It may sand dodgy, but Saracen's a Musso have. Sacks in back cushion a rough ride.
In the old days, and I'm not sure you'd call them 'good', car firms would hand out gifts to journalists at launches of new motors. Blags, we called them.
A titanium cased mobile phone at an Aston Martin launch, for instance. A flash cappuccino machine at a Fiat event. Until something called compliance put an end to this practice. I always thought being paid to drive a Ferrari was enough of a privilege and that no gift was required. And I certainly didn't need a bribe to turn up. So I was a bit surprised to discover the SsangYong Musso pick-up that we're testing this week arrived with a 'gift' in the back. Actually, it was 10 sacks of building sand.
Being a bit suspicious and a veteran of three decades of testing cars, I immediately understood: the 250kg of bagged sand wasn't a present for a future DIY project. No, it was there to help soften the Musso's harsh ride. My suspicions were confirmed when I unloaded them all and then drove the SsangYong empty over some local speed bumps. The ride was worse. If SsangYong's engineers tackle this problem, rather than throw sand at it, they will have removed one of the Musso's only faults - because the rest of the vehicle is pretty good.
We're testing the top of the range Saracen version with automatic gearbox option. It costs £28,245 plus VAT. Quite a chunk of cash, but the most basic version is £19,995 and the Saracen does come with a lot of equipment - a big 9.2in touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, DAB, satnav, heated and ventilated seats and a heated steering wheel. The interior quality is good, much better than previous SsangYong products. Not as swish as the Mercedes X-Class's cabin (the rest of the X-Class is basically a Nissan Navara) but then the Musso is considerably cheaper than a Merc. There's loads of space front and back, and the leather-covered seats are comfortable even on long journeys. Up front, there's a 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel engine that produces 181bhp. Unusually, SsangYong doesn't quote a time for 0-62mph, but then it's pretty meaningless in a pick-up truck. I'd guess around 12 secs.
What's more important is that the engine is smooth and quiet, even when accelerating hard. The auto gearbox is smooth and a sensible choice, especially as the auto Musso has a towing capacity of 3,500kg with this gearbox but only 3,200kg with the manual one.
The ride quality we've covered already. That aside, the Musso drives well. The steering has more feel and feedback than you'd expect from a pickup.
Stickers tell you that the Musso is a 4wd. It's switchable and comes with a lower range for particularly challenging off-road conditions. The Musso, especially in its cheaper forms, is a vehicle very likely to be used in anger. Taking your £40k X-Class or even VW Amarok onto a building site or into harsh terrain takes a bit of bravery, but you'd not baulk at taking the cheaper SsangYong into places where it's going to get filthy and be seriously challenged.
The Merc and VW are the pretty boys of the pick-up world but the Musso Saracen is also an attractive machine. It's one of SsangYong's better-looking efforts and has plenty of kerb appeal. When the facelift or Mk2 comes along I hope it'll come with a more compliant suspension set up so people at SsangYong won't have to load the back with sand.
It didn't fool me - but sort out the ride and the Musso will be a fine choice as a workhorse and weekend family transport.