Things haven’t always gone to plan for the Ssangyong Motor Company. Even with a name that means double dragons in Korean, Ssangyong has struggled to generate any real firepower in the motoring world. Rioting, receivership and changing ownership have all held back Korea’s fourth largest carmaker, but now in the hands of Indian firm Mahindra things are on the up. Ssangyong appears more determined than ever to advance its status from a fringe player into a serious brand capable of stealing sales off more established Korean and Japanese competitors. It’s working too with Ssangyong reporting a 53% increase in global sales for the first half of 2011. An important instrument in this turn around has been the 2011 Korando small SUV, which has become a fixture on NZ streets. Car and SUV spent a week with the latest Korando to see exactly what this comeback kid is made of.
Ssangyong styling has at times been accused of being erratic with awkward proportions but the new Korando opts for a more conservative approach. This doesn’t mean its boring and being penned by car design legend Giorgetto Giugiaro there’s plenty to draw the eye. The Korando face is particularly purposeful with its low-placed mesh grille and large, wrap around headlights. There’s a character-lined bonnet and a raked back windscreen, which gives the Korando a sporty stance. Pushed out wheel arches and hardened black plastic cladding add familiar crossover touches along the flanks and at the rear, a subtle hatch spoiler and chrome trim feature.
The sporty theme is continued with a low air diffuser and twin chrome exhaust tips. Our tested top-spec SPR model was finished with body-coloured door handles, rear privacy glass, silver roof rails and handsome 18-inch alloys. In a ‘vitamin red’ hue it’s a tidy little number and while it’s not the most striking entry in the segment, there is little to put buyers off.
In the cabin it’s a similar story with a tame mixture of dark plastics, contrasting silver trim and orange illuminated display screens. There’s also a lot of light and a feeling of spaciousness that defies the Korando’s compact exterior dimensions. The dashboard doesn’t have the same ultra-modern visual appeal as some competitors but there’s no room for complaints about the ergonomics. Stereo and climate controls are uncluttered and key audio/phone functions repeated on the leather-wrapped steering wheel. Instrumentation is displayed in a classic two-dial arrangement with a digital display screen showing the balance of trip and vehicle information. Practicality is boosted with a generous offering of small storage options and cup holders. In terms of interior materials there is still some work to be done, the dashboard looks great but is constructed of mainly hard plastics. That said, the surfaces that are regularly touched are of a higher quality.
The top-spec Korando SPR includes a full leather fit-out as standard kit. The front seats are on the firm side but are broad with a useful range of adjustments for getting comfortable. There’s impressive head and legroom for front occupants and the rear pew benefits from a flat floor, centre pull-down armrest and a well-padded seat back. Luggage is well catered for too with a large loading area and adjustable cargo blind. The Korando’s interior architecture will have strong appeal for family buyers, there’s plenty of space, it has many thoughtful practicalities and feels generally robust.
When it comes to standard equipment the Korando takes a page out of the Hyundai/Kia playbook by offering more for less. Our SPR model had highlights like a power sunroof, rear-parking sensors, cruise control with ‘Eco’ mode, heated front seats, climate control air-conditioning and a six-speaker CD stereo with USB input. There’s also a Bluetooth system that offers the usual phone connectivity but also has an audio streaming function so you can wirelessly play tunes from your iPhone through the cars stereo. It’s clever features like these that can sway a buyer’s opinion.
So the Korando’s packaging is much improved but how does it move? Dynamically it won’t challenge the segment leaders, but the mechanical package is advanced and economical. Under the stumpy bonnet sits a Euro-sourced 2.0-litre direct injection turbocharged diesel engine. This four-cylinder unit produces a healthy 129kW of power and 360Nm of torque, it also complies with the Euro V emissions regulations. Peak torque is achieved from 2,000rpm so the Korando is quite punchy once it’s off the mark. The generous torque output also keeps the 1727kg Korando relaxed during motorway cruising. But on suburban jaunts the short first gear needs to work hard to keep it moving at a fair clip. During normal use the motor is quiet with little diesel clatter but push harder and it can sound coarse.
Shifting the gears is a six-speed auto transmission; it’s a smooth unit that functions with minimal fuss under its own accord. The auto box prefers relaxed cruising, be heavy with the throttle and it may occasionally struggle to find the correct ratio. There is a manual shift option at the gearstick and also steering-wheel-mounted buttons for thumb-controlled changes. This is an interesting feature for a crossover but unfortunately has a slight delay in its functionality. That said, if you’re going up a steep hill and you need to drop down a gear – it’s an easy job.
Fuel consumption is rated at 7.5l/100km combined for the automatic Korando so running costs are reasonable. As a tow vehicle the Korando has some chops and can pull along 2,000kg on a braked trailer.
Ssangyong is traditionally known for rugged off-road vehicles and the Korando is the company’s first vehicle that uses a monocoque chassis. This gives it broader appeal and a road-focused nature. Front and rear independent suspension set-ups give the Korando car-like driving characteristics and while there is some body roll, it’s far from excessive. Push it too hard and the Korando will break into predictable understeer but during general driving it has plenty of grip on offer. The all-wheel drive system fitted to the higher-spec models like our SPR is of the ‘on demand’ variety leaving the Korando to operate as a front-driver until it detects slippage, then torque is sent to the rear axle to improve traction. It works seamlessly and operates in conjunction with a range of electronic safety aides like stability control and an active rollover protection system.
The Korando chassis has a rigid feel but still offers good compliance with occupants staying sheltered from most bumps and dips in the road. While it’s not a rugged off-roader the Korando has long wheel travel and a ‘4WD Lock’ mode which splits the torque equally between the front and rear wheels preparing it for rougher duties.
Ssangyong has the Korando well stocked for occupant safety equipment with a six-airbag package, active head restraints and ISOFIX child seat points all included. There’s also ABS brakes with brake assist and a hill start assist feature that prevents the vehicle from rolling back on steep hills.
All up, there’s plenty to like with the 2011 Korando. It’s the flag-bearer of a new era for Ssangyong and deserves to be evaluated with no preconceptions about the brands past. Priced from just $34,990 for the 2WD manual it’s a credible budget option but the top-spec SPR is much more expensive at $47,990. Even at that price it’s a strong competitor with a clean-running and economical diesel engine, spacious and practical interior and plenty of equipment for the money. If Ssangyong keep making vehicles like the Korando we can expect to hear a lot more about this brand and see plenty more of its vehicles cruising NZ streets.
Price: From $34,990 as tested $47,990
What we like:
- Interior space
- Modern diesel engine
- Lots of equipment in SPR form
- Safety features
What we don’t like:
- Exterior styling won’t appeal to some tastes
- Some interior plastics are below par
- Manual shift buttons function sluggishly
Who will buy this car: It’s all geared up for family use, so it will best suit those who can populate the back seat. Empty nesters who perform regular grandparent duties will appreciate the Korando as well.
Cool Factor: Medium, it’s styled by Giugiaro but even he couldn’t make the proportions of a compact crossover sexy. However, rolling in a Korando does show that you choose on form and not reputation and that’s worth some cool points.
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo