A new look for one of the oldest models makes the SsangYong Korando well worth investigating, says Roy Woodcock
There's a healthy debate right now about South Korean cars versus their Japanese rivals and a growing perception that, more than anything else, Korean cars are synonymous with quality. In many ways the rise and rise of Kia and Hyundai mirrors that of Nissan and Honda back in the 1970s.
Backing up that statement is the fact that a recent J D Power quality study rated South Korean brands as Number 1, ahead of their Japanese competitors. And there’s no mistaking the country is a major automotive manufacturer; currently the sixth largest vehicle producer in the world behind China, the USA, Japan, Mexico and Germany.
So, we all know Kia and Hyundai and more and more of us are buying them. But there is another major player, SsangYong, which is, in fact, that country’s oldest vehicle brand, although the majority shareholder is now an Indian engineering conglomerate.
The company’s dealer network is growing and 4x4 and SUVs are SsangYong's strengths; in fact that’s all they do, from the Nissan Juke-rivalling Tivoli (a review coming soon), through the Korando reviewed here, the Rexton and Turismo; not forgetting the Musso pick-up.
It’s a strong line-up, which majors on value-for-money as much as anything else, and therefore it’s no surprise that Kia and Hyundai will be anxiously looking in their rear-view mirrors as SsangYong plays catch-up in terms of UK market share.
The Korando, bigger than the Tivoli, is SsangYong’s rival for cars like the Nissan Qashqai, the Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson and SEAT Ateca. It’s been around in one shape or form since the 1950s but the latest model, unveiled in 2017, is essentially the third generation of a car first seen in the UK about seven or eight years ago.
The car sports a distinctive new grille and headlight treatment, adopting the new SsangYong “look” first seen on the Tivoli and Tivoli XLV, and on the new Rexton, which also made its appearance last year.
There’s new fog lights, lower valance and bonnet. It features daytime running lights using 11 high-luminescent LED lamps with separate lenses to improve visibility, and on the inside a new ergonomically designed steering wheel.
There are three models in the range: The SE, available with either two-wheel or four-wheel drive, LE (front-wheel drive only) and the top of the range ELX, as driven here, which is only available as a 4x4.
Depending where you are in the range you can also specify manual or automatic gearboxes.
Other than the SE front-wheel drive model, which can be ordered with either a 2-litre petrol engine or a 2.2 diesel, all Korando’s are powered by a turbo-charged, Euro 6 compliant, 2.2 litre diesel. Maximum power is 178 horsepower, with maximum torque (400Nm) delivered from a low of 1,400rpm and maintained through a wide range up to 2,800rpm for smooth, progressive driving from the start.
Its 2-tonne towing capacity is a major plus and the reason the Korando has always been popular with those needing to tow a caravan, horsebox or boat trailer. And with plenty of interior space, considerable legroom for all passengers, an almost completely flat floor and generous boot space - up to 1,312 litres, which there’s room for bulky leisure equipment (or a couple of large dogs!).
Out on the road, there’s some pitch and roll in corners, as it’s quite a tall car, but decent throttle response and light steering make driving the Korando easy and uncomplicated, if not overly engaging.
The intelligent 4x4 system on my test car offered good grip and some decent off-road ability. Default mode in normal conditions is front-wheel drive, optimising fuel efficiency, but if any loss of grip is detected power is progressively sent to all four wheels as required.
The system can also be locked to split drive equally between front and rear axles when tackling extreme loose or slippery surfaces.
Either on road or off, there’s plenty of room to get comfortable in the spacious cabin. Five adults will be happy on all but the longest journeys, with a flat floor meaning no fighting for legroom in the back.
At 486 litres the boot is more than big enough to cope with family needs, with the 60/40 split rear seats folding to increase load capacity to that maximum 1,312 litres.
As I mentioned earlier one of SsangYong’s (and Korando’s) strengths is value-for-money. For the price (from £16,295), you’re getting an awful lot of bang for your buck - all models come with electrically-operated and heated door mirrors with puddle lamps, RDS radio and iPod & Bluetooth connectivity, air conditioning, tinted glass and roof rails.
By the time you get to the ELX there’s a raft of additional equipment, including front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, seven-inch touchscreen, RDS radio and TomTom sat nav, distinctive new 18-inch diamond-cut wheels, leather seats, heated front and rear seats and a heated steering wheel - the latter feature all too rare and most welcome given last week’s bitterly-cold weather. Gloves? Who needs gloves?
Fuel economy and emissions are similar to rivals in the class, with the most economical combination being the diesel engine with two-wheel drive and a manual gearbox, which averages 53.3mpg. Adding four-wheel drive or an automatic gearbox drops the economy to 48.7mpg; and, if you have both, the fuel economy drops further still, to 40.9mpg. Least economical of the lot is the 2.0-litre petrol engine, which averages just 37.7mpg.
All models in the SsangYong range are covered by a five-year mechanical (limitless mileage) warranty; with the battery and paintwork covered for three years.
Model: SsangYong Korando ELX, auto
Price: £23,995 on the road (metallic paint £500 extra). Range from £16,295