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First drive: SsangYong Musso muscles in on ute market

Sharp pricing expected for Musso as SsangYong targets established pick-up brands

1 Aug 2018

SSANGYONG’S Musso will beat compatriot car-makers Hyundai and Kia to market when it launches the only South Korean pick-up in Australia in November, offering what is expected to be a cheaper 4x4 dual-cab alternative to the market-leading Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger.
Although exact pricing and specification is still to be determined, SsangYong executive director of export markets Daniel Rim name-checked the Mitsubishi Triton, which kicks off at $36,500 before on-road costs in GLX dual-cab pick-up guise, as a benchmark.
“We’ll compete with Mitsubishi over there (in Australia) … we have 40 per cent share in Chile of the pick-up market, so we have done well (against) the Mitsubishi,” he said.
“It will be (priced) competitively against Mitsubishi.”
A low-$30,000 starting price for the base six-speed manual Musso would undercut entry-level offerings from established brands including Ford, Toyota, Holden, Nissan, Isuzu and Mazda, while sitting just upstream of cut-price models such as the LDV T60, Great Wall Steed, Mahindra Pik-Up and JMC Vigus.
However, SsangYong Australia managing director Tim Smith said the Musso is distinct enough to stand out in the crowded 4x4 pick-up market.
“There’s a large standard deviation to all those brands you said, so grouping them together is difficult,” he said. “Our Musso offers four to six USPs (unique selling points) better than our competition. 
“We’d like to think we offer a Ford Ranger at a very attractive package, but having said that, we have no grand illusions that we’ll be starting off with a low base. As our brand grows and people get into the car, they’ll see our ute has amazing value and is very competitive.
“Every brand has its own compelling points, so some of the lower price brands offer a lot of truck for a little price, the other guys have got a lot of truck and high performance. We think we sit across all those platforms in some form or another. We’re pretty excited to offer a product like that.”
Available exclusively in dual-cab 4x4 form powered by a Euro 6 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine, the Musso produces peak 133kW of power at 4000rpm and maximum 400Nm of torque from 1400-2800rpm.
Also available with a six-speed Aisin automatic transmissions, the Musso returns a fuel economy rating of 7.9 and 8.6 litres per 100km for manual and auto versions, while CO2 emissions are pegged at 211 and 226 grams per kilometre respectively.
The Musso will carry a one-tonne payload, according to SsangYong, while max braked towing capacity is 2800kg in the manual and 3000kg for the automatic.
Measuring 5095mm long, 2175mm wide, 1840mm tall and with a 3100mm wheelbase, the Musso is a little shorter than its rivals, but a second extended-tray body style due to land in early 2019 will lengthen the SsangYong workhorse by 400mm.
The shorter Musso sports a load-bed size of 1300x1570x570mm, enough for a European-sized pallet, according to SsangYong.
Aside from the differences in size, the new Musso variant will also gain an option for leaf-spring rear suspension compared with the standard coil-spring set-up.
Mr Rim said the different suspension options will add versatility to SsangYong’s pick-up range, while also giving it a unique selling point as one of the only pick-ups to offer coil-spring suspension.
“Those who want to tow or take a payload, which we know is important, can buy the leaf-spring version, and those who want the comfort can take a coil suspension,” he said.
“We are offering this choice to the market and I think we can cater to a much broader spectrum of pick-up buyers. We cannot package the leaf spring for the short version, but for the long version we have both – coil and leaf.”
As for accessories and customisation, Mr Smith said he sees add-ons as a “good source of profitability”, but the brand will need time to develop and comply extras such as bullbars, lift kits and hard-top trays.
“The Australian average (pick-up buyer) spends around $3000 (extra) per vehicle, so we definitely want to capture that opportunity and another strength that we have is that we distribute all over the world and can go into global sourcing. 
“We are going to develop canopies in cost-effective countries like Thailand, those are the countries servicing hardtops globally. 
“We are looking seriously at the accessory market, it’s a good opportunity.
“(But) everything takes time. Bullbars have to be ADR compliant so you know we don’t have a lot of time to get that done but we’ll have a comprehensive range of accessories from the start.”
The Musso first launched in South Korea in early 2018, but customers are already facing long wait times as only one factory supplies all 127 markets.
