First Drive: SsangYong Tivoli
Stop what you're doing and give the next sentence your full attention. SsangYong has built a car that thousands of people really will want to buy – if only they give it a fair chance.
The Korando aside, the Korean manufacturer has stuck to using robust but outdated tech to build capable cars at knock-down prices. But the Tivoli is not so much a step up as a catapult-aided flight right into the mainstream. Don't believe me? Go and sit in one.
Looks and image
Korean styling is evolving in its own way, and you'd be forgiven for saying that there's rather a lot of Kia about the Tivoli's shape and front end. Bad thing? Au contraire. The back end looks a bit sad, to be honest; the lines falling away towards the sides of the tailgate, but with 18-inch wheels bolted on you'd have to say it looks very smart.
Image is still a problem, of course, but it wasn't that long ago that we weren't buying Kias because they were so undesirable, and now look at them. All it takes is a great-looking, well-equipped and cheap car to overcome prejudice, and that car is the Tivoli.
Space and practicality
Space in the compact SUV has been biased towards the passengers, so behind an average height driver you'll find more than average legroom. Buy a mid-range EX or the lux-spec ELX and you'll get soft, thick leather upholstery, too, which wipes clean easier than cloth.
The boot is adequate rather than exceptional and you'll want to watch those large wheels when you venture near kerbs, but the Tivoli has sizeable door mirrors that let you judge what's around -and below – you easily enough.
Behind the wheel
You can't fail to notice the surprisingly high quality of leather and stitching. It's plush and supple; better even than many of the hard, scratchy leathers you find in entry-level executive cars costing twice the price. The large central screen puts the car right on par with the standard for the sector, although the integrated TomTom navigation in ELX models leaves a lot to be desired, giving phantom instructions and misrepresenting the layouts of junctions all too often.
The 1.6-litre petrol engine is sweet and revvy, the gearbox smooth, precise enough and light, and the seat backs are comfortably shaped. Visibility is poor towards the rear corners, but it's just the same in any rival car you care to name.
You notice a comparative lack of soundproofing at times, around the wheel arches and roof, onto which heavy raindrops fall with a tinny 'plink'. But the ride is composed and balanced for the class, and the overall driving experience is a very pleasant one.
Value for money
At less than £15,000 for a mid-range model with leather, lots of luxury kit and the media screen, the Tivoli is a true bargain. You can pay a little more for the extra aesthetics and navigation of the ELX, and you're still thousands better off than with buying something else.
Depreciation? Don't worry about it. SsangYong has fixed three-year residual values at 47%, making it one of the sounder investments in the segment. As deals go, it's marvellous to everyone but badge snobs.
Who would buy one?
At first it will appeal to buyers who can look past the SsangYong name. But the potential is very much there for the Tivoli to do for SsangYong what the first-gen Cee'd did for Kia. Soon enough everyone could want one.
This car summed up in a single word: Unexpected
If this car was a…: '99' ice cream it would come with a twin cone, four flakes and chocolate sprinkles all for the price of a Calippo.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
SsangYong Tivoli, from £12,950 (£16,000 as tested)
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol producing 126bhp and 118lb/ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 106mph, 0-62mph in 12 seconds
Economy: 44.1mpg combined
Emissions: 149g/km of CO2
For more information on the SsangYong Tivoli please click here