SsangYong starts a new era in Britain with the Musso pick-up. A three-year plan sees annual sales rising from about 4,000 to 10,000 and 30 more dealers. More than doubling sales in three years looks a so-so bet at the moment. On the one hand, South Korean cars are now accepted here, but the vast majority are Kia and Hyundai (most of which are made in Europe). Hyundai tops the latest J D Power dependability study. Kia is third. SsangYong is too small to be included.
All SsangYongs come into Bristol from its factory in South Korea. The latest is this all-new Musso one-ton pick-up. “A real 4x4 for real 4x4 people”, is the launch slogan, along with arty configurations of a rhinoceros. Musso means rhino in Korean. Tough as old boots, etc. Also, you may note, an endangered species, but the omens may be better for the Musso. The new MD, Nick Laird, says it could take 50 per cent of sales.
The Scot, an ex-Ford man from Edinburgh, will be launching a new Korando SUV next year, with a full electric model in 2020. These join the Rexton SUV and the family-sized Tivoli hatchback – reviewed here a few weeks ago.
The new plan is to carry three months of stock, so buyers should be able to get what they want quite easily. Will they want a Musso? The market is stuffed with capable and trendy one-ton, four-door pick-ups, all sold in work or lifestyle specification. This Musso uses the chassis and drive train of the Rexton, which means a 2.2 litre diesel engine and choice of manual or automatic gears. You can pair a one-ton load and tow a 3.5 ton trailer (with automatic gears) – something not possible with all the opposition. Would you want to?
It’s not likely to be a clincher for the Musso. What does appeal is the new big body to impress your mates, improved ride quality to please the family and an industry-best seven-year, 150,000 mile warranty. This cover now applies to the Rexton. Owners of other SsangYongs can have the five-year warranty extended for £500.
Musso pricing pitches it some 10 per cent on average below the keener opposition – from which my pick still remains the Spanish Nissan Navara. With the popular fixed term purchase plans this price margin may seem unimportant. Other popular rivals include the Isuzu D-Max and the Mitsubishi L200 – again voted best by a popular motoring magazine. Big guns are the Volkswagen Amarok and Ford’s market leading Ranger. The Navara-based Mercedes X-Class adds the gloss to the prestige sector. Toyota’s HiLux remains imperiously the world best-seller.
Like its peers, the Musso is a five-seater, with plenty of rear space at the expense of a shorter cargo area – around 51 inches compared with around 60 inches for the opposition. That’s quite a shortfall. Towards the end of the year a long wheelbase Musso will give it the longest load bed – presumably at a higher cost.
Prices for the standard model, on the road, VAT paid, are EX version £23,933 (manual only); Rebel £26,933 (auto £28,433), Saracen £29,933 (auto £31,433); Rhino auto £33,833. Our ride was in the Saracen with manual gears. It’s a sloppy gear-change selector, with some wrong slots and some stalling. Unusually, you must depress both the clutch and the brake at the same time to start the engine – which seems unnecessary and can by fussy if you have stalled. I’ll accept that with more familiarity the gear-change will improve, but the automatic makes everything fool-proof and has a higher official towing rating.
On paper the manual gear-change gives better economy, with a combined figure of 35.8mpg and 211g of CO2 per km. Our ramble round gentle road landscapes on the demo location in the Cotswolds produced 26mpg – unloaded.
In this empty state the truck does buck and fidget – par for most of the class. They are sprung for carrying weight and a part-loaded Musso feels more composed and settled. We took it round an undemanding farmland course at the launch location in Wiltshire – more notable for its explosion of common brimstone butterflies. A short section of river added a bit of play time – the recommended wading depth is 30cm or 12 inches.
The 4x4 system allows rear wheel drive, 4x4 drive and then low-ratio 4x4, plus a hill descent crawler setting. You must stop and select neutral to engage low ratio.
The construction is body on frame, with double wishbones at the front and coil springs at the back. Additional body sealing has eliminated most of the typical road and engine noise, making the Musso a refined contender. All models have digital audio and Bluetooth, alloys, six airbags, air conditioning, automatic lights and wipers, power windows, remote locking on all doors and the tailgate and a full-size spare wheel.
The Rebel adds roof rails, Google and android connections, a reversing camera, faux leather seats (heated and ventilated in front), a heated real leather wheel and side steps. Upgrades on the Saracen bring nappa leather, navigation and a bigger display screen, cruise control and a front skid plate. The limited edition Rhino brings automatic gears and fancy paint in the price, 20-inch wheels with General Grabber tyres and other glitter for the Camshaft Arms parking lot.
Verdict: A serious 4x4 pick-up.