SsangYong Korando 2.0 Diesel
EX Auto AWD review
by David Finlay (23 November 2011)
The first part of the SsangYong Korando's name means "twin dragons", which is fine. The second part is a contraction of the phrase "Korea can do", which is simply appalling. SsangYong is clearly happy to use it without even the beginnings of a blush, though, and is now doing so for the third time in a car that has just made its debut in the UK, a year on from its debut in left-hand drive markets.
The original Korando, so similar in appearance to the Jeep Wrangler that an uninformed observer might have had difficulty identifying one from the other in broad daylight, wasn't sold here, and its odd-looking predecessor went out of production in 2005. The latest model is by far the most attractive - three cheers to Italian design house Giugiaro for making that happen - and it also provides an early sign that SsangYong is easing itself away from an association with Mercedes-Benz, which has been supplying the Korean manufacturer with parts for many years.
So, while the Rexton and Rodius continue to use a 2.7-litre Mercedes turbo diesel engine, the Korando is fitted with SsangYong's own two-litre unit. With a maximum output of 175bhp it's very powerful for its size, it operates quietly in most driving conditions and it provides the Korando with an official combined fuel economy figure of, at worst, 37.7mpg, and in some versions as much as 47.1mpg. No wonder SsangYong will be introducing it to the other models from mid-2012.
The test car's automatic transmission isn't from Mercedes either, as it currently is in the Rexton and Rodius. It actually comes from an Australian gearbox manufacturer, and it is very good indeed, with superbly smooth gearchanges in both directions.
From a driver's point of view, this is probably the best part of the Korando, but there are other favourable aspects. The ride is good for a chunky SUV (though there's a suggestion of wandering over crests and the tyres transmit more road surface information into the cabin than anyone needs to know about) and you can, if you want or need to, push on along a country road with some gusto without causing the chassis any great concern.
There are a few black marks, though it wouldn't be unduly charitable to suggest that several of them are due to this being a relatively cheap car. We picked the one with the highest of the three trim levels, automatic transmission (manual is also available) and four-wheel drive (front-wheel drive ditto) because SsangYong reckons that it's going to be the most popular despite also being the most expensive, but even this one has a list price of just under £23,000 before extras.
You can pay more than that for a Ford Focus. And, more importantly, the top-ranking automatic-transmission models in the rival Hyundai ix35, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi ASX and Nissan Qashqai are all quite a bit more expensive.
Bearing that in mind, I can see why the interior plastics verge on low-rent, the steering wheel isn't upholstered in leather even though the seats are, only the driver's seat (not the one for the front passenger) is electrically adjustable, and the steering mechanism appear to involve more bubblegum the more lock you use. Fair enough. Savings were clearly made in these areas.
I'm less keen to forgive the omission of any kind of spare tyre in favour of a puncture repair kit (there being cases in which them things are useless). And there can't be any budgetary reason why the rear headroom is so poor, or why the rear pillars have been designed with the seemingly deliberate aim of making the Korando difficult to reverse.
Then again, there's that engine. And that gearbox. And that price. And the impressive 2000kg maximum towing weight with a braked trailer, though you have to spend the curiously chosen figure of £602 for the optional towbar and accompanying electrics to make use of that. And on top of all that there's the five-year unlimited mileage warranty, which is transferable to subsequent owners.
This isn't the best car in its class, but it's the best SsangYong has ever made, and while most potential buyers will continue to be persuaded by the Hyundai/Kia/Mitsubishi/Nissan opposition, the Korando is at least worth considering before the final decision is made.