SsangYong Korando (1997 - 1999) review

BY ANDY ENRIGHT

Introduction

The SsangYong Korando may be many things but bland doesn't enter the equation. Its looks will doubtless divide opinion but whether you love or hate its curious styling, one thing's not up for debate - the value proposition. The 4x4 market is overpopulated by tiny tinny 'barbie trucks' that wilt at the sight of a muddy pathway. The Korando is built of much sterner stuff and if you can track one down, you'll be treated to a genuinely tough customer. Get past the challenging appearance though and a used Korando makes a lot of sense. It's based on rugged underpinnings and features a pair of powerplants sourced from a German concern called Mercedes-Benz, who are reputed to know a thing or two about engines. Priced attractively from new, the Korando makes a left-field alternative to a Jeep Wrangler, and one that will guarantee a certain exclusivity.

Models

Models Covered: 3dr 4x4, 2.3 petrol, 2.9 diesel

History

You may well become a little confused when it comes to Korando model history. It was launched in 1997 and sold for two years under the SsangYong banner and then from 1999 to 2002 it was marketed as a Daewoo. SsangYong subsequently returned to the scene but only offered the more sophisticated Rexton 4x4. Many think the SsangYong and Daewoo Korandos were identical cars bar the badge but there was quite a bit of difference. Daewoo's designers couldn't resist a little cosmetic fiddling, resulting in new tail lights and door mirrors, with different (but sadly optional) alloy wheels. Take a seat inside, and you'll find new seat fabric and imitation wooden trim for the dash. Under the bonnet, the normally aspirated Ssangyong diesel engine the Korando had campaigned with was replaced with a turbocharged version that boosted power from 96 to 118bhp. The 138bhp petrol powered 2.3 was carried over. As a Ssangyong, the Korando suffered from prices considerably higher than the Jeep Wrangler and above some Cherokee models. Prices were subsequently cut by more than £2,000 to make the Korando a more tempting proposition and the used market has now caught up with this pricing variation.

What You Get

Although British designer Ken Greenley may disagree, what you get is a somewhat unusual looking, but incredibly tough, 4x4. It will generally appeal to those who need a serious off-road vehicle but find the Wrangler a little bit too 'Marlboro Man', a Land Cruiser too dear and a Land Rover Freelander too 'Cool Britannia'. The effect of this is slightly odd. From the front, the Korando looks for all the world like a pastiche of the original Willys Jeep, with its twin circular headlamps and separate wings, albeit one which has been squashed from either side. The rear is utterly oriental-conventional, though, with a neat, boxy shape. The overall look is of two different concepts melded together. The engine choices available are both well up to the task. Built in Korea under licence from Mercedes-Benz, the 2.3-litre petrol unit is as refined as you'd expect, but the 2.9-litre diesel, also a Mercedes unit, has proved more popular. Equipment includes electric front windows, electric mirrors, a height adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support, a tilt-adjustable leather-covered steering wheel, power steering, tinted glass, an alarm and immobiliser plus an RDS stereo radio cassette player. Certainly, despite the three-door-only availability, the Korando makes practical sense. There's ample head and legroom for five people, a split/folding rear seat and a respectable 1254 litres of boot space. Try that with a Jeep Wrangler.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

The engines and gearboxes are proven items, and the ladder-framed chassis boasts good ground clearance, so the Korando keeps its nose clean on these counts. As with any vehicle that purports to offer serious off road capabilities, check the underbody for signs of damage. Concentrate on the suspension, exhaust and chassis, and make sure the steering and differential are still serviceable. Inspect the wheelarch liners for rust-inducing punctures and ensure that the four-wheel drive selector works properly, as these 'shift on the fly' mechanisms are prone to accidental damage. Otherwise, the usual reminder to obtain a service history applies.

Replacement Parts

(Estimated prices, based on a 2.9D) You'll need around £1,000 for a Korando exhaust and a catalyst will be around £410. Front brake pads will retail for at least £100, while a new radiator weighs in at around £250. An alternator will be in the region of £240, and a new starter motor £200.

On the Road

Though it may be damning with faint praise, the Korando is better than it looks on the road. Despite being based on a proper off-road ladder chassis with meaningful ground clearance, the on-road ride is good. Coil sprung rear suspension gives a relatively composed ride, and stability feels good. There's none of the tilting, toppling and swaying that some 4x4 owners have become used to, that feeling that when the steering wheel is turned the upper and lower halves of the vehicle are going in opposite directions. Anti-lock brakes are fitted as standard, and the front suspension resists dive quite well. The four-wheel drive selector takes the form of a simple dash-mounted button rather than an awkward lever, and this can be operated at speed of up to 43mph. Once off-road, the short front and rear overhangs give the Korando admirable clambering ability, although it will struggle to match a Land Cruiser; there's just not the torque available. Of the two models, the diesel is the off-road weapon of choice.

Overall

A used SsangYong Korando offers quality, if somewhat old fashioned, engines, tough running gear, a certain individuality and an affordable sticker price. If you need a family-friendly 4x4, the three-door body style may strike it out and if you're at all the aesthete, it may never have entered your considerations in the first place. Nevertheless, it is surprisingly honest and charming and can't lose too much value over a typical three year ownership period. Do bear in mind that sales were, to put it kindly, modest. Tracking down a Korando could well be a more challenging task than owning one.