MUSSO MAGIC | UTE Review – SsangYong Musso

The return of SsangYong brings a capable and well-equipped ute to Australia – words by Chris Mullett. 

It’s easy to become a bit complacent when evaluating the current range of utes on the Australian market, because in many cases there is not much to commend one brand over another. Most technologies available in the various products are a decade  old and in the majority of cases, we are still awaiting the introduction of rear disc brakes − something that would be totally unacceptable in a modern passenger car.

South Korean manufacturers such as Kia and Hyundai are these days acknowledged as innovators. Evolving product ranges incorporate new technologies with outstanding design, often outdoing the old European styling houses in the process. They also were amongst the first to introduce the seven-year warranty and SsangYong brings the same level of support to the Australian buyer, together with seven years’ unlimited distance provisions plus matching roadside assistance – something that is far from universal across the board, even today.

The oldest South Korean automaker, with over 60 years history, is actually SsangYong. The brand has had a couple of goes at bringing its products to Australia and for those that like statistics, there are apparently still 18,000 SsangYong models travelling our road network. While establishing the brand as reliable and value for money, the manufacturer relied on importation handled by independent distributors, suffering the consequences of a retail process that lacked direction and a strong commitment.

Recognising that Australia is one of the leading global markets for utes, SsangYong Motor Company has now established its own factory-backed retail distribution operation Down Under. Undoubtedly influenced by the success of Isuzu UTE Australia, the Korean company intends not only to match the rapid acceptance of Isuzu Ute, but to take its brand further thanks to a larger overall product range that includes three SUVs.

The Musso nameplate is retained for the ute from the previous model range but this latest version is totally new, with a specification that far exceeds the majority of its direct competitors.

With around 32 dealers initially signed up, managing director Tim Smith is keen to increase retail outlets to the 40 mark by the start of 2019, and then continue to build the network from the ground up. 

Delivery is of the opinion that with the appeal of Musso, plus the added product range of the Rexton, Tivoli and Tivoli XLV, dealers looking for additional profitability will soon be knocking on SsangYong’s door, probably adding to traditional dealer forecourts that once only sold Ford or Holden.

Before delving into specifics about the size of the engine and the features of the three different versions of the Musso, we’ll first tackle driveability, ride comfort and family appeal.

The interior of the crew cab ute gives the impression of increased space when compared to Ford Ranger and Holden Colorado, and the ride comfort is much improved over either. There’s plenty of leg, hip, shoulder and headroom in both the front and rear seats, with a centre fold-down armrest on the rear and centre console in the front.

The electric power steering is precise and well weighted, with the top-of-the-line version being speed sensitive. When driven without a load in the tray, it neither wallows through corners, nor thumps over bumps, and provides an impressive level of ride comfort. Despite having a live rear axle, the rear suspension runs with coil springs, providing a supple but well-controlled ride quality. At the time of evaluation it was not possible to experience the ride and handling when laden.

The 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged diesel engine is SsangYong’s own design, and conforms to Euro 6 exhaust emissions without the need for AdBlue, making it one of the most emission-friendly vehicles on sale in our market. The engine and driveline, and much of the vehicle’s mechanical specification, matches that of the Rexton SUV, removing some of the concern over the supply of genuine parts by having a high degree of commonality. Service intervals are 12 months/20,000 km, with fixed price costings.

Peak power of 133 kW is produced at 4000 rpm, while 400 Nm of torque arrives from 1400 rpm out to 2,800 rpm, matched to a six-speed manual or six-speed Aisin automatic transmission. The driveline is completed by a Borg Warner selectable all-wheel-drive system featuring 2WD and 4WD low and high ratios, complete with hill descent control and hill start assist.

Although the capacity of the engine might seem small on paper, the engine management programming and well-matched ratios of the transmission make for a smooth and impressive level of performance. It’s easily up to everyday driving, while at the same time being very quiet. Wind noise is also low, making it one of the quietest of the dual cab set.

SsangYong is owned by the Indian giant conglomerate Mahindra, which also owns Italian styling house Pininfarina. This might explain why the Musso looks better than most, while managing to convey a brand  feel that’s more European than Asian.

Safety standards for light commercial vehicles have lagged a bit behind passenger cars, but the new SsangYong Musso is equipped with excellent levels of safety featuring six airbags on all models, with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and forward collision warning (FCW) for 2019 models.

The high-strength steel construction of its Quad-frame is claimed by the manufacturer to make the Musso stiffer overall than its competitors, achieved by using 1.5 GPa-grade ultra-strength steel.  This not only gives greatly improved body strength but also reduces weight. Also important for those watching safety levels are the inclusion of impact-absorbing elements in the steering wheel and steering column to minimise injuries from a frontal collision, while the structure and materials employed in the frontal area of the body are designed to improve pedestrian safety.

In addition to standard AEB and FCW for every model in the SsangYong range for 2019, the ELX model adds Blind Spot Detection (BSD), Lane Change Assist (LCA) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA).

The top-of-the-line Ultimate comes with a 360°-view camera monitoring system for enhanced safety, enabling the driver and passengers to view the total area surrounding the vehicle, a huge upgrade from a standard reversing camera.

Rather than offering an inbuilt satnav programme, the infotainment unit includes AM/FM radio with Bluetooth connectivity. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supplied on the higher-specification ELX and Ultimate models, together with an eight-inch screen and a reversing camera.

Other standard features include an adjustable tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, electric windows, cruise control, central locking, airconditioning with fine dust filters, a 12V/120W power outlet, and tie-down anchorage points in the fully lined cargo area (1300 x 1570 x 570mm).

The maximum towing capacity is 3500 kg, which equals the class leaders in this category, but the payload in the tray area is 790 kg rather than the expected 1000 kg. For those hauling a 3500 kg braked trailer with a towball downforce of 350 kg, the payload would reduce to 440 kg, further reduced still by the weight of rear seat passengers or other cargo.

Buyers looking for higher payloads and more cargo area have only to wait until the second quarter of 2019 for a long-wheelbase version of the Musso to join the range. Payload for the incoming LWB versions will increase to 1020 kg, body length will increase by an additional 300 mm, and the rear suspension will revert to semi-elliptical rear leaf springs.

At a time when the long-term players in this vehicle segment have top-spec models nudging the $70,000 mark, SsangYong brings in the three Musso variants with a national drive-away fixed pricing structure that ranges from $30,490 for the  Musso EX six-speed manual (adding $2000 for the six-speed auto), rising to $35,990 for the auto-only Musso ELX and $39,990 for the Ultimate, again fitted as standard with the six-speed auto.

This value-for-money scenario is not to be taken lightly. Delivery believes the brand will very quickly carve out an excellent reputation for what it brings to the buyer, re-establishing the SsangYong brand towards the upper end of the available alternatives.

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