WE ARE AWARE of SsangYong’s shoddy rep when it comes to hideous styling, with previous product presumably drawing inspiration from hippopotamuses and their ilk. The previous gen ladder-frame Korando, designed by lesser-known Brit Ken Greenly, contained an ungainly blend of soft style lines across geometric surfaces and provided a perfect benchmark for auto-ugly.
The new Korando is different, and for good reason. Under new brand owners Mahindra the company is now able to marshal more resources and called in the design prowess of ItalDesign boss Giorgetto Giugiaro himself – a man who’s CV extends from the Mk1 VW Golf to the Lancia Delta Integrale, BMW M1 (plus its 2008 homage) and the Maserati Bora. So it’s a looker, especially in eye-searing orange with substantial 18-inch alloy hoops in each corner to emphasise its tough, compact form. This is Ssangyong’s first monocoque construction on the Korando, a model they’ve cultivated since 1974 when it was that country’s first self-developed four-wheel drive.
The new body-coloured door handles and rugged grey cladding on the lower surfaces are good touches, as is the ambient lighting cast from the door mirrors. Spec levels in general are high for your R294 995, including an interior decked out in dark leather to complement the sombre plastics. An MP3 compatible entertainment system with USB and Aux inputs takes centre stage with climate control and trip controls occupying the centre stack. Ergonomics are a bit unorthodox but it’s all there in a simple layout with a clean aesthetic.
A large glasshouse (and this is where the Sportage suffers) ensures great visibility from the cabin and delivers a great sense of space in the living area. The raised body means there’s no intrusive transmission tunnel in the rear, where three occupants can be seated comfortably with great access to an array of hidey holds and holders.
Fire up the 2.0-litre turbodiesel and you’re greeted with a refined engine note at idle that rises to a more agricultural clatter when you pile on revs. It pulls cleanly and strongly through its six manual cogs with that 350Nm of torque instantly accessible until you close in on the red line at which point power drops off dramatically. Chuck the Korando into a couple of bends and it feels just as you’d expect a 1.5-tonne front-wheel drive hatch to feel: loads of fun. SsangYong clearly hasn’t skimped on the suspension which is MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear, with anti-roll bars front and back. Get it horribly wrong and thankfully the maker hasn’t skimped on safety, with a multi-dispersion crash structure engineered into the monocoque, complemented by driver and passenger airbags and active head restraints. ABS and EBD systems are also at work. The front-drive version (a 4WD option and automatic gearboxes are to be made available) delivers impressive claimed efficiency figures, measured at 159g/km for carbon emissions and a combined fuel cycle of 6.1ℓ/100km. Who would have thought it? We have here a desirable SsangYong.