► Mid-size SUV gets a makeover
► Attempts premium with mixed results
► 'Ultimate' diesel 4x4 auto tested
SsangYong’s been gaining traction as time goes on with those who value, er… value. It mainly builds big, rugged 4x4s and slaps competitive price tags and exceptional warranties onto them before selling them in the kind of dealers that used to stock Protons and Daihatsus.
There’s not a lot of prestige behind that badge, then, but for buyers of the last SsangYong Korando, that didn’t matter. It was valued instead for its good towing ability, its combination of big-car-for-small-money and in some cases the fact it could genuinely do a bit of off-roading, too. But a big price increase means this new Korando isn’t quite the bargain it once was – and diesel models in particular now rival talented opposition such as the Skoda Karoq and Renault Kadjar.
Wasn’t the last Korando a bit rubbish?
No, the last Korando was a lot rubbish. Outside of its aforementioned girth and tow-car nous, it was an unrefined mess that felt dated at launch. It had a clattery diesel engine that returned appalling CO2 emissions and poor fuel economy, and the interior felt as though the designers sneezed buttons onto the dash rather than placing them there with any care.
It’s much better news for this latest model. It’s been made over in the same way the Rexton was two years ago, with a smart look laden with chrome, a slick new interior and a choice of engines that appear to have been given a semblance of sound deadening. Tick, tick, tick.
Crucially for the Korando’s target market, it’s still capable of towing up to 2000kg and can still be specified with four-wheel drive – so load it up with all the horseboxes, caravans and trailer tents you like.
What’s under the bonnet?
There’s a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol on the way but, so far, the only engine is this downsized 1.6-litre turbodiesel – a fair whack smaller than the 2.2 of the previous car. It’s down on power too, with just 134bhp and 239lb ft trailing the 176bhp and 295lb ft on offer before. For caravanners, that’s a bit disappointing – this is more suited to a two-berth Abbey Iona EK than a six-berth twin-axle Swift Elegance Grande, though the legal towing limit of 2000kg remains unchanged.
Not that it’s a major problem when driving solo. The Korando isn’t exactly fast, but it’s powerful enough – torque arrives low down, enabling you to get a fair clip on without stressing the slightly gravelly engine too much. The six-speed automatic is an Aisin torque converter unit, and while there’s a Sport mode on offer, it’s best left to its own devices. You can take manual control if you need it – and mercifully, for the first time in a SsangYong, there are steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters instead of a near-useless toggle switch on the side of the shifter.
From rest, 62mph arrives in a fairly tardy 12 seconds and CO2 emissions and fuel economy are pegged at 144g/km and 48.7mpg respectively. Expect the 163bhp petrol, when it arrives, to be significantly faster albeit slightly more polluting.
Any good to drive?
The Korando is by far the best-driving car SsangYong’s produced to date. Once up to speed, it’s a relaxed experience, with fairly firm but composed suspension and decent enough refinement.
Press on down a B-road – like no owner will ever do – and the over-light steering becomes pretty vague, while round town there’s too much arm-twirling involved. In terms of dynamics then, the stable and sensible Skoda Karoq has the Korando licked.
That dashboard looks swish…
It’s difficult to fault the level of kit bundled in with this top-spec SsangYong Korando Ultimate. On top of the usual leather upholstery, climate and adaptive cruise control, there’s heated and cooled front seats and a fully digital gauge cluster.
The infotainment system has TomTom nav, DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so it’s certainly fully featured. There’s even a decent safety kit list: autonomous emergency braking, a particularly nanny-like lane-departure warning system and a sensor that’ll tell you when the vehicle in front moves off.
So it’s loaded with more kit than your average Audi, and SsangYong would have you believe it’s built to the same standards. In terms of how it’s screwed together, we’d probably agree – the company guarantees these cars for seven years and 150,000 miles, after all, the longest warranty in the business.
But the Korando lacks that last level of overall polish – the density of materials, the way the switches operate and the slickness of the graphics all feel a cut or two below the equivalent Skoda.
As for that infotainment system and digital gauge cluster, have you ever bought a DVD player from a company you’ve never heard of for a few quid less than you’d expect? Because that feeling of labyrinthine menus and rather too much choice in the settings pervades. SsangYong will let you choose between seven different profiles for the car’s various chimes, for example. Why not just make the chimes sound good in the first place?
As far as space inside goes, the second row is excellent: plenty of head and legroom, huge rear windows for a good view out and a comfy, if slightly overstuffed rear bench. The boot is less impressive: 511 litres sounds good on paper, but the adjustable floor sits very high and makes it rather shallow. Dropping it into its lower position leaves a big sill to hump items over and a kink in the floor when the rear seats are dropped.
It’s at least cheap, right?
You’d hope so, but no. Petrol models arrive in 2020 – they look set to be usefully good value, starting from just under £20,000 – and we’ve got to admit, that’s not much for a spacious, reasonably powerful SUV with an impressive warranty. At that price, the Korando sits just above the likes of true budget champions such as the Dacia Duster and MG ZS, but justifies it by being rather more substantial than either.
But diesel models will only be offered in the top two trim levels – Pioneer and Ultimate – starting from £26,495 and £31,995 respectively. It’s that last figure that really stings, as you can buy a hell of a lot of Skoda Karoq for nearly 32 large. An SE-L TDI 150 4x4 DSG is more powerful, more efficient, better built, more spacious and will be immensely more satisfying to own.
Similarly, a high-spec Kia Sportage 4 with a 1.6-litre CRDi diesel, automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive comes in at £31,835. All of which begs the question: why would you plump for the SsangYong?
SsangYong Korando: verdict
Well-equipped, striking to look at, half-decent off road and with the best on-road manners of any SsangYong to date, the new Korando is an impressive effort and it’s night-and-day better compared to its direct predecessor. The rebirth is genuinely impressive.
But, at least until the petrol arrives, the price of a diesel Korando simply cannot be justified against significantly more talented opposition. SsangYong’s key selling point used to be great value, but it seems the new Korando’s got a bit big for its boots. What a Sshame.
Check out our SsangYong reviews