SsangYong has taken great strides forward with its latest Korando, but is it enough to make people buy it? Jonathan Crouch reports on variant most will choose, the 149PS diesel all-wheel drive SE4.
Ten Second Review
The improved SsangYong Korando still isn't an obvious vehicle to wholeheartedly recommend in the small lifestyle SUV and Crossover sector. At first glance, while the company must be lauded for bringing the Korando soundly into the 21st century, it may still seem a notch or two behind identically-priced rivals in terms of sophistication and engineering. If you're looking for something inexpensive and a little different to the norm though, it might be worth a look. Especially in AWD 2.0-litre diesel SE4 form.
It's probably fair to say that the second generation SsangYong Korando we first saw in 2011 was the Korean brand's most competitive car ever. Even so, it never quite fulfilled its potential as a tough as old boots budget Land Rover rival. But it still might. We now have a substantially revised version with a more generic look, a quieter drive and a smarter interior. The result is probably worth a look if you're shopping in the Crossover or compact 4x4 sectors, particularly as prices start from around £15,000. Of course, there are other Korean choices already in this marketplace - Hyundai's ix35 and the Kia Sportage come to mind. So SsangYong must produce something a bit special to elbow them aside as well as pricing pitched to sell. This latest Korando aims to do just that and most will want it in the least expensive all wheel drive SE4 diesel guise we look at here.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the latest Korando is its choice of engine. Whereas SsangYongs of yore were powered by some rather superannuated Mercedes-Benz diesel powerplants, the Korean company has been more ambitious with this generation model and developed its own diesel unit. That it has done this against a financial background best described as chaotic is a miracle in itself. The engine is a 2.0-litre turbodiesel powerplant, offered at the top of the range with 175PS mated to a 6-speed auto gearbox. Here though, it puts out 149PS and works with a 6-speed manual to better suit those with an eye on their running costs. You can order it with or without 4WD. At idle, the 2.0-litre diesel is agreeably refined but extend it and it's a little noisy with a relatively narrow usable power band, the engine's best work being done between 2000 and 3,000rpm. Sixty from rest takes just under 10s on the way to around 111mph. This car has 360Nm of torque, which means that it can tug 2.0 tonnes. There's also an 80kg towbar limit. It is, in summary, the most powerful towing car in its class. Which will sell many people this car right off the bat, whatever its other attractions. These people will probably also want the Torque-On-Demand 4x4 system fitted to the SE4 variant we tested. It's one of those set-ups that is constantly able to shunt torque around to the wheel that has most grip so that power is always used efficiently. Unlike some of its rivals, this system also has a 'Lock' mode, selectable should you be on very loose or slippery surfaces or find yourself with your Korando somewhere you really shouldn't have ventured in the first place. Here, drive is allocated equally between front and rear wheels to give you the best possible chance of extricating yourself.
Design and Build
Normally I'm the first to rail against generic car styling, but in SsangYong's case, a big dose of generic was exactly what the doctor ordered. The Korando doesn't stand out in a crowd of compact SUVs and perhaps that's a good thing. Cover the badge on the front, and most people would probably think it was the latest Suzuki Grand Vitara or Toyota RAV4. Given the fact that the Korando undercuts these cars quite markedly, perhaps that's no bad thing. The styling has been tidied up a little in the latest version with a slimmed down, black mesh radiator grille, more contemporary headlights and a wider, low level air intake. The sleeker headlight units now include projection lamps and LED daytime running lights. At the rear, there are detail tweaks to the rear light cluster, which now includes LED lights for improved visibility. Inside, there's a redesigned dashboard featuring soft-touch materials and natural matt wood grain inserts. Plus there are larger cupholders and space to store mobile phones and sunglasses. As before, there are still a few scratchy plastics here and there but it all looks agreeably modern and it's hard to fault the basic ergonomics, something that all too often gets forgotten in the chase for ever flashier control systems. There's still loads of space on board too, with plenty of rear legroom and fold flat rear seats. The 486-litre luggage bay offers a respectable capacity for a car of this size and extends to 1,312-litres when the rear bench is folded.
Market and Model
Korando pricing starts at around £15,000, but if you want one with four-wheel drive, then you'll need to budget from around £16,500, the amount you'll pay for the SE4 variant we're looking at here. At this level, this car competes directly with fellow Korean models like Kia's Sportage and Hyundai's iX35 - but both of these cars are significantly pricier. Potential buyers might also be considering crossover 4x4s like the Skoda Yeti, a car which is gaining significant traction with the car buying public. So that outlines the scale of the challenge faced by the SsangYong Korando. How well equipped is it to march into that battleground? The Korando gets hill start control as standard (the brakes hold the car momentarily as you move off, without the need for the handbrake) though there is no hill-descent control function. This is a little odd for a car that proclaims its off-road ability, with SsangYong quoting approach, departure and breakover angles to underscore its all-terrain versatility. Otherwise the standard equipment list seems par for the course. The centre console now houses a Bluetooth-compatible audio system with USB and AUX-in sockets, while if you ascend the range, you get features such as heated leather seats, bigger alloys, privacy glass and an electric sunroof.
Cost of Ownership
The 2.0-litre diesel might offer a prodigious peak power output but SsangYong has made a reasonable fist at keeping emissions and economy figures reasonable. Emissions for the 149PS version we're looking at here are pegged at 157g/km in 4WD form (147g/km in 2WD guise) which isn't at all bad for a vehicle of this size. Combined cycle fuel economy is a very creditable 45.6mpg in 4WD guise (47.1mpg in 2WD form). Where the Korando runs into trickier territory is in the matter of residual values. With its limited dealer network and UK brand unfamiliarity, there's no getting away from the fact that public awareness of this vehicle is virtually nil. That can only have a detrimental effect on residual values which will never be as punchy as big name vehicles like the Nissan Qashqai, the Skoda Yeti or the Toyota RAV4. Some recompense comes with modest insurance ratings (group 19 on the 1-50 scale).
It's hard to think of a car company that has come so far so quickly as SsangYong. This improved Korando is a useful step forward from its immediate predecessor but continues to feel like a work in progress. In certain regards such as styling, fuel economy, emissions, overtaking punch and rear passenger accommodation, the Korando is right up there with the best in class, especially now that its mechanical refinement and interior quality are so much better. Get the right price on one though and, especially if you tow or need this kind of car to occasionally to stray into the rough stuff, a Korando could be a good bet, especially in the SE4 4WD diesel guise we've looked at here. The list figures are certainly pitched to enable you to do that. Either way, it's from a brand that seems to be on the way up.