Vehicles with at least seven seats have become the bestsellers in the Philippine car market and with good reason: Filipinos love to bring along loved ones from their extended families for a drive around the city or out of town.
But even if there are SUVs, MPVs and vans that offer seven seats, these still have some trade-offs. Ingress and egress to the third-row seats of midsize SUVs can sometimes be challenging, given that the second-row seats have to be folded down completely and passengers have to literally climb into the third-row seats.
In the case of some MPVs, the second-row seats also have to be folded down for ingress and egress to the third row of seats. As for vans, opening the sliding doors can present some challenge to people (particularly the elderly and the children). Options like electric-powered sliding doors are only reserved for high-end vans.
But some (not all) of those inconveniences have seemingly been solved by the SsangYong Rodius, which is being marketed by the brand as an SUV but is actually an MPV.
Having standard doors (instead of sliding) for its body size makes it quite unique among MPVs. And the unit we test-drove was the EX variant with nine seats, although we recommend that a maximum of eight be seated because of the rather cramped third-row seating. But even so, a rather comfortable seating capacity of eight is already a big deal for an MPV the size of the Rodius.
There are four rows of seats, with the second and third rows having captain seats. The fourth row has three head rests but we found it more feasible (and more comfortable) to just let two adult people sit there.
If you want more legroom or roominess from the Rodius, SsangYong offers a seven-seater version. There’s also the 11-seater version that has a manual transmission (the other two variants, including our unit, are AT-equipped).
The Rodius can easily be dwarfed by popular commuter vans like the HiAce and the Urvan, but is definitely bigger than the Innova.
Inside, SsangYong did its best to give the Rodius a classy feeling and somehow succeeded. Giving it a light-gray interior even helps it impart a feeling of more spaciousness. But the reality is that the SsangYong—and other SUVs and MPVs for that matter)—does not offer as much headroom like commuter vans, so getting into the third- and fourth-row seats needs some stooping down.
One thing unique about the Rodius is its dashboard display, with the speedometer and the tachometer positioned at the center. Facing the driver is the display for the automatic transmission gears, handbrake and other functions. The problem with this is that it is quite hard to glance at the speedometer at high speeds because you naturally keep your eyes glued to what’s directly up ahead. The first X-Trail and the second-generation Vios had speedometers and tachometers mounted at the center of the dashboard, but the succeeding models abandoned this layout.
The styling of the Rodius, although more on the conservative side, is a refreshing one from the previous model that had a large inverted triangle grille. Some called it the world’s ugliest car.
The latest generation does not have very squarish styling (like vans and some MPVs), which is a plus factor, and its owner will feel more like taking the wheel than handing it over to a chauffeur.
Pop the hood of the Rodius and you will find a 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine that looks like it has to work very hard to get the car going. But the spec sheet reveals it produces 360Nm of torque at 2,800rpm, which is actually impressive considering it only has 2.0 liters of displacement. Power output is a decent 155hp at 4,000rpm.
Equipped with a five-speed automatic transmission with “Smart Driving Mode” transmitting power to the rear wheels, the Rodius is definitely no slouch in the city or on the highway. Stabbing the throttle gets the van accelerating like a small sedan, and the electric-assisted power steering system helps impart a small vehicle feel. Along a highway, stepping on the throttle from 80km/h gets it quite fast to 120km/h where you prefer to back off if you are carrying eight passengers.
Given its rather long wheelbase, the Rodius proved stable at high speeds (100km/h to 140km/h) on the highway, but it is better to grip the steering wheel tight because it still feels rather light at those speeds.
Climbing along the twists and turns leading to Lake Caliraya did not present any problems for the Rodius, because its torquey engine responded to demands for pulling power. And the brakes modulated very well and provided very good stopping power without you having to step on the pedal with Herculean effort.
The Rodius excels very well for “extended duties” or hauling your extended family over long distances. When traveling with so much luggage, it is best that the Rodius only carry six passengers with the rear compartment devoted to cargo-carrying duties.
At P1.49 million, the Rodius finds itself competing with midsize SUVs price-wise. If you want to have more seating and a less rugged ride, the Rodius should make it to your shortlist. Truly, it is a vehicle for the extended family.