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SsangYong Tivoli – first impressions at SMMT Test Day North

I have been a fan of Korean firm SsangYong for quite some time. For those who aren’t au fait, the vehicles it produces have long been synonymous with robustness, four-wheel drive ability, towing, spaciousness and, well, controversial styling. In UK terms, SsangYong is an automotive underdog and after a merger and significant investment, it has found a swagger and is taking on the compact SUV sector, which is rather like throwing itself in at the deep end.

SsangYong’s all-new B-segment compact SUV is called Tivoli and is going to have its work cut out, competing alongside the Juke, Captur, Mokka, EcoSport, Vitara, Renegade and a swathe of other models. It gets off to a good start, with fresh, modern styling which is extremely unlikely to make anyone cry or bust out laughing. Tivoli could be labelled as being a little on the busy side aesthetically if you stare at it for too long, but as an overall design it works very well and looks cohesive, proportional, energetic and different enough to make compact SUV converts stop and think. SsangYong was blessed with not having an established family face to impose on the Tivoli, which has a hawkish frontal appearance about it, with a muscular side profile, rear lights that follow the curve of its hips and a backside that reminds me of a Countryman in some ways.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) holds three test days each year, giving various figures the chance to briefly drive cars they’ve missed. The Tivoli I drove looked suitably sporty in Flaming Red, with black, diamond cut 18” alloys, privacy glass and a rear spoiler. On the way home from SMMT Test Day North in Wetherby, I saw a Tivoli travelling in the opposite direction on the M62 and it certainly looked distinctive and elegant, showing that SsangYong has taken its formidable task seriously in design terms.

Three trim levels are available for Tivoli, keeping things relatively simple for buyers or those taking the car leasing route: SE, EX and ELX. I drove a car in ELX spec’, which means it was fitted with a full leather interior, 7-inch colour touchscreen with TomTom navigation and reversing camera, iPod and Bluetooth connectivity, keyless start, front fog lights, automatic headlights, power folding wing mirrors and dual zone climate control. Tivoli’s interior impressed me and was instilled with an air of sophistication and unarguable modernity, complete with an abundance of space, especially for those sat in the front. The cabin felt ergonomically intuitive and except for a few inevitably cheap components and surfaces lower down, struck me as a pleasant place in which to be, with a comfortable driving position and decent visibility. Typically, budget offerings in any segment are partly possible due to low-grade materials dominating proceedings, but not with the Tivoli, which has a robustly constructed and relatively quite tactile interior.

I spent twenty minutes or so driving this red, diesel, front-wheel drive Tivoli and although it certainly didn’t prove to be a revelation on the move, it acquitted itself well alongside many other models in the crowded segment and definitely didn’t crushingly lack in any department. Tivoli’s steering, no matter the mode, didn’t provide a great deal of feedback, but then it wasn’t memorable for any particularly negative trait, either. Body roll during fast, enthusiastic cornering was kept in check fairly well and despite the suspension proving a little bouncy at faster speeds and on poorer surfaces, it largely did a decent job.

The 1.6-litre diesel engine struck me as nicely refined on startup and when idling, and on the move it performed in a fairly hushed manner, too, only becoming a tad clattery when really pushed. Power delivery felt smooth and 115PS and 300Nm torque meant it once again didn’t prove dissimilar to many of its rivals. There was decent enough poke from low down and up through the mid-range to suit the majority of drivers, and only those seeking a dynamically inspiring experience with genuine dollops of grunt would be disappointed. In the wake of the recent worldwide emissions scandal, it’s worth noting that Tivoli’s diesel unit is Euro6 compliant and emits 113g/km CO2. The 6-speed manual gearbox couldn’t really be faulted, the feel of it coming across as perfectly adequate, ergonomically sound and with nicely-positioned ratios. Sure, the 12 seconds it takes to reach 60mph isn’t anything special, but few will buy Tivoli if they’re seeking something feisty, the 65.7mpg appealing instead.

In many respects, Tivoli’s primary trump card is its price. Considering the amount of toys and comforts fitted as standard with ELX trim, the price tag of £17,250 on the road is simply excellent. For those whose budgets are stretched even further, a Tivoli in EX trim is priced from a mere £12,950 and comes with 16” alloys. Make mine a four-wheel drive ELX with an auto ‘box and Styling Pack, please, the price still totalling less than £20,000.

To call Tivoli ordinary in terms of the way it handles and performs is actually a compliment, as it means SsangYong finally has a car good enough to be considered mainstream, one of the bunch. The way it was constantly in demand throughout SMMT Test Day North shows how much interest there is in Tivoli – and rightly so. Backwards, Tivoli is ‘ilovit’ and although I wouldn’t go as far as declaring my love for it, I very much liked it after this brief encounter.

For more information on the SsangYong Tivoli click here

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