Review: SsangYong Tivoli Ultimate

I nosed, as they say, the Tivoli into the Shell station. The prices were a few bob shy of six pounds a gallon. Happily, we had been averaging 45 miles per imperial gallon of petrol on the motorway. It looked good, I thought, clean sharp, bright. I limped off to pay (bicycle tumble, Ibiza, ouch.)

The contrasting roof helps the attractive Tivoli to cut a dash

“What is it?” asked an employee, notable for an infestation of piercings on his left ear. Not only had this everyday observer of cars never seen a Tivoli, he hadn’t heard of SsangYong. Being something of a car expert, or at least knowing people who are, I gave him an overview of the company (South Korean, maker of 4x4s, remnant of a much bigger dispersed conglomerate, sometime user of Mercedes-Benz motors, now mostly owned by Mahindra & Mahindra of India). Actually, I didn’t tell him all this. Then he asked what the Tivoli was based on.

It’s a top-spec version of the original Tivoli which has been on sale for a few years, I said. I could have added there was a longer one called XLV, which, due to a confusion beyond my brain, I had assumed I was in. His day didn’t need complicating. He’d already got a new car for his I-Spy lexicon, alongside the supercars that are flashed and flourished in these parts.

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The Tivoli was a new direction for SsangYong – already known for its tough but oddly styled SUVs and MPVs and pick-ups. Many were quite shy-making but had a tough chassis and the appeal of those Mercedes engines and transmissions. From nowhere, well, from Pyeongtaek, near Seoul, it started improving the look and feel. We already have the latest Rexton, a 4x4 for the owner who can afford not to be seen in a Discovery but wants a reliable and tough companion. There’s the light but capable Musso one-ton pick-up (also at sensible money).

I have a friend who I expect could afford an Evoque. He bought a Tivoli diesel 4x4 for part two of his life. I had thought he had no regrets. It seems he’s lukewarm. “Neither good nor bad, a bit bland,” he reports (an ex-TVR man, you see), then going on to enthuse about its towing ability and economy. I think, really, he likes it.

This standard Tivoli is a five-door estate car. It sits in size between a Ford Fiesta and a Focus. The XLV is on the same wheelbase, but extended at the back, and a few inches longer than a Focus. Its passenger area is unchanged but the load capacity goes from good to fairly huge. My Tivoli was the limited edition Ultimate, based on the ELX.

The catchy thing about the Tivoli is the shape. The design team will have been absorbing trends in Japan and Europe at the various motor expos – the high face, the flat roof, the wheel arch bulges, how a contrasting roof colour elevates the appearance.

It is eye-catching, even though many whose attention it caught, were, like the Shell chap, not sure what they were looking at. My friend with the Tivoli is having the same experience. It suggests that SsangYong has made little impact on public awareness of the brand.

Against this background SsangYong UK sales are dropping, down a third for the year to June (vs the same months last year). The decline slowed in May. It’s a tough market anyway and SsangYong’s heavier models have been reliant on diesel engines – now unloved and unwanted.

The Tivoli was launched with diesel power but is now offered with a 1.6-litre petrol engine, as tried. There are permutations of manual and automatic gears, front-wheel drive or – diesel only – 4x4 traction.

Prices rise from just £13,495 for the petrol SE. The XLV comes with the higher levels of kit, with diesel power for the EX, from £17,045, and then ELX from £17,800 for the petrol rising to £21,995 for the diesel auto 4x4. The price hike to the XLV is a mere £800. The extra length (nearly 10 inches) gives an extra 300 litres of luggage space. It makes a difference, with around 70kg weight gain.

Verdict: A rattling good choice. Pitted roads upset its manners – without rattles at this new stage.