SsangYong treads new ground with its compact crossover, the Tivoli. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The SsangYong Tivoli takes the fight to compact crossovers like the Nissan Juke and the Renault Captur with budget pricing, a gutsy range of engines and build quality the like of which you wouldn't credit at this price point. As long as SsangYong can promote this car effectively, it could be their breakthrough vehicle.
SsangYong's has a problem. It doesn't sell enough cars. Last year its Korean compatriots, Kia and Hyundai, shifted more vehicles in the UK alone than SsangYong does around the entire world. For a car company that competes in the budget sector, moving small volumes is fatal. Even with the financial backing of Indian giant Mahindra and Mahindra, SsangYong knew it had to do something and fast. It had no real experience of building cars in the classes that make the massive numbers, so the Ford Fiesta, the Volkswagen Golf and the rest of their ilk were safe from assault. But what if it could turn its experience in building cost-effective all-wheel drive vehicles to the rapidly-growing crossover sector? Surely it could give cars like the Nissan Juke, the Skoda Yeti and the Renault Captur something to chew on? That's the logic behind this Tivoli.
The Koreans certainly haven't done things by halves here. This is no cut-down Korando chassis with a bunch of ancient carry-over engines. The Tivoli has had some serious investment thrown at it, and it shows. The chassis is all-new, albeit hardly adventurous in its suspension design, with MacPherson struts up front and a space-efficient torsion beam rear end. There's a choice of two 1.6-litre engines, a 128PS petrol unit and a 115PS diesel. Buyers can select either 2WD or 4WD model variants. The 1.6 petrol unit will get to 62mph in a relatively relaxed 12 seconds and is offered as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox. Pay a little more and you can pair this engine with a six-speed automatic, which is the same unit as seen in the latest MINI, albeit with a bit less sportiness built into the shift logic. Longer term plans could well see three and four-cylinder turbocharged powerplants find their way into the Tivoli. Other items of note? SsangYong's introducing a selectable weight steering system with Comfort, Normal and Sport settings and some surprisingly big wheels. Go for the smaller alloys if you value ride quality.
Design and Build
The Tivoli is one of those cars that the longer you look at it, the more design influences you can see. There's something of the Kia Soul in its overall proportioning, with a Nissan Juke-like rear haunch, a front end that's modern Renault in a good way, some Citroen DS3 about the rear three quarter and an interior that's glitzy in an upper-model Vauxhall way. There's nothing about this car that says SsangYong and, to many, that will be a good thing. Perhaps the Koreans need to work a bit at developing their own family look. It's not there yet, but the Tivoli is by no stretch of the imagination a bad looking car. Nor indeed is it a cheap looking one. The detailing such as the floating effect roof, the satin roof rails and the materials quality of the interior are at least as good as, if not better than, many of its mainstream rivals. The cabin certainly feels as if it's been the recipient of better quality dash panels and seats than, say, a Nissan Juke. The boot measures 423-litres to the parcel shelf, which is perfectly adequate in this class. If that's not enough, there's also an XLV model with a much larger 720-litre cargo area.
Market and Model
Prices start at around £13,000 for the base model most will choose - or from around £17,000 for the XLV version, which only comes with diesel power. Looking at the standard variant, this means a Tivoli can easily undercut a rival Nissan Juke, which starts at around £14,000 - and it's much better equipped. Do remember though if you're making that comparison that you're not really comparing like with like, the Nissan getting a 95PS engine, fully 30PS down on the SsangYong's petrol powerplant. Even stepping up to the next engine up in the Juke range, the 1.2 with 115PS, doesn't bring power equality with the Tivoli, and Nissan wants around £16,000 for the cheapest one of these. Suddenly you begin to see why SsangYong are so bullish about making huge gains in sales. Renault's Captur doesn't fare any better by comparison. A TCe 120 version of one of those starts at around £16,500, albeit with an automatic gearbox. There are SE, EX and ELX trim levels, but all Tivoli versions get 16" alloy wheels, cruise control, a stop/go system (on the petrol version), Smart steering (with normal, comfort and sport modes), an RDS/Bluetooth radio and seven airbags.
Cost of Ownership
The running cost returns of this car are better than you might expect. The 44.1mpg combined cycle figure for the 1.6-litre petrol-powered manual car is about the same as you'd get from a rival TCe 120 Renault Captur. The petrol model's CO2 figure is rated at 149g/km in manual form and 167g/km in auto guise. Both variants improve on the 40.4mpg showing you'd get from a less powerful 115PS Nissan Juke 1.2-litre rival. The Tivoli features more of an SUV-type shape than its competitors too. The diesel Tivoli delivers 65.7mpg on the combined cycle and 113g/km of CO2. A bigger concern might well be residual value. SsangYongs have lost a lot of the benefit of their low upfront purchase price through depreciation, but that may gradually be changing. The latest Korando is stacking up better than older models from the marque and this 'gentrifying' effect on the brand could well continue with the agreeably slick Tivoli.
Does this over-stuffed market segment really need yet another option? If it's inexpensive, better equipped and more spacious than the norm, then we'd say yes. This SsangYong is all of these things and for the first time in this segment on a credible car, it delivers 4WD at an affordable price. That's one of the reasons a Tivoli would be a preferable choice if you were ever expecting to do a bit of light towing with a car of this kind. Of course, most customers in the small Crossover sector wouldn't know a towbar from a tie clip. For them, this car will trade on its fashionable looks and plush, well-appointed cabin. Your neighbours won't recognise the badge - but then they'd be unlikely to guess how little you'd paid either.