What is it?:
The Ssangyong Tivoli is bargain-priced competition for the Nissan Juke and Citroën C4 Cactus. It's made by South Korea’s own 4x4 brand - the people who brought you the Musso, Korando and Rexton.
Going on sale as just about every other car maker in the universe launches a pumped-up supermini, it’s got a lot to do just to announce its presence on the European scene. However, Ssangyong's aggressive, value-for-money positioning should help.
The basic version of the Tivoli gets seven airbags, 16in alloys, cruise control, a Bluetooth media streaming stereo and plenty of power, for a price that undercuts smaller and less well-endowed rivals; in some cases, by thousands of pounds.
It looks better value still as you move up the model ladder. Those who want a compact crossover with proper SUV features such as heated leather seats, an automatic gearbox or four-wheel drive often find they’re available only on headline versions of these junior utility vehicles, some of them priced on the far side of £20,000.
However, the Tivoli offers four driven wheels from just over £17,000, a six-speed automatic 'box from less than £16,000, and both heated leather and 18in wheels as standard for less than £15,000.
The firm’s done its financial homework, too, and is offering super-affordable, pay-monthly PCP deals from less than £160-a-month, underwritten by lenders already willing to take a punt that residual values on the car will be competitive.
What's it like?:
Sizeable, practical, respectable looking, and, while far from special, passable to drive.
Ssangyong’s claim that the new car's design is eye-catching, probably has more credibility in its native Korean market than in Europe. Here, the likes of the Juke and Cactus make the Tivoli look a bit derivative. That said, it’s a sufficiently competent and contemporary-looking car to merit a closer look.
The cabin’s chief virtue is its space. Occupant room in both rows is close to class-leading and easily generous enough for larger adults. Getting in and out is easy thanks to the raised seating level. Even without sliding the back seats, the boot will accommodate 423 litres of stuff, making the car one of the more useful of its kind. The boot’s fairly short but also square, wide and tall.
The fascia design is as derivative as the exterior, but it’s far from plain. With the exception of the plastic steering wheel and cheap, dated-looking gearknob of the SE version, cabin quality is more than acceptable. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of useful storage around the interior, including a centre cubby large enough for an iPad.
To drive, the car lacks the dynamic sophistication of some of its European rivals, but does enough not to disgrace itself. The 1.6-litre petrol is short on torque compared with turbocharged alternatives, and its long gear ratios have been chosen for economy rather than speed.
As a result, it doesn’t deliver remotely peppy or particularly flexible performance but goes well enough, and better than some of its competitors. Mechanical refinement is quite good, even if the cabin isn’t isolated from road noise with the same thoroughness.
The car’s ride is busy, and occasionally thumpy and hollow feeling. It’s not as comfortable or fluent over bumps as some of the European crossovers the car seeks to undercut, and neither does it handle with much vigour. Body control’s decent, but grip and agility levels modest on the 16in rims of the SE. The car’s steering is consistent and friction-free, but devoid of feedback.
Ssangyong remains a relative unknown in Europe, and owning one of its vehicles requires a bigger leap of faith than you’d take on other budget brands. However, on the Tivoli, it’d be a rewarding act for those with a pragmatic enough attitude.
The car’s neither desirable enough, interesting enough, nor quite good enough to drive to compete with the better members of its burgeoning competitor set on equal terms, but Ssangyong’s pricing means it doesn’t really have to be any of those things.
It may not have the character or the standout price of a Dacia Duster, but the Tivoli isn’t far behind that model as a value champion in its own right. Ssangyong’s hope is that the new car will double its UK sales volumes over the coming 12 months, and do wonders for the company’s European profile. It probably deserves to do nothing less.