SsangYong Musso 2019 first drive review
It's not easy being the new kid on the block, let alone trying to get in on one of the most tightly held games in town.
Of course, South Korean maker SsangYong is throwing absolutely everything it can at customers to make the Musso stick in the dual-cab ute market; seven-year warranty, local suspension tuning, roadside assist, capped-price servicing and one of the sharpest prices in a market dominated by an established lineup.
But the new Musso is proving to be more than just a cheap dual-cab ute.
Born from the seven-seat Rexton SUV’s platform, the Musso adopts a five-link coil-sprung live axle rear-end underneath its shapely panels with two sizes of tray while gaining most of the plushness found in the high-riding family car. It’s the opposite of ladder-frame SUVs like the Everest that’s sprung from the Ranger ute.
The result is a softer appearance that's not blockbuster tough but works, good ride and refinement, and the sort of debutant you’d hope to see from SsangYong’s South Korean compatriots Kia and Hyundai.
Two sizes of Musso will be available in Australia but for now, the brand is launching with this short body ‘lifestyle’ ute.
Offering only a 1300mm tray that’s shorter than rivals closer to 1600mm, the long body Musso which arrives next year will eclipse even those competitors with 1700mm of length.
Regardless, the short body isn’t missing out much, having the deepest and one of the widest tubs in the business, easily big enough to swallow a car fridge and gear without tipping over the rim. It also has a 3.5-tonne towing capacity that isn’t shy of tugging along a trailer.
Further unique selling points are one of largest departure angles at 23.4 degrees, due to the short rear hangover which makes it a good option for off-roading.
And the cabin is properly spacious and comfortable if considering a part-time family ute.
Sharply priced to get on the radar of shoppers all three variants are ‘transparent’ with driveaway pricing.
The base model EX is priced at $30,490 driveaway with a manual transmission or $32,490 with an automatic (the only model to get a stick shifter), the ELX mid-grade is priced at $35,990, and the Ultimate top-spec tops out at $39,990.
Despite competitive pricing, all models come standard with autonomous emergency braking and forward collision warning – a feature not found even on the options list of many in this class.
But otherwise, the base model is a bare-bones work ute – it gets cloth seats, Bluetooth headunit, cruise control, central locking, tub liner with 12v socket in the tray and a four-wheel-drive system with rear limited-slip differential.
Step up into the mid-grade EX and everything looks a lot nicer with 18-inch alloys, 8.0-inch display infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, reversing camera, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-change assist, faux leather seats with both heating and ventilation and climate control.
The top-spec Ultimate looks even more flash with 20-inch alloys, sports bars on the tub, Nappa leather interior with electrically adjustable front seats and heated rear seats, heated leather steering wheel, sunroof, front and rear parking sensors and a 360-degree camera with front and side camera view.
What's the interior like?
The cabin is a treat compared to the many rugged-and-ready utes that fall short on interior style.
The Musso, in contrast, has a wide open polished look, with metal rims around control knobs and soft-touch surfaces over the dash. There are some interesting trim elements between but none of it feels contrived.
The Ultimate’s steering wheel is perhaps the highlight, feeling perfectly sculpted – somewhat sporty – with solid and classy buttons for changing settings on the driver’s digital display in the dash. It’s also heated.
While the EXL-grade faux leather isn’t bad, the real hide inside the Ultimate is right up there with the best, featuring nice contours and bolstering underneath soft touch leather.
Like any four-wheel-drive ute the tub sits high but once gear is lifted up there’s a good amount of height for items to sit underneath a roller lid in the tray.
For occupants, the doors are wide and big, with side steps and grab handles making ingress easy. The rear door has a little lip on the end that feels a touch raw without a rubber or plastic grab handle, but it makes opening and closing the door simpler.
Once inside, the cabin feels big and spacious, lending to its wide dimensions that cater for a three-occupant friendly rear bench. Headroom is also airy and legroom spacious, making it one of the roomier options for family use.
