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First drive: SsangYong prepares critical Korando

SsangYong commits to diesel, manual Down Under as Korando approaches August launch

SsangYong logo3 Apr 2019

By JUSTIN HILLIARD in SEOUL

SSANGYONG Motors Australia has reaffirmed its commitment to the diesel engine and manual transmission with the vital fifth-generation Korando mid-size SUV due in August that could become the revitalised South Korean brand’s best-selling model.

 

Speaking last week in Seoul, where GoAuto was among a small group of Australian journalists to drive the all-important new model, SsangYong Motors Australia communications and product planning manager Andrew Ellis said both petrol and diesel engines will be available with the Korando locally.

 

“We think petrol’s going to be the biggest seller,” he said. “Just looking at the trend, what’s happening in the Australian market.

 

“Having said that, we’ll still have a diesel all-wheel drive, because we still have a lot of rural dealers. We still think there’s a market for it.

 

“If you’re a farmer and you’ve got a farm and you want the diesel rebate, you don’t want a petrol car in your line-up. You want all diesel cars in your fleet.

 

“At this stage, top-spec only. We’ll monitor that. We can do a diesel mid-spec, like we’ve done with Tivoli, if we want to. It’s there.”

 

The petrol-only entry-level and mid-range grades will be exclusively front-wheel drive, while the petrol and diesel flagship variants will be only available with all-wheel drive.

 

Mr Ellis said the choice of a six-speed manual transmission will be offered with the entry-level grade, while an Aisin-sourced six-speed torque-converter automatic unit will otherwise be standard.

 

“The (manual) sales are going to be tiny, but we still have a customer who wants it,” he said. “And it gives us a price point.”

 

Mr Ellis said the Korando will follow its siblings’ lead and be offered with driveaway pricing, adding that it needs to start below $30,000 to compete with its Korean rivals, the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage.

 

The flagship petrol variant is expected to sneak in under $40,000, while its diesel counterpart will likely break that barrier.

 

Asked if the Korando will become the brand’s best-selling model Down Under, Mr Ellis said that it will compete with the Musso XLV ute for top honours, but noted “we’ll be a lot wiser 12 months afterwards”. It will, however, replace the Tivoli XLV, the long-wheelbase version of the Tivoli small SUV.

 

“We took a punt on XLV,” he said. “We’ve had some buyers for it, but everyone wants a full-size mid-size.

 

“We kept small stock of that. We knew it was an in-between car, but it was there, so we took it.”

 

In order to meet the minimum requirements for a five-star safety rating from the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), standard advanced driver-assist systems for all grades will extend to autonomous emergency braking and lane-keep assist, according to Mr Ellis.

 

“We’re coming from nowhere, so we’ve got to get into (buyers’) mindset,” he said. “We can’t do (optional) safety packs. We don’t want to.”

 

Meanwhile, mid-range variants will gain blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert and the flagship grade will pick up surround-view cameras. Adaptive cruise control, steering assist and driver attention alert will also be available, among other hi-tech safety systems.

 

In terms of other specification, LED headlights and ambient lighting will be exclusive to the flagship variants that will also feature a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster alongside the mid-range grades. HID headlights and a monochrome 3.5-inch multifunction display are otherwise standard.

 

Mid-range and flagship variants will be optional with a dealer-fit 9.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation in addition to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support that is bundled with the factory 8.0-inch unit.

 

Fuel-saving automatic engine idle-stop technology will be available on front-wheel-drive grades from launch, and added to all-wheel-drive versions from early next year.

 

It all sounds good on paper, but our first drive in South Korea has given us a strong insight into how well the Korando should stack up when it arrives here.

 

Firstly, let’s address the elephant in the room: styling. Gone are the days of unfortunate-looking SsangYong models, as the Korando is instantly appealing up close.

 

But looks are only skin deep, and if the Korando is really going to appeal to small families, it needs to put forward a convincing case inside.

 

And the good news is that it does this with ease.

