Motoring: Game on for Korando Sports

IN 2011, SsangYong registered 194 new cars in ­Britain according to the Society of Motoring Manu­facturers and Traders. Many of them will have been dealer demonstration models.

The first nine months of 2012, the total reached the ­almost giddy heights of 688 vehicles. The reasons are the Korando SUV and the Korando Sports pick-up.

The Korando is a good-looking five-seater soft roader, designed by the veteran Italian Giorgetto Giugiaro. In style it is pitched in the middle ground between its South Korean compatriots, the Kia Sportage and the Hyundai ix35.

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All three are offered with front or all-wheel-drive and long warranties (seven years on the Kia). SsangYong’s cars come with a five year “limitless mileage” warranty. There are no exclusions for taxi-drivers or other users often excluded from such long policies. The only stipulation is that you must have the car serviced by a SsangYong dealer.

One plank in this latest ­effort to sell SsangYongs in Britain (this time by Gibraltar-based company Bassadone) is the Korando SX 4x4, which at £18,795 undercuts its closest rival by £2,805. Should you take it off-road it will move forwards or backwards with grip from just one wheel.

If you like, we can draw a veil over the styling and names of the older 4x4 models, the Rodius and Rexton, and move on to SsangYong’s other bright hope which is the Korando Sports. Why they call this double cab pick-up a Sports is not important. The name must have an appeal. It arrived in showrooms recently with prices from £18,295 This on the road price with VAT paid will be similar to the price of its rivals before VAT has been added. SsangYong’s UK marketing director Steve Gray believes that commercial users of the Sports will be able to claim back the VAT.

I’ll come to the good bits soon. The badder bit is that it is not rated to carry the one-ton payload of models like the Toyota Hilux and Mitsubishi L 200, etc. This is because it has independent rear suspension, which will not take the weight of the leaf-springs used by the others.

However, for the chap or gal who does not need to carry a ton I’d suggest getting ready to write the cheque. It is the ­quietest pick-up I have tried and the ride is so superior to the thump of rear cart springs that the comparison is superfluous. (Only Volkswagen ­offers independent rear ­suspension on a version of its Amarok.) I haven’t driven the Amarok. The day after trying the Korando Sports I received Isuzu’s new D-Max for testing. Someone at the Korando Press event told me the Isuzu was even quieter than the SsangYong. Not this one. It had the diesel chortle which is virtually absent in the cabin of the SsangYong.

The pace of the Sports is also, well, pacey. The cabin specification is smart and solid – a lifetime away from the flimsy interior of the Chinese Great Wall Steed which undercuts them all on price, but which has nearly appalling quality and ride comfort.

Despite its deficiencies, the Steed does the business and looks the part. Yet so does the Korando Sports. You can add a sliding tonneau to the load bed and specify faux side roll-bars and tinted wind deflectors up the screen pillars and along the window tops for those nonchalant arm-out 4x4 ­moments.

The best-looking kit is hardtop over the load bay, sleek, stylistically integrated, and appearing to have smoked side windows. This gives the illusion that you are looking not at a pick-up with a backpack but at an estate car.

Off-road? The sample course was a farm just off the A1 south of Stamford. There were water wades and manufactured humps and the best display of thistles I have seen, real giants with dozens of branches and flowering heads on one stem. The course had been picked and our driving was choreographed by experts in their field and obviously the Sports (and the SUV) did all that was expected. The Sports has additional low ratio gears (with six speed manual or automatic gears) and in bottom on tick-over will crawl uphill. It’s not unique to the Korando Sports but can be useful in bumpy terrain where you foot might otherwise stab the accelerator pedal. It also demonstrates the lowdown power of its diesel engine. «

Verdict: The Korando Sports brings new refinement to the pick-up market at the expense of carrying capacity. The CO2 is ahead of most rivals but the Mitsubishi L 200 gives up to 38mpg. Unusually short screen wipers and it lacks entry-assist grab handles on the door pillars.