KOREA’S third biggest brand has been in and out of Australia more times than the Libs have had prime ministers, but it’s back for what it reckons is a proper swing at the Australian market. It’s now a factory-backed operation, and its management reckons it can surprise one or two of the industry’s smaller players within a couple of years.
As part of its three-pronged re-engagement with Aussie punters, the Musso (Korean for rhinoceros) dual-cab ute will be expected to carry much of the weight when it comes to moving metal in the showroom.
A few of you might remember the Musso Sport and Actyon Sport – and probably with not much fondness. Styling could only politely be known as polarising, while its range of hand-me-down Mercedes motors meant that SsangYong wasn’t much missed when it exited our market in 2016.
Well, a lot has changed in just a couple of years, and the reborn Musso ute is pretty well-equipped, offers half-decent powertrain specs, and has lost much of the visage that used to terrify the robber’s dog. As well, it’s offering sharp pricing and a warranty package that’s the best in the ute business.
Exterior-wise, SsangYong has calmed the design farm a lot over the last couple of years, especially around the front of the car. It’s still not contemporary by any stretch, but SsangYong has banished the sloped nose and goofily oversized headlights to the bad idea pile. It now sports a nose job that is less rhino and one of the most conservative across the sector, with a minimum of chrome and a dearth of sharp lines and angles.
The theme carries around to the large but simple tail-lights and low-fuss bumper arrangement, though the designers couldn’t resist the urge to add a large character line along the sides that looks a bit out of place from some angles.
However, the new bumpers contribute to a reasonable set of approach, rampover and departure angles (22.8, 23.0 and 23.4 degrees respectively), while a ground clearance of 215mm beneath the axles isn’t too bad, either.
At 5095mm long it is 185mm shorter than a Mitsubishi Triton, and it’s slightly narrower, too. That odd-looking tray is 1300mm, a surprising 570mm deep and 1570mm wide. It’ll take a 3x3m folded shade on the diagonal, and the depth of the tub – about 45mm higher than the Triton – helps to keep gear out of sight. A version with a 1600mm long tray arrives early in 2019, and the width and height will remain unchanged.
Under the bonnet lies an in-house 2.2-litre single-turbo four-cylinder diesel engine, with 15.5:1 compression, timing chain and direct injection. It offers up 133kW at 4000rpm and puts out 400Nm between 1200 and 2000rpm.
On paper it comes up a few Isaac Newtons short on its competitors; blame that on the factory torque limit on the six-speed Aisin auto. The same engine makes 420Nm in the Rexton, which uses a different seven-speed slusher.
Fuel economy numbers are pretty sharp for the 2192kg Musso, with SsangYong claiming 8.6L/100km for the auto and 7.9L/100km for the manual. It’s got a 75-litre tank, as well.
The driveline is part-time 4WD, with a locking diff out back and a dial-operated low- and high-range function. Our tester had a pretty primitive hill descent control, which had a bit of a mind of its own at times.
Suspension is coil springs all ’round, with struts up front and a live axle at the rear that’s fitted with disc brakes. It’ll still tow a claimed 3500kg (auto gearbox; the manual isn’t rated yet), thanks to an Australia-only spec towbar, and it’ll handle 790kg of payload on top of that.
In a few of months, SsangYong will add a 300mm-longer tray to the range, which will be offered with a leaf-sprung rear end. It’ll also be available with the coil/live axle set-up, but we’d imagine the payload numbers will need to change if the towing capacity carries over.
Inside, the Musso leaves a lot of its rivals in its dust. The interior is simple, fuss-free and verging on elegant, while most controls are well laid out and easy to access. The front seats – cloth on the base- and mid-spec and faux leather on the top-spec car – are nicely supportive, well-bolstered and well-suited to larger fellas. The rear seat, too, is surprisingly good, with ISOFIX child seat mounts, reclinable backs and plenty of head- and toe-room.
Value-wise, SsangYong has worked the books hard to give the Musso a fighting chance right off the boat – and its value, particularly in the area of base-level gear, is great. Automatic headlights and wipers, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure control and mirroring are standard from the $30,490 base model manual EX and up. Add two grand to the price of the base car and you’ll get a six-speed Aisin auto.
As you step into the mid-grade ELX at $35,490, you’ll start to see things like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 18-inch alloys, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, a tyre monitoring system, tinted glass, fog lights, DRLs and tinted glass, while the Ultimate gets heated, vented and powered front seats, 20-inch chrome alloys, HID headlights, a sunroof and leatherette seating, all for $40,490.
Those prices are national drive-away, too, and SsangYong will offer everyone – tradies, private buyers and off-roaders – a seven-year warranty with seven years of roadside assist and seven years of fixed-price servicing.
On the tar the Musso is astonishingly quiet… like, genuinely astonishingly quiet. There’s very little tyre rumble, the diesel’s clatter is muted; in fact, it’s like a passenger car. The coil spring ride is a little busy, but it’s not uncomfortable at all.
Out in the bush, one of the first things you notice about the Musso is a distinct lack of things like tow points and the like, though the company tells us it’s already got a factory bullbar well underway. Our mid-spec ELX is also running a road-biased Hankook tyre that won’t last long in more rugged terrain than the forestry roads we tried for an hour.
Despite that, the Musso did everything asked of it. That busy ride translates into stable gravel road manners, even unladen, and we’d wager it’ll settle further with camping gear in the back. The 2.2-litre engine pulls just fine, and the part-time 4WD system did its job well. There’s demonstrable flex from the tray if you look in the rear-view mirror in spots, and the rear doors shut with a twang rather than a thud, but for the minimal outlay, those who aren’t brand-bound might find a bargain-basement buy with the SsangYong Musso.
Testing the mettle of the latest metal on 4x4 Reviews
2019 SSANGYONG MUSSO DUAL-CAB SPECS:
Engine: 2.2-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel
Max power: 133kW at 4000rpm
Max torque: 400Nm at 1200rpm
Transmission: 6-speed auto/manual
Crawl ratio: N/A
4x4 system: Dual-range part-time
Front suspension: Independent/coil springs
Rear suspension: Live axle/coil springs
Wheel and tyre: N/A
Unladen weight: 2192kg
Towing capacity: 3500kg
Ground clearance: 215mm
Fuel tank capacity: 75L
On-test fuel consumption: 7.9L/100km
2019 SSANGYONG MUSSO DUAL-CAB PRICES:
EX: $30,490 (manual)
The rest of the gang
SSANGYONG will hit Aussie showrooms with three vehicles in total: the Musso, the closely related Rexton wagon and the small Tivoli. SsangYong is the third biggest brand in Korea, and it reckons one in five SUVs in the local market is a SsangYong.
There are 32 dealers across Australia, with more expected to sign up, and the brand will grow in the middle of 2019 with a mid-sized SUV joining the ranks, along with a heavily facelifted Tivoli.
We wonder if the brand should have waited a bit longer to launch with the long-tray Musso and the updated Tivoli, but SsangYong reckons dealers were desperate to get into the Musso which will sit nicely in a multi-brand franchise – and especially if that franchise already sells more expensive dual cabs. Watch this space, though, there’s more to come from SsangYong.