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SsangYong isn’t exactly a household name in the UK. Those who do have the Korean car brand on their radar, will know it for big 4x4s and MPVs, always with low prices, sometimes with styling best described as challenging.

Well now SsangYong has a new car called the Tivoli representing a subtle shift in direction and a concerted attempt to become a whole lot more familiar to a whole lot more UK car buyers.

• Best crossovers to buy now

The Tivoli is another SsangYong SUV but not another chunky mud-plugger. It’s a compact supermini-sized crossover, a rival for cars like the Nissan JukePeugeot 2008 and Renault Captur. With a new platform and new engines built using a £212m investment from Indian conglomerate Mahindra (SsangYong’s owner), it’s a serious proposition campaigning on design, technology and desirability, as well as price.

So can the SsangYong Tivoli make headway in the booming market for small crossover SUVs? It certainly has the range to compete, with the 1.6-litre petrol and diesel engines offered in manual or automatic guise and with front- or four-wheel drive mechanicals.

The 4x4 and diesel models won’t get to the UK until later in 2015 so we tried the 1.6-litre petrol versions that are due on sale in time for summer. The 124bhp engine can get the Tivoli from 0-62mph in 12s with the diesel only 0.3s slower. Economy is rated at 44.1mpg on the combined cycle (39.2mpg for the auto), which is a little off the pace compared to the advanced turbo petrols used elsewhere.

First impressions are good. SsangYong has ditched its quirky Korean styling in favour of the more European but still distinctive ‘Nature-born 3 Motion’ design language. The quality of the interior materials is a letdown in places but the layout is modern with a high-resolution 7” sat-nav screen dominating the dash in higher spec cars and an attractive instrument cluster with adjustable colours (the other Interior colour schemes are much less garish than the red one in our images). The Tivoli looks, inside and out, like a car that can stand comparison with its mainstream rivals.

It gets better too because SsangYong has ticked the practicality box, giving the Tivoli one of the most spacious cabins in the class. Where rival crossovers sometimes let their swoopy styling impinge on passenger space, this car has ample head and legroom for a six-footers in the rear seats. Behind that, the 423-litre boot is up with the biggest in the class and there’s lots of storage options in the cabin too.

We had limited time in the car on a test track and busy Korean roads but it was enough to identify the Tivoli’s decent refinement levels and composed cornering ability. The Smart Steer system lets you select Sport, Normal or Comfort settings for the power steering, which is probably too much choice. Stick with Normal and you’ll be fine. In any mode the car feels manoeuvrable and light on its feet in town.

The petrol engine never sounds particularly tuneful and offers adequate performance but becomes noisy at higher revs. Its six-speed manual gearbox could use a taller 6th gear to keep the revs down on the motorway and it isn’t the slickest-shifting set-up in the class. The automatic is very smooth through the gears but sometimes slow to kick down when you want that burst of acceleration.

The ride quality is more of an issue, with the Tivoli a little reluctant to settle on the road. Big bumps aren’t a problem, it’s smaller imperfections that have the springs jiggling in the background. We’ll reserve final judgement until we get the car on UK roads though, overall, the Tivoli seems a competent rather than spectacular performer.

UK prices and trim levels have yet to be announced but expect the Tivoli to open at under £13,000 with £20,000 the going rate for a fully-loaded example. That’s a tempting proposition with SsangYong’s excellent unlimited mileage, 5-year warranty tagged on.

Higher spec cars get 18” wheels, leather and the 7” TomTom sat-nav screen while personalisation options including a contrasting colour roof are expected to prove popular. Heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a reversing camera and stop-start (for manual models) are also available.         

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