When asked by GoAuto how SsangYong will overcome the stock shortages and expected increased demand from the Australian market, Mr Rim said he is lobbying hard to reallocate resources to clear the Musso backlog and does not foresee any wait times for local buyers.
“That is a very sharp question,” he said. “Too much of a good thing may be difficult to deal with, I mean when we launched Musso in South Korea it has been four months now into production, and we are still trying to maintain the four months’ backlog, we can’t keep up with the demand.
“But we launched it in Europe and we launched in Chile, so I am fighting … saying we need to allocate this month for this country, and that’s a constant resource fight. 
“With Australia coming on board, I think it will strengthen me to get more allocation of the Musso, so yeah, we’ll try to maximise the demand coming from Australia.”
While many manufacturers opt to spin a large seven-seat SUV from their pick-up model, SsangYong has chosen to reverse this and developed the Musso from the fourth-generation Rexton seven-seat large SUV.
Sitting atop the reborn SsangYong range in November, the Musso and Rexton share the same body-on-frame chassis, but the latter gains the option of a base 165kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo petrol and six-speed automatic powertrain combination that sends drive to the rear wheels.
The top-spec Rexton also uses a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine that powers all four wheels, but thanks to a Mercedes-Benz-sourced seven-speed automatic, torque output is lifted 20Nm to 420Nm. Power remains steady at 133kW in the Rexton.
Fuel consumption is rated at 10.4L/100km for the petrol and 8.3L/100km in the diesel.
Measuring 4850mm long, 1960mm wide, 1825mm high with a 2865mm wheelbase, the Rexton can swallow 649 litres in the rear with all seats in place, or up to 1806L with the second and third rows folded.
Our brief taster of both models in South Korea last week bodes well for SsangYong’s Australian relaunch.
The Musso especially will offer a compelling alternative to the established pick-up stable thanks to genuine off-road ability and upmarket interior polish.
Pininfarina – another company owned by SsangYong’s parent Mahindra Group – was tapped to help reduce noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels, which has yielded one of the quietest pick-up cabins we have experienced, barring the expensive European offerings such as the Volkswagen Amarok and Mercedes-Benz X-Class.
The fact that SsangYong built the Rexton SUV first, before using it as a basis for the pick-up, also matters as the Musso feels noticeably more crossover than workhorse with features such as heated rear seats, second-row air vents and a large colour display nestled between instrumentation.
A large infotainment screen houses all the usual connectivity options such as digital radio, Bluetooth and smartphone mirroring, but the standout is the ultra-sharp reversing camera and surround-view monitor.
There’s plenty of space in all seating positions, but we noticed the rear tray seems deeper than its competitors, which could lead to some trouble loading/unloading equipment.
However, the biggest fault we could level at the Musso is its on-road handling. The international-market suspension set-up feels a little too soft and bouncy, never settling enough for us to feel comfortable or in control.
SsangYong is promising a local suspension tune for all its models eventually, so fingers crossed the South Korean brand can iron out this kink in time for the Musso’s November launch. We’ll have to reserve final judgement until then.
The powertrain is also just serviceable, with slow off-the-line performance and an engine that runs out of huff at higher speeds, making overtaking a chore rather than a delight.
An extra 50Nm or so would make the 2.2-litre turbo diesel more appealing, while a smarter transmission tune would be quicker to kick down a gear with the stamp of the right foot.
Luckily, some of these concerns are already addressed in the mechanically related Rexton SUV.
A seven-speed transmission means a noticeable increase in torque, while the third-row seats add some weight to the rear axle to calm the bouncy rear axle.
Head- and legroom is also ample in both rows of both models, while in-cabin presentation with gloss-black finishes, soft-touch materials, contrasting leather accents and woodgrain highlights is excellent.
Safety is also high on SsangYong’s priority list, with seven airbags in the Rexton and six airbags in the Musso, as well as features such as autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-departure warning on offer.
The biggest unknown however, is the price.
If SsangYong can land the Musso and Rexton in below its established competitors, the brand should have no problem drawing the eye of budget-focused buyers thanks its well-appointed and polished offerings.

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