SsangYong Tivoli 1.6 SE
South Korea’s budget 4x4 brand joins the compact budget crossover fray
The new Tivoli is SsangYong's bargain-priced competition for the Nissan Juke and Citroén C4 Cactus. It's made by South Korea's own 4x4 brand — the same people who brought you the Musso, Korando and Rexton.
Going on sale as just about every other car maker launches a pumped-up supermini, the Tivoli has a lot to do just to announce its presence. SsangYong's value-for-money reputation should help.
The basic model 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 by, in some cases, thousands of pounds.
It looks better value still as you move up the trim ladder. Those who want a compact crossover with heated leather seats, an automatic gearbox or four-wheel drive often find they're only available on headline models at the far side of £20k. However, the Tivoli offers four driven wheels from just over £17,000, a six-speed automatic gearbox from less than £16,000, and both heated leather and 18in wheels as standard for less than £15,000.
SsangYong's claim that the new car's design is eye-catching probably has more credibility in its native Korea than it does in Europe. Here, the likes of the Juke and Cactus make the Tivoli look derivative. That said, it's sufficiently competent and stylish to merit a closer look.
The cabin's chief virtue is its space. The seats are easily generous enough for larger adults, and getting in and out of the car is made easy thanks to the raised seating level. The back seats don't slide, but the boot, which is fairly short but square, wide and tall, measures a reasonable 423 litres, making this crossover one of the more useful of its kind.
The fascia's design is as derivative as that of the exterior, but it's far from plain. With the exception of the plastic steering wheel and cheap, dated-looking gear knob 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 Tivoli lacks the dynamic sophistication of some of its European rivals but docs 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 it 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 its European rivals, and neither does it handle with much vigour. Body control is decent, but grip and agility levels are modest on the 16in rims of the SE. The car's steering is consistent 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 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. SsangYong hopes the new car will double its UK sales volumes over the coming year and do wonders for the company's profile. It deserves to do nothing less.
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