Road Test: SsangYong Korando

SsangYong Korando.
SsangYong Korando.

The SsangYong Korando has always been an affordable option for those looking for a compact SUV or Crossover - but it’s always lagged behind rivals in terms of refinement and efficiency.

The Korean brand reckons the introduction of a pokier Euro6 2.2-litre diesel engine will put that right, plus there’s the option of a fresh 6-speed Aisin automatic transmission too.

SsangYong Korando.

SsangYong Korando.

Is it all enough to earn this car a recommendation in this closely-fought segment? If you’re looking for a budget compact SUV, this one’s certainly worth a spot on your shortlist.

SsangYong has been making models badged ‘Korando’ since 1954, but we’re looking here at a car with a design that still has little recognition across the market segment in which it must compete - that for Qashqai-like Crossover models and the soft-roading lifestyle-orientated small SUVs that are just like them. We’re talking about the budget end of this sector of course - cars like Kia’s Sportage and Hyundai’s Tucson rather than Toyota RAV4s or Honda CRVs.

It’s a part of the market you’d think even an unknown manufacturer might enjoy some success if it was able to offer a good looking car with more power, greater interior space and higher equipment levels than its rivals at a more affordable price. The Korando offered all that at its original introduction in 2011 and the proposition was further improved with the launch of this upgraded version in 2014. Its major failing though, was a noisy, relatively inefficient 2.0-litre diesel engine, now replaced here with a cleaner, much quieter Euro6 2.2-litre unit.

If you’ve tried a Korando in the past, then gone for something else, it might be time to give this Koprean contender another chance, for this latest model’s freshly-developed e-XDi220 diesel engine should really transform the road going experience. Maximum power is up to 178PS, while torque has been increased to 400Nm in comparison with the previous 2.0-litre unit.

SsangYong Korando.

SsangYong Korando.

There’s the option of two-wheel drive on the mainstream ‘SE’ and ‘EX’ trim levels but customers wanting to exercise this model’s impressive two tonne towing capability will want a variant featuring SsangYong’s on-demand four wheel drive system. There’s a manually operated differential lock if you find yourself in a really sticky situation, allowing a higher percentage of torque to be sent to the rear wheels at low speeds. Ground clearance isn’t too bad and front and rear overhangs are both tight, lending this Korando more than a modicum of off-road ability. It’s a fairly tidy handler, with acceptable body control and strong brakes. The steering takes a bit of getting used to, with a rather light feel about the straight ahead before weighting up sharply off centre. The ride quality is fine on the 17-inch wheels although it will become a bit more brittle on the 18-inch alloys.

Visual changes to this improved Korando moel are few, the enhancements limited to clear glass direction indicators, a piano black radiator grille and extra chrome on the flagship ‘ELX’ trim level. The Korando doesn’t stand out in a crowd of compact SUVs and perhaps that’s a good thing. Cover the badge on the front, and most people would probably think it was the latest Suzuki Vitara or Toyota RAV4. Given the fact that the Korando undercuts these cars quite markedly, perhaps that’s no bad thing.

Inside, there’s a redesigned infotainment system that features a 7-inch hi-res colour touchscreen on most models with audio streaming from smart devices and a link to a rear view camera. Plus there are large cup holders and space to store mobile phones and sunglasses.

As before, there are still a few scratchy plastics here and there but it all looks agreeably modern and it’s hard to fault the basic ergonomics. There’s still loads of space on board too, with plenty of rear legroom and fold flat rear seats. The 486-litre luggage bay offers a respectable capacity for a car of this size and extends to 1,312-litres when the rear bench is folded.

SsangYong Korando.

SsangYong Korando.

It’s hard to take exception with the Korando’s opening price - around £16,000. Yes, that does only buy you a front-wheel drive version, with all-wheel drive models setting you back from around £17,500, but we need a little perspective here.

After all, a front-wheel drive entry-level Hyundai Tucson retails at nearly £19,000, the equivalent Toyota RAV4 is around £23,000 and even the cheapest diesel Skoda Yeti is some way north of £18,000. Suddenly the Korando starts to make a serious case of itself.

It gets hill start control as standard - the brakes hold the car momentarily as you move off, without the need for the handbrake - though there is no hill-descent control function. This is a little odd for a car that proclaims its off-road ability, SsangYong quoting approach, departure and breakover angles to underscore its all-terrain versatility.

The centre console houses a Bluetooth-compatible audio system with USB and AUX-in sockets, while if you ascend the range, you get features such as heated leather seats, bigger alloys, privacy glass and an electric sunroof.

The introduction of the Euro6 2.2-litre diesel has allowed SsangYong to make big strides with CO2 emissions, which have been reduced to 139g/km, down from 147g/km on the previous two-wheel drive, manual transmission model. Fuel economy is also considerably improved and now up to 53.3mpg, on the combined cycle, for the two wheel drive manual, compared with 47.1mpg on the model it replaces.

A big buying incentive will be the best-in-class five year limitless mileage warranty. All the major mechanical components are covered, including wheel bearings, suspension joints and bushes, steering joints, shock absorbers and even the audio system. Wearable components such as clutch discs and brake friction materials which could have their life reduced by poor driving are covered for one year or 12, 000 miles, and the battery and paintwork for three years.

‘Korea can do’. That’s apparently what ‘Korando’ means - and it seems appropriate. After all, it’s hard to think of a car maker that has come so far, so quickly as SsangYong. This Korando is the most accessible model the company makes and feels even more class-competitive in this revised 2.2-litre diesel guise. Yes, as the brand itself would admit, this remains a work in progress. But already, the signs with this car are that this Korean marque is learning quickly just what European customers really want.

Already, when it comes to things like pulling power, rear passenger space and sheer value for money, this Korando can take on and in many cases beat the best of its rivals in the Crossover and soft-roading compact SUV sectors. It’s better off road than many of them too. If in future, it could be a little sharper to drive with a little more interior quality thrown in, then established rivals really would have something to fear. Even as it stands though, this SsangYong is a difficult option to ignore if you need a car of this kind to tow, to regularly transport five and to offer plenty of kit on a tight budget. You’ll just have to get used to explaining to people what it is. And who knows, you might even end up suggesting that they try one.