SsangYong is returning to have another crack at the Australian car market and it’s a well-timed one at that. With dual-cab utes leading sales the South Korean brand’s Musso is exactly the car it needs to gain quick traction. But going against high quality offerings in a competitive segment, including some that are already well-priced, it will need to be more than just a value proposition.
Heading the SsangYong comeback tour down under is a diesel dual-range 4x4 driveline, short and long dual-cab bodies and two suspension tunes that will all target the dimensionally-similar Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux.
The version dubbed ‘short body’ will arrive first in November 2018 with a 5095mm body length that falls a couple of hundred millimetres short of most rivals. It loses nothing in cabin size, with the deficit all down to its stumpy tail and shorter tray length.
SsangYong is focused on family types with this ‘sports lifestyle’ entry-level version that comes complete with standard with coil springs and a live rear axle – matched only by Nissan Navara and Mercedes-Benz X-Class.
Tradies-with-kids will be the target for the ‘long body’ from January 2019. It will have standard coils, but optional leaf springs for higher haul-ability, a unique offer that Nissan and Benz can’t match. This Musso will stretch 310mm-longer, with a 5405mm body length trumping Ranger (5362mm), T60 (5365mm) and HiLux (5330mm), while the tray length will actually extend from 1300mm to 1700mm tip-to-toe.
The pricing target is the Mitsubishi Triton and that makes sense, because in dual-cab 4x4 manual specification costs $36,500 plus on-road costs – above the Chinese-made Foton Tunland, Great Wall Steed and LDV T60 at around $30,000 driveaway, but below the top-selling Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux at $44,000 plus on-road costs.
Given its length deficit, the Musso short-body should start at bang-on $30,000 with a six-speed manual transmission, and a bit over with a six-speed torque converter automatic.
The long-body is the one that should tempt Ranger and HiLux dual-cab buyers at Triton pricing of around $35,000, and all use the same 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder offering a competitive 133kW of power and 400Nm of torque.
Three levels will be offered for both short- and long-body Musso – EX, EXL and Ultimate. While Bluetooth audio connectivity and a digital radio will be standard, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with reversing camera and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology will (disappointingly) be reserved for the higher model grades.
Otherwise steering wheel tilt and telescopic adjustment, cruise control, power windows and mirrors, remote central locking, and manual air-conditioning will be standard.
Unique items available higher up will include keyless auto-entry with power-fold mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, 360-degree camera, 7.0-inch colour driver display, dual-zone climate control, Nappa leather trim with both electrically adjustable and heated/ventilated front seats, plus a quartet of active safety features – including blind-spot and lane-departure warnings, rear cross-traffic alert and autonomous emergency braking (AEB), the latter of which is currently in development and will be finalised by the Australian launch timing.
Up-front the Musso really doesn’t feel like a ute. There are supportive seats all-round, complete with overhead roof grabhandles, and even soft-touch upper-dashboard plastics that not a single rival matches.
The flagship Ultimate test car’s padded-stitched leather dashboard, and 360-degree camera with superb resolution, also felt befitting of a model grade that could cost $40K-plus.
Visibility is excellent all-round even without using the camera, all of which leaves the cabin among the leaders in the segment.
Likewise, the big and wide doors help with family life (the installation of baby seats in particular) and it’s easy to find an ideal driving position with the multi-way seat adjustment. There will be few complaints with that reclining rear seat, either.
SsangYong claims the rear seat can comfortably accommodate a trio of passengers, and indeed on the outside the 1950mm-wide Musso does span further than Ranger (1860mm), Triton (1815mm), HiLux (185mm) and even the very broad T60 (1900mm). For a sheer mix of space and versatility versus size, this SsangYong is very much at the top of the tree.
Even the short-body tray length is more than adequate for many, and as with a T60 a tub liner will come as standard equipment. Tie-down hooks and a 12-volt rear port make the Musso enormously practical out back, while SsangYong claims the 1570mm-wide and 570mm-tall load area can “easily” swallow a pallet inside.
ON THE ROAD
Where it falls down towards the middle of the pack is with engine performance. With ‘only’ 400Nm produced from 1400rpm until 2800rpm, this 2080kg-plus dual-cab is 30Nm short of the Triton and 100Nm shy of the value-to-torque ratio leader, Holden’s 500Nm Colorado.
It isn’t as achingly slow as the 360Nm T60, though, and there’s nothing wrong with the linear delivery of the refined turbo-diesel and fluent six-speed automatic.
While the 133kW at 4000rpm is more competitive, overall there simply isn’t enough given the kerb weight.
The auto also slurps 8.6 litres per 100 kilometres versus 7.9L/100km for the expectedly cheaper manual. The latter bests the 8.8L/100km-rated LDV but not the parsimonious 7.2L/100km-stickered Mitsu.
On the upside the SsangYong polls far closer to its Japanese-badged and Thai-built rivals than to any of the Chinese on-road. Its most impressive trait is how strong it feels, and that is supported by a suspension tune that seems tough and tied-down.
In a ute application some jittery firmness is better than ultra-soft sloppiness (hello, LDV) so here the Musso falls in the right direction. Its ride isn’t as hard as a HiLuxes, either, but equally it isn’t quite as cosseting as a Triton or (especially) Ranger.
The steering is more like those former utes than the excellent standard set by the Ford, too, but ‘unremarkable’ is the word for the connection through the front wheels. Through South Korean countryside there wasn’t enough corners for on-road dynamic assessment, but an off-road course revealed that the firm tune can create bumpy – but controlled – progress and the four-wheel drive system (with low-range gearing, plus a rear diff lock) combined with good articulation to ensure forward progress.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
More time is required in local conditions to see where this rhino sits in the pack of utes.
Part of its ranking will come down to pricing, because a $30,000 start is a must for the short-body, while at an estimated $35,000 the long-body will be right on Triton’s doorstep.
What is clear is that this diesel dual-cab four-wheel drive deserves to sell for that coin. It can then hunt rivals with a big tray and cabin, quiet diesel and decent manners, to make for a stellar rather than soft SsangYong return to the wild jungle of the light-commercial class.