Does the compact sport utility vehicle (SUV) traces it roots to the general-purpose vehicle or jeep that was born during the second world war? Hard to tell.
Look at the SsangYong Korando of the late 1990s and you will realize that the present generation compact SUV of the Korean car maker, which happens to be majority owned by Mahindra of India, traces its roots to the jeep-inspired off roaders. But times have changed.
So when SsangYong decided to come up with the latest generation of the Korando, it looked like the company started from a clean sheet of paper to design and develop it. The result is one of the better looking compact SUVs in the market today with impressive technology.
For starters, there’s a choice of an inline-4 cylinder engine with variable valve timing and an inline-4 turbo charged direction injection diesel. Both displace 2.0 liters.
Fast Times was given the opportunity to test the diesel variant that also had SsangYong’s Active All-Wheel Drive system that is electronically governed to function as front-wheel drive during regular driving conditions and AWD when there is a need for better stability. There is also a four-wheel drive lock to distribute torque at 50:50 for some off-roading. Looks good on paper.
The AWD variant boasts of a six-speed automatic transmission with Smart Driving Mode made by AISIN of Japan. The turbo charged diesel engine powering the AWD variant produces 149 hp at 4,000 rpm and belts out an impressive 360 Newton-meters of torque at 2,500 rpm. The torque rating actually approaches the figures generated by a few larger diesel engines.
Besides following the styling trend of its compact SUV competitors (ie not looking like a ‘utility’ vehicle at all), the latest-generation Korando has an interior that can be described as aspiring to be premium. Not really luxurious, but the effort SsangYong put into creating a more welcome interior for the Korando is truly noteworthy.
The steering wheel was not only designed to look good – it allows for good grip during spirited driving, while the controls for the audio system are also mounted in a way that these could be manipulated with your thumbs easily.
The cruise control system is also mounted near the steering wheel, and that is a good feature for cruising along the country’s expressways.
Although the overall design of the Korando’s interior is definitely an upgrade over the traditional styling of the brand’s vehicles in the past, the type of materials used can be improved.
When it comes to the seats, they turn out to be comfortable over long trips and getting mired in traffic. The controls for the driver seat is still manual, but the adjustments allow drivers with Asian frames to raise the seats to an optimum level that allows better and safer view of the road.
When it comes to styling, the Korando has a clean styling with the right amount of curves that surprisingly, helps it generate a generous amount of leg, shoulder and head room, especially for the passengers at the rear. The clean lines also give it a styling that is clearly more Korean than Japanese. Place the Korando side-by-side with the Nissan X-Trail, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV-4 and you will get the point.
On the road
The first thing one will notice when driving the Korando is the responsiveness and refinement of its diesel engine, which almost makes one think that is powered by a gas unit. Also, the steering wheel has a more taut feel to it, which is actually a safer feature considering the Korando is willing to accelerate from 60 kph to 100 kph and from 80 kph to 120 kph with little hesitation.
Before taking the Korando for a test drive, there is usually this reconceived notion that the brand has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to performance. But the latest generation Korando somehow shows SsangYong is doing an excellent job of designing vehicles that could challenge the more established brands. Notably, the Korando is not among the vehicles influenced by the brand’s getting under the wings of Mahindra; that distinction belongs to the Tivoli sub-compact SUV.
The turbo charged diesel unit’s responsiveness does give the Korando some good sprinting abilities, but it takes quite some time to learn how to modulate the accelerator pedal. And when the Korando is out in the expressways, you can push it to 140 kph with the engine showing little hesitation.
When it comes to the handling department, the Korando variant with AWD can provide that confidence when taking those turns fast. The taut feeling of the steering wheel also helps the driver make the just the right steering inputs, also because there is some reasonable feedback.
Good brakes, suspension
In the braking department, the Korando delivers beyond expectations. This is actually a general observation of the other SsangYongs Fast Times tested so far, particularly the Tivoli and the Rodius. Just be sure not to slam the Korando’s brakes because the vehicle behind the Korando might not have powerful brakes too.
The powerful brakes of the Korando also have anti-lock brake system.
Although the Korando has quite a stiff suspension, the way it isolates those nasty bumps and road imperfections is among its most impressive qualities. Its having low-profiled tires (225/55) mounted on 18-inch rims shows engineers at SsangYong were able to tune the suspension to take those nasty road bumps without having to sacrifice stability of its compact SUV for high-speed driving and spirited cornering. Then there’s electronic stability program to keep things under control.
A serious competitor
The SsangYong Korando has metamorphosed from a utility vehicle with jeep-like mechanicals to a compact SUV that is a serious contender in its segment. It may look shorter to some compact SUVs but that could be an advantage in city driving and parking in malls. Besides, if you need a vehicle the can seat seven people and carry a good amount luggage, then go for a mid-sized SUV.
The lively diesel engine also makes the Korando a very good alternative to the compact SUVs the Japanese carmakers offer that are powered by petrol units. Kia and Hyundai also have diesel-powered compact SUVs.
The price range of the Korando ranges from P1.090 million for the entry-level models to P1.390 million for the AWD variant, which is a bit lower than what some of the competition offers. So make no mistake – the Korando with its price range, better styling, and vastly improved engine and transmission is a serious contender.