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SsangYong Tivoli (2015) review

Curtis Hutchinson

For SsangYong the timing of the all-new Tivoli could not be better. Having spent the last three years re-establishing its fledgling UK business on the back of the Korando SUV and large Rexton 4X4, it now has a B-segment crossover to compete in the sweet spot of the new car market.

The Tivoli is a significant car for SsangYong. It is the brand’s first petrol model and the first to be offered without four wheel drive. It is also a statement of intent as the first new model to be launched after its acquisition by Mahindra & Mahindra, the Indian engineering conglomerate, which has committed to a substantial R&D investment package which will see the introduction of a new car every year for the next three years.

The Tivoli will be the brand’s biggest seller accounting for 3,500 sales in 2016 when its total UK sales of cars and commercials are targeted to hit 6,500, a sure sign that UK CEO Paul Williams also expects growth from its existing model lines

“Since we started advertising the Tivoli on television we’ve seen enquiries and sales rise for all the other models. If we were to go backwards on any of our existing models I would regard the Tivoli launch as only a partial success. I want more sales of what we’ve got plus Tivoli. I’m not prepared to have a franchise that is a one trick pony.”

The Tivoli is also likely to be the car to accelerate the growth of the brand’s small dealer network. It currently has 57 sites, operated by a mix of franchised owner-drivers and specialist used car sellers, and expects to grow to 65 by the end of the year. It will need even more to fulfil its ambitious growth plans.

Dealers started selling the 1.6-litre petrol version of the Tivoli in June but from now will have an accompanying 1.6-litre diesel model with which to significantly grow volumes in a sector evenly split between the fuels. A range topping AWD diesel, with an automatic option, will be added in late November and could potentially take 20% of sales, which might be high for the segment but plays to SsangYong’s dealers’ strength in selling four wheel drive cars.

Tivoli sales got off to a flying start and already account for half of the brand’s total volumes. Even though it has an aggressive sub-£13k entry point, most customers have opted for the top ELX spec costing £17,250. Furthermore around 30% of all buyers have chosen automatic and the My Tivoli personalisation package is proving popular. This all bodes well for dealer margins.

“Customers are buying the car because it is attractive and fit for purpose, not because it’s cheap,” said Williams.

As a specialist 4X4 brand SsangYong has made a virtue of building a brand by offering affordable cars that serve a robust utility purpose. With the Tivoli, it now has a model which will be bought for emotional reasons and you cannot put a price on that.

Behind the Wheel

The Tivoli unquestionably looks the part and it needs to in a sector brimming with competition from the volume players. The exterior design is fresh and attractive with subtle bulges at the front and rear alluding to its crossover aspirations. It’s prettier than a Nissan Juke and more distinctive than a Renault Captur or Peugeot 2008. It also looks suitably funky when specified with a contrasting roof colour.

Despite its small exterior dimensions (just 4,195mm long and 1795mm wide but 1,590mm high) the interior is impressively spacious with plenty of head and shoulder room in the front and rear. Indeed, even adults travelling in the back will do so in comfort thanks to a flat floor which boosts leg room. Boot space is also good and should accommodate most everyday needs.

The cabin looks good too and hopefully hints at future SsangYong interiors with its high quality fabrics and plastics, neatly laid out facia and clear instrumentation. We particularly liked the Rolex effect clock display.

We tested front wheel drive 1.6-litre petrol (128PS) and diesel (115PS) options mated to a six speed manual transmission. Both units are refined and more than capable around town or when pushed along at motorway speed. The best all-rounder though is the diesel with the smooth six-speed automatic, the same Aisin unit found in the Mini.

Most brands have a halo car at the top of their range; SsangYong, a brand that likes to do things differently, now has one as its entry point.

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