For the driver, the steering wheel is tilt-and-reach adjustable – not reach-only like most – and electric adjustment on the seats give a sweeping range of movement.
The short body Musso isn’t as practical in tray size as other dual-cabs, but purposely so. The long body will alleviate that with what will land as the biggest tub in this segment and for not much more coin.
But as a casual utilitarian with good offroad ability (that short overhang increases departure angle) it’s a fair compromise, as the tub is the deepest and one of the widest. Just keep in mind that the sportsbars on the Ultimate version mean a conventional tonneau cover will need to be replaced for a roller shutter lid.
The vision through the glasshouse is also great, with a mostly unobstructed view and clear 360-degree view camera for moving around tight spaces.
What's it like on the road?
The only choice of motor is a 2.2-litre turbo diesel that produces 133kW at 4000rpm and 400Nm between 1400-2800rpm.
The paper specs are a little low compared to rivals – the new Ford Ranger’s 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel hits 157kW and 500Nm and the price-point Mitsubishi Triton is close at 133kW and 430Nm.
But the Musso engine is refined and quiet in use, pulling strong up hills (without load) as the six-speed Aisin automatic transmission shifts gears smoothly. Compared to the ten-speed equipped Ford motor the Musso doesn’t feel completely out of its depth and excels in some areas.
There’s hardly any diesel engine clatter to be heard in the cabin at idle or under stress, and the engine's smooth response doesn't transmit any harshness through the driveline.
With a heavy load or towing we can only hazard a guess that it would feel worked, but in this ‘lifestyle’ ute it’s a good match to the refinement elsewhere.
The automatic claims a Government combined fuel consumption rating of 8.6-litres per 100km while the manual drinks a lesser 7.9L/100km.
For a dual-cab ute, the Musso feels cooperative and easy to drive. The steering is lightly weighted but responds quickly and accurately at slow speed. At high speed, it’s probably a bit too light, but it points into corners confidently and isn’t afraid to hang-on around the bends. The brakes are equally sharp and there’s a solid feel from the chassis despite it riding high over the road.
But the ride is hard and firm, resulting in scuttle over gravel corrugations and poorly maintained bitumen that’s a bit bouncy. It isn’t shake-the-teeth-out stiff and other utes like the BT-50 suffer a similar fate.
This isn’t news to SsangYong and the Australian arm was quick to tell use that there is already a local suspension tune program underway to fix the problem - it should begin rolling out on new models from early next year and the fix will most likely be available as a retrofit to current stock.
But the overall refinement is very good, with a focus on lowering cabin noise removing most of the usual tyre roar and engine clatter.
Off-road, the Musso has four-high and low-range to use, locking the centre differential and relying on an automatic electronic ‘E-lock’ style rear diff to predict slip (at 100rpm difference between the wheels) and gain traction in slippery conditions. Luckily, it had rained before our venture in the bush, so we had a chance to scrabble up and down some loose forestry roads in low range that engages pretty fast from the turn of a dial.
The system never felt out of touch with track conditions and found plenty of traction ascending a slightly muddy track on a reasonably steep gradient. Going down a steep section was equally simple with hill descent control, though the speed is set at 5km/h with no adjustment.
Ground clearance is rated between the axles at 215mm, and the approach, departure and rampover angles at 22.8-, 23.4- and 23-degrees respectively – the departure angle getting a boost over many dual-cabs thanks to the short body design.
What's the first impression?
Having experienced SsangYong products in the past the new lineup is much easier on the eyes and feels like a better product in the hand. Most surprising is just how far the presentation it has come, with an interior and levels of refinement that are beyond some segment leaders.
Throw in sharp pricing and a long warranty and the first impression is good, though not perfect, with the local ride and handling update key to adding shine on a competitive new arrival.
Alex Rae is Drive’s Melbourne based reporter with over 10 years’ experience in the automotive industry as a photographer and journalist. Having studied both engineering and the arts, Alex understands what makes things tick while appreciating that sometimes it’s all about form over matter…