THE owner’s handbook for the SsangYong Korando Sports says the vehicle’s four-wheel-drive mode should be selected for, among other things, “a little fun in the mud”. I like that. Owners’ handbooks are usually such stuffy publications, all “caution” this and “warning” that. I don’t recall any vehicle manufacturer expressly ordering me to have “fun” in its printed matter. And I certainly didn’t think SsangYong would be the first.
Actually, I didn’t even think SsangYong would still exist by now. For so long, this fringiest of fringe Korean players has clung to the UK market by its fingernails, desperately short of cash and shorter still of cars you’d want to put on your shopping list. But things have changed, a new buyer for the company has been found (India’s Mahindra & Mahindra) and the designers have been given sharp pencils to play with.
The first fruits of this investment are the spiffy Korando compact SUV (which I’ll be scooting around in by the time you read this) and this, the Korando Sports pick-up which, although it shares a name with its stablemate, is an altogether different bowl of spicy maeuntang. While the Korando is gunning for a share of the Nissan Qashqai/Kia Sportage/Ford Kuga market, the ladder-chassised Korando Sports’ task is to haul away a pallet-load of sales from the Nissan Navaras, Mitsubishi L200s and Isuzu D-Maxs of this world.
Let’s get the looks out of the way first, because I’m shallow like that. I first clapped eyes on the Korando Sports at the Geneva Motor Show in March of this year, when a charming lady who’d stood on the load deck of one all day handed me a brochure for it. I’ll confess, until she thrust her glossy bumf in my face, my eyes had been drawn not to the Korando Sports, nor to the charming lady, but to SsangYong’s XIV-2 concept car, a visually arresting crossover-coupe thing.
“Ah,” I thought to myself. “A bold statement of SsangYong intent, if ever I saw one. Bravo!”
Some of the XIV-2’s boldness has been carried over to the Korando Sports which, from the front at least, looks immeasurably better than the upside-down-faced Actyon model which it replaces. No doubt the designers will say the new car has “presence”. I might even agree, up to a point, although it’s a shame the front’s sharp lines, chunky wheelarches and happy proportions don’t continue to the back, which looks like it is still standing in the queue for its 21st-century makeover.
Where the back of the Korando Sports scores over almost all of its rivals is under the skin. Supple coil springs at the rear offer a smoother ride in an unladen car than the stiff-as-a-board leaf springs of the L200, Navara, D-Max, Ford Ranger and just about any other pick-up you care to mention. There’s a trade-off in how much stuff you can carry in the load bay – 643kg to the Navara’s 1,100kg, for example – but the Korando’s ever-so-optimistic “Sports” tag suggests SsangYong expects you to cart surfboards and mountain bikes in the back of yours, not breeze blocks and anvils.
Inside, there’s space for five adults and the rear seats recline a bit, which is not the norm in this sector. L200 and Navara drivers might scoff at some of the plastics on show, and BMW drivers will die laughing, but the controls fall easily to hand. I liked the simplicity of the steering wheel-mounted cruise control stalk, although the main talking point among passengers was the digital clock, squeezed into a space between the air vents so narrow that the display has to be split over two rows, hours on the top, minutes down below.
SsangYong’s test car came with leather upholstery (standard on all but the base model), electric controls for the driver’s seat, 18-inch alloy wheels, a Kenwood touch-screen satnav and stereo.
Manual air conditioning and parking sensors are standard across the range, although I’d have liked the reassuring presence of a reversing camera, since the SsangYong is a big car and the view astern is hampered by the rear canopy (a £1,750 option unless you go for a top-of-the-range model).
The 2.0-litre, 150bhp turbo-diesel engine pulls like a train, especially between 50 and 70mph, and is noticeably less gruff than some of the higher-capacity units found in this sector. First gear is comically low (and there’s a low-ratio box for serious off-road stuff), but the rest of the ratios are more sensible. Although SsangYong promises almost 37 miles to every gallon of fuel on the combined cycle, we averaged 32, although this involved a fair bit of city centre driving. Towing capacity is 2.3 tonnes.
The Korando Sports’ superlight steering takes a lot of twirling from lock to lock and doesn’t offer much feedback in the corners. A bit of shoogle over speedbumps reminds you that it’s built on girders. All the same, body roll is well controlled and grip is up to the job.
And what of the 4WD system? Well, I resisted SsangYong’s invitation to indulge in “a little fun in the mud” and, instead, turned the dial to “4WD High” to escape from a snowbound parking space on Monday morning. What can I say? It worked. By the time I got to the main road, the gritters had done their thing and the road was clear, so I switched back to 2WD.
If you’re willing not to be blinkered by the aberrations of SsangYong past, you’ll find there is much to like about the Korando Sports, even if there’s nothing remotely sporty about it. It’s cheap without being nasty, business owners can claw back the VAT, and the car is backed by a five-year, unlimited mileage warranty. Good luck to it.
Car SsangYong Korando Sports 2.0D manual
Price £19,995 (£16,707 ex VAT)
Performance Max speed 107mph; 0-62mph N/A
MPG combined 37.7
CO2 emissions 199g/km