It's about time that someone designed a pick-up that makes sense primarily for tarmac use. Yet one that's still tough enough to tackle the rough stuff. SsangYong claims to have created just that in the form of this Musso one-tonne pick-up. Jonathan Crouch tries it.
Ten Second Review
SsangYong's Musso pick-up aims to redefine the value proposition for customers in this segment and provide them with rugged but car-like transport. Better to drive and more affordable than its competitors, yet better equipped, it's a five-seater Double Cab design that's as practical as you'd want, can tow up to 3.0 tonnes and carry up to a tonne and comes complete with the support of arguably the best after-sales warranty package in the business. If you're buying in this sector, you probably won't have been considering one. Perhaps you should.
It might not be over-stating things to suggest that this SsangYong Musso pick-up is one of the brand's most important models. While this growing South Korean maker's passenger car models must battle with badge prejudice against more established rivals, this product will sell to pick-up people who've usually no such hang-ups. They simply want the toughest, best value vehicle their funds can give them. And this could well be it. The Musso is a replacement for the previous Korando Sports model and, as with that vehicle, SsangYong likes to think of this pick-up less as a commercial carrier and more as a passenger car with pick-up versatility. A blend of the suspension, engine and cabin finesse of a passenger car, the silhouette, space and seating for five that's typical of a double cab and the rugged workmanlike ability of a commercial pick-up. We've heard that claim before of course from the established players in this sector, but applied to vehicles that cost more and offer less. Pound for pound, this one's different, benchmarked against the best, but priced to your pocket. Let's check it out.
Proper pick-ups must come complete with a proper separate frame chassis - the mark of a serious off roader. This might not be a recipe for car-like handling but it'll deliver you a vehicle fit for purpose anywhere from the sands of the Serengetti to the pampas of Patagonia. On tarmac, you wouldn't call this Musso model's ride absorbent, but if you're used to the crude bumpy experience that most other pick-ups provide, it'll be impressive. Enough perhaps, to make the difference between having to buy a conventional passenger car for driving around when the work day is done - or continuing to rely on the varied talents of this SsangYong. And there's a reason for this. Here, we have one of the only pick-ups in the segment with car-like multi-link rear suspension, rather than the rudimentary leaf springs used by most rivals. That makes all the difference to the way this Musso feels on-tarmac. Under the bonnet lies a piece of technology the brand is especially proud of, it's 2.2-litre Euro 6 turbo-diesel engine. This powerplant puts out significantly more power than many of its rivals - 178PS - and has been optimised for torque - pulling power - 400Nn of it on tap between 1,500 and 2,800rpm, enough for example to now be able haul a braked trailer of up to 3.0 tonnes in weight. Off road, this Musso's more than ready to get tough on the rough stuff. It uses a part time selectable 4WD system that's been reliably proven over some of the most demanding terrain in the world, aided by design that optimises this pick-up both for gradient and water-logged ground.
Design and Build
SsangYong design has come a long way since the awkwardly styled Ken Greenly-penned Musso pick-up that this Korean brand offered us at the turn of the century. Premium brands don't usually sell in this sector, but if they did, a dynamic yet sophisticated look would epitomise the kind of shape they would want to deliver. Something like this? You might well think so. The mesh front grilles, the jewel-like front foglamps and the smart black headlamp bezels combine to create a purposeful front end, while in profile, a sharp belt line runs to the rear bumper, emphasising a sleek and, to some eyes, even mildly sporty stance. Inside, there's a light and airy environment thanks to large front, side and rear windows, while the careful blending of black and metallic finishes along with an LED illuminated cluster has created a smart and refined interior. It's at the rear though, where this Musso holds an important advantage over its most direct rivals. The back seat in many a Double Cab pick-up seems often to be something of an after-thought, cramped for the feet and uncomfortably upright for the back. Not only is there plenty of room for head, shoulders, knees and feet but, rather uniquely, you can recline the rear seat back by up to 29-degrees.
Market and Model
Pick-up pricing has become pretty unacceptable to many potential purchasers in this segment. A rival Ford Ranger, a large Mitsubishi L200 or a tough Toyota Hilux may all tempt you, but their asking prices won't. Nor will the amount of extra money you'll have to spend on them to get the complete spec you'll probably want. Now take that total figure, then tot it up alongside the proposition SsangYong have for you here. And what's that? Well, as a rough rule of thumb, a Musso pick-up can be yours for the same price including VAT as a competitor will cost excluding it. In other words, this vehicle enjoys a price advantage of around 20% over its competition. To be more specific, you'll need a budget of around £16,000 excluding VAT to get yourself into the entry-level 'SE' model which comes with silver finish 18" alloy wheels and hard wearing 'leather look' TPU seat upholstery. The plusher 'EX' variant is distinguished by black 18" alloy wheels, roof rails, front LED daytime running lights, leather upholstery with heated front seats, a power operated driver's seat, automatic air conditioning, automatic headlights, rain sensing wipers and a 7" touchscreen RDS radio with iPod and Bluetooth. The 'EX' with manual transmission is priced at around £18,000 ex VAT, or there's a six-speed Aisin automatic version priced at around £19,000 ex VAT.
Practicalities and Costs
SsangYong's car-like claims for this Musso might to some be suggestive of some compromise in commercial practicality. That's not the case when it comes to size. A large, Euro pallet-sized flat rear deck provides a 2.04m2 load area complete with a standard load deck liner and anchor points so that you can easily tie things down. And can those items be really heavy? Well yes - to a point. This model has been fitted with progressive rear coil springs within the multi-link rear suspension set up, which means that it offers a relaxed and comfortable car-like ride, while also carrying over a tonne weight on its load deck. Critically for business users is the fact that the vehicle can be purchased exempt of VAT. As for running costs, well you won't be expecting a pick-up with a gross vehicle weight of over 3.0-tonnes to be especially frugal, so the return in this case - a quoted 40.0mpg on the combined cycle for the manual model - may be better than you might have feared. Choose the optional automatic gearbox doesn't have much effect on this, but it does have slightly more of an impact on CO2 emissions, which rise from 186g/km in the manual to 202g/km. That leaves ownership peace of mind, something SsangYong likes to specialise in providing, this vehicle covered by a best in class five year 'limitless' mileage warranty.
There's a lot to think about when it comes to picking out a pick-up. You're buying one in the first place because you want practical, go-anywhere ruggedness. Yet if at least some of the time, it's to serve as your only means of transport, then you also need car-like qualities - real refinement, supple suspension and a comfortable cabin. Ideally, you want all of this, a high specification and a price that looks like a misprint. You'd be asking a lot. Yet here, SsangYong has struggled to provide exactly that and got remarkably close to delivering it. There are, it's true, more sophisticated, higher profile choices you could make in this segment but all are painfully pricey and in most cases, fairly crude to drive on-road. This, the alternative, is not only as honest, reliable and highly capable as every pick-up should be thanks to the one tonne payload, but crucially, thanks to car-like coil sprung suspension, is also better suited to a life on-tarmac than any of its contemporaries. Plus there's the after-sales support every pick-up should have and even a bit of a sense of style.