After two years in the Australian motoring wilderness, Korean brand SsangYong has returned with a vengeance.
Boasting four new models, all blessed with super-sharp drive-away pricing (with no exceptions), they come with stacks of standard features, a seven-year unlimited-kilometre warranty, seven-year roadside assistance and a seven-year service-pricing deal.
Service intervals are 12 months or 20,000km.
All the new models, even entry-level variants, come loaded with generous equipment inventories.
And the overwhelming impression when you start the cars – especially the diesels – and head off down the road is one of refinement and cabin quietness.
Their interiors are classy, with a nice blend of hard and soft plastics and all come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus they’re loaded with safety features including auto emergency braking across the range.
The seats too are well shaped with plenty of hip-and-thigh bolstering and all models have good-sized bottle-friendly door pockets and other cubby holes for bits and pieces.
Importantly, every new all-wheel-drive SsangYong has a full-size spare.
Competitor companies take note.
One element I don’t like though is that the wiper and indicator/light controls are on the ‘wrong’ side, just like European cars.
Not only does the four-model line-up confirm SsangYong is serious about having a red hot go at the Australian market, the local operation is now a fully owned, factory subsidiary — the only such operation outside Korea.
Currently there are just 32 SsangYong dealers in Australia but local boss Tim Smith is shooting for 40-plus by the end of next year.
He says he is already receiving lots of enquiries from other dealers, including those with Toyota and Holden franchises.
Over the years, SsangYong styling has not exactly been eye candy (who could forget the visually challenged Stavic).
But the company’s own styling studio now works with legendary Italian designer Pininfarina and the new 2019 line-up confirms what a great move this has been.
Opening the batting for the brand’s Australian comeback is a small SUV.
Dubbed the Tivoli, it comes in two sizes and is aimed squarely at the best-selling Mitsubishi and the other main contenders in the segment, such as the Honda HR-V, Mazda’s CX-3 and the quirky-looking Toyota CH-R.
The smaller Tivoli comes in three guises – EX, ELX and Ultimate – and the entry-level variant is the manual EX petrol with a price tag of $23,490.
The dearest is the two-tone automatic diesel at $34,490.
The larger and automatic-only Tivoli XLV ELX comes in at $31,990 while the range-topping XLV Ultimate two-tone tips the scales at $35,490.
The XLV is 238mm longer than its shorter sibling and this added length gives the car a class-leading 720 litres of cargo space.
Buyers have the choice of either a 1.6-litre, 94kW/160Nm petrol engine or 1.6-litre, 84kW/300Nm turbo-diesel in either two- or four-wheel-drive.
The longer Tivoli XLV also runs the 1.6-litre diesel mated with a six-speed Japanese Aisin automatic transmission.
During the launch drive program the AWD diesel returned 7.1L/100km compared with a claimed figure of 5.9L.
There will be a major model change for the Tivoli in the second quarter of next year and SsangYong will also launch an all-new mid-size SUV in the third quarter of next year.
Next up the pecking order is the Rexton, a large seven-seat SUV that is available in three guises – the petrol-powered $39,990 EX FWD automatic, $46,990 ELX AWD diesel and top-spec AWD Ultimate diesel at $52,990.
The petrol engine is good for 165kW and 350Nm and uses a six-speed Aisin automatic. Opt for the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine with its Mercedes-Benz-sourced 7-speed and it churns out 133kW and 420Nm.
With a towing capacity of 3500kg, the new Rexton should to be an attractive proposition for grey nomads and the horsey set with their floats and four-hoofed friends.
The top-spec Ultimate diesel’s interior is beautifully designed, equipped and finished and it’s right up there in terms of classiness with things like the top-spec Mazda CX-9.
Then there’s the new Musso dual-cab ute with its 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine that is good for 133kW at 4000rpm and 400Nm that is on tap between 1400 and 2800rpm.
Transmission is via a six-speed Aisin automatic or a six-speed manual gearbox.
SsangYong claims a fuel-consumption figure of 10.9L/100km and while my co-driver and I saw 11.7L, that included some enthusiastic punting along highway and country-roads and a couple of laps of a pretty serious and fun-to-drive off-road track.
At 100km/h on the open road, the Musso loafs along with the engine spinning extremely quietly at just 1500 revs.
The Musso in launch guise is 5280mm long and it rides on a 3000mm wheelbase and runs rear coil springs.
The cargo tub is 1520mm and while this is shorter than the likes of the Ford Ranger and the Mitsubishi Triton, there is more cabin room than either – especially legroom in the back.
The other good thing about the Musso’s rear seat is that you don’t have to sit up straight like a naughty school boy as you have to in some of its competitors.
It you want a longer cargo space, a new 300mm longer Musso will arrive in the second quarter of next year, but will ride on leaf springs at the rear.
Musso pricing kicks off at $30,490 for the manual EX, rises to $35,990 for the mid-spec ELX automatic and tops out at a highly competitive $39,990 for the automatic Ultimate.
Unlike most of the competition, the Musso’s multi-function steering wheel has height-and-reach adjustment.
It also boasts four-wheel disc brakes — only the Benz X-Class and Ford Raptor can say “so do I”.
With its rear coil springs the ride is comfortable and even when pushed hard in tight corners my co-driver and I thought body roll was no problem.
Following in the wheel-tracks of Kia and more recently Hyundai, SsangYong boss Tim Smith and his management team plan to implement an Australian suspension-tuning program within the next three months to make sure that their cars’ underpinnings are the best they can be for local conditions.
In summary, it looks like SsangYong has got it right this time.
There are great new models and variants, pin-sharp pricing and specification levels that will frighten the competition and it’s all topped off by outstanding customer-benefit policy that delivers seven years of worry-free ownership.
There are some 18,000 SsangYong’s currently in Australian garages but by the end of 2019, this number is sure to grow significantly.