If you’ve spotted a SsangYong Korando on British roads, congratulations. Not because of its anonymous styling, refreshed with sharper front-end, new bumpers, LEDs and wheel designs for 2014.
This is a rare car – SsangYong expects to sell a mere 600 in the UK in 2014, making the Korando its joint UK top-seller, compared to 50,000-odd sales of the Nissan Qashqai. Any 4x4 that makes a Porsche 918 Spyder seem common has to be worth look, right?
Where does the SsangYong Korando fit into the hotly fought SUV marketplace?
Plainly, we’re not looking at the car to dethrone the likes of the Nissan Qashqai and Kia Sportage, which are of similar size, nor the smaller yet charming Skoda Yeti. SsangYong’s people fervently argue that as the established South Korean brands (Kia and Hyundai) rise into the mainstream, and budget choices either sink or swim (Chevrolet and Dacia respectively), SsangYong can still make the sums add up in SUV-loving Britain.
The SsangYong Korando needs to be one thing above all others: cheap!
And it is. Despite being bigger in all dimensions and more powerful than the best of the crossover set, Korando prices kick off lower down the pecking order, at £14,995 for the entry-level front-drive SE. Our test car, the SE4, comes with electronic all-wheel drive, a 265lb ft diesel engine capable of towing two tonnes, and competitive on-board kit for £16,495. Standard fare includes 16in alloys, Bluetooth, electric windows front and rear, electric mirror adjustment, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with controls for the infotainment system. If you want a dirty-fingernails workhorse, nothing else gets close for the cash.
Is it as bad as I’m imagining on board?
This is a more inviting cabin, than, say, a Dacia Duster’s. Hyundai’s lawyers are bound to be on the phone momentarily wailing about plagiarism of the Santa Fe’s ‘alien face’ console, but inside, the Korando is just about up to muster. Sure, the centre tunnel is covered in hard, tough plastic, but there are softer coverings on the doors and dash-top, with sensible ergonomics that include rake and reach adjustment for the steering column (take note, Japanese manufacturers).
There’s not much finesse or polish to the design and it can’t browse the internet or map your location, but the buttons are clearly labelled and hard-wearing. Just remember that this is a £16k car, and it’s not a bad effort.
What don’t we like inside? The C-pillar blind spot you could lose a whole gymkhana in, never mind a horsebox. The horrid, cheap afterthought of a cruise control toggle tacked onto the steering wheel – catch it while you’re unfurling the wheel on a long bend and it’s unintended acceleration ahoy. There’s nasty fake ‘wood’ trim, too, and a handbrake lever with preposterously lengthy travel. And while there isn't a sensible bong to warn the driver they’ve selected reverse, a chime alerts you that you’ve inserted the key into the ignition barrel (thanks...).
On the plus side, there’s lots of interior space. Despite all-wheel drive, you get a flat cabin floor, so there are acres of legroom in the generously proportioned second row, ahead of the 486-litre boot – bigger than a Qashqai, Skoda Yeti, Hyundai ix35 or Ford Kuga manages.
My cynicism knows no bounds. Go on…
Caveat time. If you step from one of the best-selling modern crossovers, which are car-like in the extreme, into the Korando, and set off for a drive, you’ll be terrified. White as a sheet, hands clamped to the wheel and begging for Mummy within a mile. But, if you’re used to the nuances of driving a vehicle with at least a modicum of off-road ability, then the Korando is a decent-enough if largely unengaging steer.
Like most true off-roaders (Range Rovers excepted) the Korando has a massive dead spot around the straight ahead of its steering, so the wheel doesn’t tear your thumbs off if you’re crawling along off-piste. On the road, this makes for unnervingly vague direction changes, not helped by predictably pronounced body roll. Slow steering is great for trekking across the Kalahari; less great mooching through Kidderminster. Plus, that non-sporting ride handles the big stuff well, but doesn’t iron out small road imperfections – the crucial ‘secondary ride’ aspect – as well as the crossover benchmarks mentioned earlier.
Is the drivetrain as agricultural?
It’s not too bad – the 2.0-litre turbodiesel is strong enough to tug the 1670kg Korando up to motorway speeds without feeling strained. Noise is the issue – wind and tyre roar are well covered, but the diesel clatter that permeates the Korando’s cabin upon start-up never cloaks itself properly. More sound deadening, please.
By far the weirdest noise made by the Korando is that of its six-speed manual’s gate. Most gearshifts ‘click’, ‘thunk’, or, if you’re being lax, ‘crunch’. The Korando’s spindly lever ‘splats’ as it pings from gate-to-gate, and in contrast to the old cliché, it likes to be rushed. This isn’t a gearchange to take your time over.
More than 600 people a year will find enough to like about the SsangYong Korando if it’s given it an honest crack, rather than dismissed for the unfashionable badge (or simply overlooking the fact it exists altogether).
It’s a handy size, hard wearing inside, and actually walks the off-road walk that so many crossovers purport to do but rarely back up with ability. Sure, the Korando feels like a workhorse first, and a car second, but there’s more to like here than just a supermarket house-brand sticker price.