inputs, it never rises to meet the sporting intent of the driver, although this does make for a linear and relaxed experience.
With no dedicated manual mode or paddle-shifters available, the driver has to rely on the gear selector when they want to control the changes before matters are out of their hands again.
Claimed fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions on the combined cycle test are 5.9 litres per 100 kilometres and 156 grams per kilometre respectively.
During our week with the Ultimate, we are averaging 7.4L/100km over 260km of driving skewed towards urban areas. This is a great real-world result considering the manufacturer’s claim in this environment is 7.8L/100km.
Ride and handling
The Tivoli’s electric power steering has three modes – Comfort, Normal and Sport – which progressively – and noticeably – increase its weight.
In our books, Normal is the better balanced of the three, with Comfort proving to be too light and Sport showing itself to be unwieldy at low speed.
Speaking of which, the steering feels too slow when manoeuvring in carparks and the like, as we found ourselves constantly running wide of our line.
The same can be said when pushing the Tivoli around corners, with it tending to understeer to the point a decent amount of lock needs to be applied to correct it.
Conversely, the steering is nice and quick at higher speeds, while the chassis is also quite communicative, although feedback via the wheel can be numb.
The Ultimate’s suspension set-up consists of MacPherson-strut front and multi-link rear axles. This is a unique combination, as the Tivoli’s front-wheel-drive variants feature a less sophisticated torsion beam up the back.
Normally we’d praise the multi-link system, but this example tends to skip sharply over bumps, even if it does settle in quickly after absorbing the impact.
That being said, ride comfort is actually pretty good, with the Ultimate remaining compliant over uneven surfaces, although we’re yet to properly test it off-road.
Handling-wise, the Ultimate’s 1480kg frame is dealt with quite well, with decent body control exhibited at low speed, although a reasonable amount of lean is experienced when navigating bends with more vigour.
The Ultimate features an on-demand all-wheel-drive system that is front-biased in its standard setting to maximise fuel efficiency, but it can evenly distribute torque to both axles when needed.
If the electronic differential lock is switched on, the front-to-rear split becomes 40/60, but as mentioned, we are yet to truly put this set-up to the test.
Safety and servicing
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the two-wheel-drive Tivoli a four-star rating in December 2018, although SsangYong Australia is working with the independent safety authority to achieve the maximum result.
Advanced driver-assist systems pleasingly extend to low-speed autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep and steering assist (one of the best we’ve sampled yet), hill-descent control, high-beam assist, cruise control, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, and tyre pressure monitoring.
Other standard safety equipment includes seven airbags (dual front, side and curtain plus driver’s knee), 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 Tivoli 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.
If we wound the clock back four years and assessed the Tivoli, we’d probably say it’s a fine effort from SsangYong, albeit not a class-leading one.
However, there is no denying that we live in 2019 and the game has moved on. In answer to our original question, the Tivoli is quite long in the tooth.
That’s not to say the Tivoli is a bad thing, because it’s not. Certainly, in Ultimate form, it’s well-priced, well-specified and well-packaged, but it just lacks a bit of freshness and spark.
To fix this problem, when the facelifted Tivoli becomes available, SsangYong should move to offering the Ultimate with a turbo-petrol engine and front-wheel drive.
This is the combination that the Australian market has demanded in a small SUV time and time again and would go some way in making the Tivoli even more competitive.
Mazda CX-3 Akari AWD diesel from $39,190 plus on-road costs
The only other oil-burning small SUV in the market that sends drive to all four wheels, this CX-3 is lauded for its exterior design, strong dynamics and premium materials, but the Mazda2-based model is tighter than most inside.
Model release date: 1 December 2018
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