After a three-year Australian sales hiatus, SsangYong is back, and the South Korean brand is not going for a soft relaunch approach either. Four models are cutting straight to the core of Australian buyer habits, including three SUVs with off-road capability and a one-tonne ute – the Musso.
There are a few varieties of SsangYong’s pick up to choose from including the entry level EX, which kicks off from a bargain $30,000, but we jumped straight to the pointy end and the stretched Ultimate XLV dual cab with almost all the extras.
While some dual-cab line-ups are just getting started for $40k, the Musso offers a ton of kit and features, but how will it get on in Australia’s incredibly pragmatic and discerning landscape?
WHAT IS IT?
Exactly. For many people, that’s the first question when they see the Musso.
Neither its attractive face, nor the SsangYong brand are well known in Australia and that’s an obstacle the company is fighting hard to overcome. Initially though, we found the anonymity may actually play in the Musso’s favour.
When presented to festivalgoers at the 2019 Deni Ute Muster, the Musso received a surprisingly warm welcome and that may, in part, be thanks to its enigmatic persona.
No matter which variant you choose, the Musso is powered by a 2.2-litre diesel engine, the XLV gets a huge tray and tons of cabin space, a truly compelling price and all SsangYongs have a class-leading seven-year warranty and safety systems.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
The Musso joins an exclusive and small club of dual-cabs that can brag a coil-spring rear suspension set up, which is supposed to have notable comfort benefits. However, like the Nissan Navara and Mercedes X-Class, we struggled to feel a significant advantage.
Freeway cruising was by no means uncomfortable but its slightly fidgety attitude on the road was similar to many other unloaded utes we have tested.
Nor is the 133kW diesel engine particularly powerful compared with anything else in the market. But the Musso’s manner on the road is a brilliant demonstration of adequacy. A three-hour stint at the wheel was completely comfortable thanks to the commercial vehicle driving position, decent cabin insulation and surprisingly good noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels.
We also particularly liked the attention paid to ergonomics including the carefully sculpted steering wheel wrapped in leather. Steering feel is light and a little numb and we would love to sample the speed sensitive technology that comes only with the top-end Ultimate Plus.
With a decent 420Nm torque output, the Musso has decent acceleration and towing ability but its torque band is relatively narrow, meaning the grunt falls off quickly if the engine revs out of the sweet spot.
You can switch the six-speed automatic transmission into a ‘manual’ mode to try and hold gears in the optimum rev range, but it’s fiddly. Fortunately, the auto program does a good job of getting the best out of the diesel engine without too much human intervention.
Acceleration out on the road is not exactly incendiary with overtaking moves requiring some planning and space. That issue would only be compounded with load or towing. Once again, the Musso is an exercise in everything adequate.
Officially, the Musso will pull up to 3.5 tonnes when equipped with a braked trailer but we imagine that would be at the very limit of the engine’s capability and feasibly load. If you’re after true one-tonne status, the entry-level leaf-sprung Mussos offer more than 1000kg payload capability with the coil rear end versions dropping to 880kg.
For the serious off-roader though, there is some equally serious kit. Not only is the Musso a switchable four-wheel drive with high and low ranges. The rear differential is locking, ground clearance is 215mm, approach angle is 25-degrees while the departure angle is 20-degrees.
This big dual-cab is most at home on unsealed surfaces where the ride continues to be as comfortable as the paved road and there’s lots of reassuring feedback even on slippery surfaces and with only the rear wheels dealing with drive.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO LIVE WITH?
It’s only in recent years that the words luxury, comfort and dual-cab have been thrown together in the same sentence, but today’s modern ute is under increasing pressure to cater to an audience with car-like comfort demands.
And the Musso will surprise many that are expecting the no-frills cabin of some older South Korean representatives.
The cabin in this Ultimate XLV is not quite palatial, but it is well appointed with heaps of standard equipment that makes day-to-day use simple and relaxing. There aren’t many workhorse utes that offer heated seats in a grade below range-topping, but this one has both heating and cooled seat that are effective in both temperature extremes.
There’s also Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, which is essential given the disappointing absence of native navigation in any grade of Musso.
SsangYong hasn’t quite graduated to fully digital instrument clusters but there is a 7.0-inch screen framed between the more traditional analogue gauges. It adds a more modernised feel and displays a ton of information that is easy to scroll through, including a large digital speedometer readout and customisable graphics.
You’ll have to step up to the Ultimate Plus for real leather seats with electric adjustment, HID headlights, a full 360-degree camera. Still not enough kit? A sunroof and classy 20-inch alloy wheels are the only available options.
On the outside, the SsangYong is just as large as it is on the inside and measures almost the same in length as a Ram 1500 American-made truck we took along for the same trip. That translates to a whole heap of storage space in the cabin and the tray – the longest in the class, says its maker.
The XLV part of this Musso’s name relates to its 310mm stretched load tray out back, which can accommodate 1262 litres of things. If its overall length is little too much, the standard Musso might be the more manageable option.
The Musso also scores points for excellent driver assistance and safety systems that even the most mainstream brands are only just starting to feature in their models. It offers tyre pressure monitoring, front and rear radar parking assistance with reversing camera, lane changing assistance, rear-cross traffic alert, and blind-spot detection.
Even at the entry level, the Musso has autonomous emergency braking.
While the low-stressed diesel might not be a firecracker, it does deliver good fuel consumption and during our trip away with the Musso, it returned a reported economy figure of less than 10.0 litres per 100km – not bad for a 2.2-tonne 4x4 on a combination of roads.
Even considering its sizable exterior dimensions, the Musso is no harder to live with than any other dual cab. In fact, its excellent cabin visibility, manoeuvring tech and wide opening doors make it significantly simpler than a majority of rivals. Our only bugbear related to ease of loading lies in a curious trailing edge of the rear doors which protrudes past the window and caught us in the ribs on more than one occasion.
But speaking of a jab to the ribs, the attendees at this year’s Deni Ute Muster weren’t as savage to our Asian invader and actually commended the Musso for a number of features.
Firstly, its looks. Some reported there was a resemblance to the Holden Colorado, which is certainly true and should be taken as a compliment. The singlet-wearing crowd also liked the huge tray and no-nonsense cabin - as did we.
And when they learned the price, virtually everyone was pleasantly surprised. And therein lies the essence of the challenge for SsangYong. When you have a captive audience, it’s easy to explain the many good points about this well-rounded ute, but attracting that attention in the first place is a long battle.
IS IT WORTH THE MONEY?
When you consider that Toyota’s cheapest version of the dual-cab Hilux is exactly the same price as the most premium Musso, you get an idea of just how much is on offer for your cash.
And there isn’t a lot of sacrifice involved in sidestepping brands that are perceived as more premium either.
Instead of trying to stand out from an already crowded dual-cab market with best-in-class claims and ostentatious features, the Musso is going for a Trojan Horse approach. If you can shirk any brand loyalty you might have or animosity for a relative newcomer, the Musso is well worth a drive.
The only question we can’t answer regards the long-term ownership experience – perhaps the greatest concern for anyone thinking of taking a risk with a brand they haven’t previously lived with.
SsangYong is certainly putting a big vote of confidence in itself with its 777 deal, which bundles warranty, roadside assistance and capped-price servicing into a seven-year plan. If it can back that up with customer service that’s as attractive as the vehicles it is rolling out for its Aussie resurrection, this South Korean hopeful is on to a very good thing.
PROS: Lots of standard equipment; unrivalled ute warranty; sharp price; excellent driver-assistance features
CONS: No navigation in any grade; fidgety on-road cruising; jury’s out on customer service