Mention the Ssangyong brand to a typical car buyer and for sure, you will get a reaction that borders on the skeptical. It’s either car buyers haven’t heard of latest efforts to build the Ssangyong brand in the Philippines or were turned off by the past products from the car maker.
But to be brutally honest about it, Ssangyong’s past products could not contend with the offerings of mainstream brands, including those from Hyundai and Kia, also from South Korea. The Stavic/Rodius of five years ago, while having impressive space, had styling lacking imagination. And while the Korando looked attractive as a real off-road vehicle, its copying the styling of the jeepney did not give it the persona that the compact sport utility vehicle (SUV) should possess.
Ssangyong eventually became part of India’s Mahindra and Mahindra that is also into the manufacture of commercial vehicles and SUVs, and it looks like that move proved beneficial as the vehicles taking part in the test (which were all introduced in this year’s Manila International Auto Show) had better features and quality. Yes, it was obvious from very close scrutiny that the latest models Ssangyong is introducing to the Philippines have better fit and finish.
Although Ssangyong Berjaya Motors Philippines (SBMP) brought along for the media test drive activity the Rodius and Korando, and two variants of the Tivoli (one powered by a diesel engine), Fast Times was able to test only the Rodius and Korando. The test drive route was 420 kilometers round-trip drive Bataan via San Fernando, Pampanga, the Pampanga Megadike Access Road, and the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway. The convoy stopped over at the Dambana ng Kagitingan Monument at Mount Samat in Bataan before proceeding to its final scenic stop at the FAB Dam in Mariveles.
Speaking at the activity dubbed as “SsangYong Ssummer Drive Media Ride and Drive Experience,” SBMP Managing Director David Macasadia said he was confident of the brand’s future in the Philippines.
“SsangYong has been known for its resiliency over the years,” he said. “With over 60 years of manufacturing vehicles, SsangYong has evolved into a brand that dares to be different as the vehicles you will drive today and tomorrow will attest.”
The new Rodius is a total revamp to the previous models that made its way to Philippine roads about ten years ago. And as stated earlier, the first Rodius/Stavics that hit local roads had styling that lacked imagination. They were even ugly.
The Rodius Fast Times was able to test was the ELX seven-seater. The seating arrangement is two seats at the front, two captain seats in the second row, and one large seat for three at the rear. This type of seating arrangement allows for easier entry and exit to the third-row seats, because of the space afforded between the second-row seats.
The front fascia of the Rodius is similar to the Korando’s, echoing the brand’s drive to make their products more identifiable as sporting the Ssangyong brand.
Marketed as a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) in the Philippines, the Rodius is longer compared to the Toyota Innova (but then, they may not belong to the same subclass in the MPV segment), which gives generous legroom for all occupants. The second-row seats can be folded down to give the third-row seat passengers the luxury of resting their feet on top of the folded-down second-row seats.
While the Rodius interior looks inviting, the presence of some cheap plastic claddings was a bit of letdown. Also, the placement of the cluster gauge at the center is not ergonomic, considering the Rodius is a wide vehicle. There is simply no way the driver can clearly see the tachometer without shifting his or her eyes away from the road. Thankfully, there’s a small center housing where the digital display for speed, among others, can be clearly seen by the driver.
On the road, the Rodius provided a comfort level that somehow astounds, because it smoothens nasty bumps and road noise is lessened to almost a minimum.
The Rodius’ 2.0-liter turbo diesel engine produces a respectable 155 horsepower at 4,000 revolutions per minute and 360 Newton-meters of torque at 2,800 rpm. Although the Rodius’ engine does provide a lot of pull to get it to 140 kilometers per hour and provide good passing power, the light steering feel makes it a bit scary to push it to 160 kph.
So when traversing the SCTEX and the other expressways, it is best to keep the Rodius’ speed below 140 kph. Anyway, you can be apprehended for speeding over 100 kph at the SCTEX.
From the test drive activity, it is obvious the Rodius ELX commands serious consideration for motorists looking for a spacious MPV without the huge dimensions of a van.
And with all-wheel drive, the Rodius was designed to take on those long drives, including along not-so-kind roads because the AWD system also has an off-road mode.
Fast Times is praying SBMP to grant us a weekend test drive of the Rodius to fully assess it.
Better styling, interior for Korando
Another Ssangyong vehicle Fast Times was able to test ride and drive to Bataan and back to Manila was the Korando, which squares off with the likes of the Toyota Rav4, Honda CR-V and the Nissan X-Trail, among others.
Now departing from its jeepney-like styling, the Korando gets an extensive makeover also in the inside with its interior now resembling an up-class compact SUV. The fit and finish of the interior also impresses, because it rivals or even exceeds a little bit that of Japanese vehicles.
Legroom is generous for both the front and rear passengers, and the seats are comfortable for long drives. And like the Rodius, the Korando can take those nasty road imperfections without getting unsettled or jarring its passengers.
On the road, the Korando can take steeps without chugging and even execute passes confidently. Stabbing the throttle gets the job of passing vehicles well done.
Motivated by a 2.0-liter diesel engine, the Korando that was tested by the motoring scribes also had AWD for better roadholding.
The brakes are also impressive, because they are easily to modulate and near panick situations does not cause it to nosedive. With a diesel engine, AWD and better styling and fit and finish, the Korando can attract buyers who want a small diesel-fed SUV.
Riding in the Tivoli
While Fast Times was not able to test drive the Tivoli, we couldn’t help but notice its distinctive styling that is Italian-inpsired. While the Rodius and Korando look like siblings because of the similar design of their grille and headlamp combination, the front-end of the Tivoli has a different styling with its long grille and squint headlamps.
Although we were not able to test drive the Tivoli, riding in it proved it was stable and capable subcompact SUV that also had good passing abilities. It also took the steeps leading to Mount Samat without a hitch.
And like its bigger siblings, the Tivoli boasts of fit and finish that equals or even exceeds the type found in Japanese vehicles.
SBMP also brought along a Tivoli with a longer body that was powered with a diesel engine. The company believes the unique offering can attract buyers of subcompact SUVs or crossovers who want a diesel engine underneath the hood.
From the test drive activity, it was obvious the latest models from Ssangyong show the brand is serious in taking on the mainstream brands in the market. With updated styling, better fit and finish, and pricing lower than the competition, the new stable of Ssangyong vehicles should also be closely scrutinized or strongly considered by car buyers.