SsangYong’s has a problem. It doesn’t sell enough cars. Last year its Korean compatriots, Kia and Hyundai, shifted more vehicles in the UK alone than SsangYong does around the entire world. For a car company that competes in the budget sector, moving small volumes is fatal. Even with the financial backing of Indian giant Mahindra and Mahindra, SsangYong knew it had to do something fast.
It had no real experience of building cars in the classes that make massive numbers, so the Ford Fiesta, the Volkswagen Golf and the rest of their ilk were safe from assault. But what if it could turn its experience in building cost-effective all-wheel drive vehicles to the rapidly-growing crossover sector? Surely it could give cars like the Nissan juke, the Skoda Yeti and the Renault Captur something to chew on? That’s the logic behind its latest venture, the Tivoli.
The Koreans certainly haven’t done things by halves here. This is no cut-down Korando chassis with a bunch of ancient carry-over engines. The Tivoli had had some serious investment thrown at it, and it shows. Then chassis is all-new, albeit hardly adventurous in kits suspension design, with MacPherson struts up front and a space-efficient torsion beam rear end. There’s a choice of two 1.6litre engines, a 128PS petrol unit and a 115PS diesel. Buyers can select either 2WD or 4WD model variants.
Prices start at around £13,000. That means a Tivoli can undercut a rival Nissan Juke, which starts at around £13,500 – though not by much. Do remember though that you’re not really comparing like with like, the Nissan getting a 95PS engine, fully 30PS down on the SsangYong’s powerplant. Even stepping up to the next engine up in the Juke range, the 1.2 with 115PS, doesn’t bring power equality with the Tivoli, and Nissan wants around £15,000 for the cheapest one of these.
There are SE, EX and ELX trim levels, but all Tivoli versions get 16” alloy wheels, cruise control, a stop/go system (on the petrol version), smart steering (with normal, comfort and sport models), an RDS/Bluetooth radio and seven airbags.
The running cost returns of his car are better than you might expect. The 44.1mpg combined cycle figure for the 1.6-litre petrol-powered manual car is about the same as you’d get from a rival TCe120 Renault Captur. The petrol model’s CO2 figure is rated at 149g/km in manual form and 167g/km in auto guise. Both variants improve on the 40.4mpg showing you’d get from a less powerful 115PS Nissan Juke 1.2-Litre rival. The Tivoli features more of a SUV-type shape than its competitors too.
The Verdict: Despite the optimism surrounding the Tivoli’s prospects, SsangYong is tempering its expectations, only targeting 1,000 UK sales per year. It’s actually fairly easy to see where those sales could come from and who a typical Tivoli owner might be, which isn’t always the case with many new cars. In other words, we think there’s room in the market for a car with a low asking price but which doesn’t look or feel cheap.
Remember that this first model is just a toe in the water. The petrol engine might not be the most impressive powerplant you’ve ever sampled, but from here we get diesels, all-wheel drive models and a new wave of turbocharged variants, so even if you’re not in the market for a budget crossover just at present, keep your eye on this one because it’s only going to get better.
The big players in this sector might not be worried yet, but SsangYong here delivers some wholly convincing arguments as to why that won’t always be so.
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