Words and Images by Scott Murray
When someone asks, “What phone do you have?” and your answer is “Sony Xperia”, the look on their face is basically the same expression I once gave a girl in high school when she said her dad had a Ssangyong Rexton.
All my car mates would mock, because the brand had zero cache against the towering might of the blue oval brigade, the red lion’s den, the Germans and the unstoppable Japanese.
Fast forward 15 years; Hyundai is one of the top-selling brands in Australia, Kia offers unprecedented luxury for a top-10 price tag, and macho Australian-made trade utes are basically extinct.
SsangYong has returned with an axe to grind, basing the reborn Musso dual-cab ute off the surprisingly refined, and also rebirthed, Rexton SUV. Whereas the heavy-hitters in the ute market start with a ute platform on which to base a large SUV body, Ssangyong has started the other way around. But don’t mistake this for a lapse in judgment. The Korean company has method in its madness.
Many dual-cab utes live a significant part of their lives unladen, or with average payload figures. The Musso offers an impressive 790 kg to kick things off; not quite as much as the Triton/Ranger top-specs, but enough to satisfy a great majority of tasks. At the opposite end, SsangYong quotes a stonking 5.98-tonne gross combined mass; four bags of spuds away from Ranger Wildtrak, and ahead of the Triton’s best effort. Just don’t expect many tests of that claim.
Before going any further, here’s an alert for the fleet buyers and small business owners who begrudgingly refuse to give the Ssangyong Musso even the basic courtesy of finishing this article. You do so to your own detriment, and that view is the result of personally holding highly sceptical expectations before driving one for a week, courtesy of SsangYong Australia.
My advice? Get some Selley’s No More Gaps and fill in that chip on your shoulder, because the Musso is a serious offering which should make product planners from mainstay ute brands feel nervous.
Power is a fascinating prospect, with the Musso punching out 133kW as high as 4000rpm, and 400Nm of torque coming between 1400 and 2800rpm − right where you need it, which is cause for raised brows. It feels like a light, zippy 2.0-litre turbo petrol, not a 2.2-litre Euro 6-compliant diesel in a 2.2-tonne pick-up. Those figures might not stack up to the most power-hungry in the segment, but they don’t need to, because only the heaviest of loads will be beyond the Musso’s capabilities.
First and second ratios are tuned nicely for a spritely take-off before settling into a calm third, fourth, and up to sixth to favour fuel economy over thirsty power games. It’s exactly the refined, predictable but linear power delivery you want.
Styling has long plagued the brand. This time around, the Musso is far easier on the eye with a solid stance, and a kind of Johnny Bravo look from the sweeping headlights up to the roofline, the raked roof rails and the rear deck pillar cowling which streamlines air away from the tray.
In the tray you’ll find a 12-volt power outlet, which is on par with the rest of the competition. There are also plenty of tie-down points, which feel sufficiently secure for most loads.
A pallet fits snugly between the wheelarches, with room to close the tailgate and perhaps a few extra items in the short (but not tiny) tray, which is 1.3 m long, 1.57 m wide and 570 mm deep. The long-wheelbase version being added to the range this year will offer much more space on a leaf-sprung rear, capable of taking a far heavier payload.
Driving unladen over badly corrugated and rutted B-roads in Melbourne’s outer east around Beaconsfield sent jiggles through the kidneys, reminiscent of the coin-operated massage seats in airports – again, local tuning will sort this.
According to SsangYong Australia, canopies designed to suit the Amarok range will suit Musso with minimal modification. Unlike Amarok, a full suite of airbags includes rear curtains to protect the most vulnerable and precious occupants. Any fleet manager or private buyer who makes decisions based on five-star ANCAP or Euro NCAP ratings will need to be patient, because neither organisation has published an official rating as yet.
Ssangyong has been clever with optioning. Ditching conventional satnav units means you don’t pay extra for one you’ll seldom use over Apply CarPlay, or Android Auto’s superior Google Maps.
At the helm, a one-button windscreen washer and wiper action at your fingertip is a nice touch to what feels like a premium level steering wheel and cockpit. Some fairly durable but not crude dashboard plastics are on display, but the leather driver’s seat is particularly noteworthy for comfort. Even a larger gent or lass will feel supported by chunky bolstering on both the seat back and base.
The rear-view camera, mounted off-centre from the centrally placed tailgate latch, offers high resolution and great clarity on the seven-inch screen. It mates cohesively with the sensors and the 360-degree birds-eye camera, which is accurate and very useful for tight parking.
For those who enjoy pushing switches and panels, everything feels tight and sturdy; no creaks, squeaks, rattles or fit-‘n-finish faux pas. You’ll certainly find scratchy, crude plastics in high-spec utes from bigger global brands.
Heated and cooled seats are excellent additions for Aussie buyers who – strangely enough – work during summer as well as winter. The heated steering wheel is probably overkill, but those working in high altitudes from April to October or who routinely tour into the high country or Tasmania will appreciate it.
When you do hit the rough stuff, ground clearance is limited to just 215 mm, the same as a Subaru Outback, but that’s still enough to get in and out of most worksites or steep driveways. The Musso comes in at a smidge over five metres (5095 mm) in length and slips under the two-metre mark (1950 mm) for width. A tyre-direction indicator can help off-roaders place their wheels to navigate tricky terrain without having to leave the vehicle or introduce a spotter. Interestingly, a 1640 mm track width means it’s 80 mm wider than Ranger, with advantages in stability. Steering is rake-and-reach adjustable, as it should be.
The “e-XDi” 2.2-litre engine distributes power through a creamy-smooth six-speed Aisin auto and a locking rear differential which works as part of an on-the-fly 4WD system activated by the simple twist of a rotary knob. Hill-descent control, the low-range gearing and the double-wishbone front/five-link rear suspension with coil springs all-round will all need testing off-road in a later review. But on-road, where the tradies and handyman armies will use the Musso every day, the whole vehicle’s underpinnings feel like a great first go.
Throw in a 75-litre fuel tank, full-size spare and a seven-year warranty, and the overall package is nothing less than confidence-inspiring. It’s safe to say this new contender in one of the most competitive segments in the Australian new car market comes with a very sharp value proposition, especially for buyers who don’t need to bet the farm on make, model and variant. Apprentices who end up buying the dog-eared leftover utes of last decade have a new option. One that won’t make them the butt of jokes when they rock up for a cold 6am start.
Musso has started as a virtual unknown, grown up and matured, slipped into a decent suit and now stands a very good chance of taking sales from other better-known ute brands.
Oh, and that girl in high school? She became a teacher.