 

Packaging is one of the Korando’s strongpoints. No more is this evident than sitting in the second row behind our 184cm driving position, with four inches of legroom and two inches of headroom ensuring that even adults will feel comfortable on the wide rear bench.

 

Measuring in at 4450mm long, 1870mm wide and 1620mm tall with a 2675mm wheelbase, the Korando provides an impressive 551L of cargo capacity with its partition removed.

 

Better yet, stow the 60/40 split-fold rear bench and storage capacity grows to 1248L. This is in addition to the large glovebox that can swallow a 10.5-inch Apple iPad.

 

As such, there is no denying that practicality is strong with this one, although the lack of central rear air vents is a puzzling move for a mid-size SUV launched in 2019.

 

While two of the three examples we drove were highly specified pre-production vehicles, it was evident that material quality continues to improve, with the soft-touch dashboard feeling lovely, while even the hard plastics looked premium.

 

Cabin technology is also strong, with the 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster and 9.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system proving to be an impressive combination. Mercifully, the latter has a volume knob, while its other controls are capacitive.

 

Nonetheless, it is the mesmerising LED ambient lighting that steals the show thanks to its 3D-style appearance ‘inside’ the gloss-black dashboard and door trim. Cycling through 36 colours, we suspect it will be able to close a few deals by itself.

 

Our brief test drive was split between Pocheon Raceway, about an hour north of Seoul, and the highway and urban roads on the way back to the capital city, so it’s hard to say how the Korando really stacks up driving, but the early indications are good.

 

All three examples we drove were mated to the six-speed automatic transmission, which behaves pretty much like it does in all other current SsangYong models.

 

Gear changes are smooth but far too slow for stretches of spirited driving, while the manual mode is by no means permanent, with upshifts occurring automatically well ahead of the redline and most downshifts stubbornly refused when theoretically possible.

 

This is not so bad in examples fitted with the all-new 1.5-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine. This is a zesty little unit that produces 120kW of power at 5500rpm and 280Nm of torque from 1500-4500rpm.

 

Thanks to that wide band of maximum torque, the petrol charges off the line and through its mid-range. It’s just a shame that its top-end peak power isn’t more easily accessible through the manual mode. Nothing that the DIY option won’t fix, though.

 

Conversely, the 1.6-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine is underwhelming. As a revised version of the Tivoli’s unit, it is plagued with many of the same issues.

 

Namely, the 100kW of peak power that arrives at 4000rpm is well short of the standard in this segment, with full-throttle rolling acceleration feeling very slow, especially when tackling steep inclines.

 

Even a punchy 324Nm of maximum torque at a low 1500rpm can’t save matters as engine speed builds quickly. Manual examples instead max out at 300Nm.

 

It’s important to note that Australian examples of the Korando will launch with the European steering and suspension tuning, while the vehicles we drove instead had the Korean specification.

 

As such, we’ll reserve full judgement on the Korando’s ride and handling until its local launch, but it put in an impressive effort on its home turf.

 

Around the buttery-smooth circuit, it was evident that the Korando’s chassis is very communicative, with the driver always across the front wheels’ movements, while the steering was well-weighted and reasonably quick.

 

Naturally, family-focused mid-size SUVs are not designed for such environments, but body control was quite good overall, despite a decent amount of lean being experienced when navigating the tighter low-speed corners.

 

While the Korando feels lighter on its feet in front-wheel drive, the all-wheel-drive versions feel more surefooted when the going gets tough.

 

The very few rolling bumps that the circuit presented were met with composure, with this impression backed up by some of South Korea’s lumpy or unsealed roads that are hard to come by.

 

We even took the opportunity to do some light off-roading, with the Korando resisting the temptation to bounce around on corrugated dirt roads and confidently attacking steep inclines and declines.

 

Naturally, the Korando also makes for a comfortable highway cruiser, although wind noise over the side mirrors does penetrate the cabin.

 

So, the early signs are positive for the Korando. Make no mistake, if the price is right, this is the model that will propel SsangYong Motors Australia into mainstream relevancy. August can’t come soon enough.


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