“What is that?"
For the past couple of days, people have been asking me that very question as I drove around in the Ssangyong Korando. It's a bit of a curiousity, this car, and for those who know of the brand usually reacted with “Not bad”, then followed up with, “How is it?”
Now, this isn't Ssangyong's first rodeo in the Philippines. In the 90's we had the Musso and the Mercedes-Benz badged MB100 vans. A decade later, it was the Rexton, Stavic, Kyron and Korando. During that time, the Korando was, essentially, Ssangyong's Jeep Wrangler with body on frame construction, off-road bits such as low-range and truck-like looks. This decade however, it seems as though Ssangyong is reinventing themselves.
The question now is this: Will the third time be the charm for Ssangyong in the Philippines? We drive the Korando for a week to see just how the automaker has reinvented themselves.
For starters, it's clearly no longer the rugged, short-wheelbase off-road SUV a few are familiar with. The Korando is now a crossover with softer, curvier styling cues which is typical in this segment. One look at the car and you would think it competes with the likes of the Mitsubishi ASX, Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V.
Looking at the spec sheet however and it's bigger than the aforementioned cars but slightly shorter than the established crossovers (ie. Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester). With the lack of a third side window, the Korando looks shorter than it really is. Also, the flared look of the wheel arches gives the Korando a wider stance on the road. Its styling then is generally pleasing to the eyes, which couldn't exactly be said of Ssangyongs of the past. Plus, those vertical tail lights are a refreshing break from the usual slim, horizontal units from many of its contemporaries. So far, a promising start.
Inside the Korando and it's as conventional as it can be. No distinct styling details, nor a hint of flair in the cabin. I do give props to Ssangyong for making it cohesive with most of the buttons and dials exactly where you expect them. As for cabin materials, it does get a soft touch dashboard, adding a bit of upmarket feel inside. While the door cards are made of hard plastic, the graining feels upmarket enough to touch. Lower down the dash however and your fingertips are greeted by downmarket plastics. Still, Ssangyong made an effort to make the common touch points (switches, armrests, etc.) feel slightly premium.
There isn't much you can say about the interior apart from it being conventional, that is until you get to the infotainment system. Powered by an Android system, it's rather confusing with an awkward home screen. It's also recessed in its housing, nearly hiding the volume controls from the driver's point of view. It does come with mirror-linking which syncs your smartphone but it's a long and tedious process which forces you to turn on your WiFi hotspot and dig in the sub menus of your phone. On the plus side, the Android-based system includes applications such as Google Play, a web browser and more.
What you see here is the top of the line Korando, the ELX. Exclusive to the range-topper is a 2.0 liter, turbodiesel engine that produces 175 PS and 360 Nm of torque. It shifts via a six-speed automatic with a manual mode. A novelty of this Korando is its all-wheel drive system. Unlike most of the crossovers in its segment, it comes with a locking differential, promising more capability if you choose to take it off-road.
Upon start up, it reminds you that you are indeed driving a diesel-powered vehicle. Clatter is noticeable, even with the doors closed and windows up. Cabin noise is slightly toned down once you're on the move but remains persistent even at cruising speeds. Its performance does make up for the clatter. With 360 Nm of twist, there is a nice slug of torque when setting off from the lights and merging on the highway. Out on the open road, the Korando is a composed cruiser.
With the combination of the soft seats and the well-damped suspension, the Korando is a comfortable place to be in, be it as a driver or passenger. To think that it rides on 18-inch alloys makes this feat all the more impressive. Taking it on relatively rough, muddy roads, the Korando's suspension tuning soaked up rutted roads well, never sending jarring shocks to the occupants. The all-wheel drive and stability control boosts confidence even more. Perhaps with more ground clearance, the Korando might even turn into a capable off-roader since it comes with a locking differential.
As for visibility, you sit up high in the Korando, giving you a better view of the road, as well as the corners of the hood. The steering was light enough for me to mistake it for an electrically assisted system, rather than hydraulic assist. It makes this crossover easy drive around the city although it lacks a touch of driver involvement. Then again, people who buy crossovers don't typically buy one for the sake of driving dynamics. Interior space meanwhile is decent. While it isn't the most generous in its class, there is enough stretch out room for everyone.
Despite it being a diesel, fuel economy can be best described as acceptable, if not outstanding. Saddled with the all-wheel drive system and the locking differentials, the Korando carries a significant weight penalty. Around the city (and holiday traffic), I managed, 7.7 kilometers per liter. Matters improve greatly on the highway with the information display readout at 7.2 liters per 100 kilometers or 13.8 kilometers per liter.
At Php 1,390,000, the Ssangyong Korando undercuts many in its segment. Add in standard all-wheel drive and a diesel engine and it may be enough to persuade people to walk into a Ssangyong dealership. You can also avail of the diesel engine sans all-wheel drive for about Php 120,000 less. Granted, it needs a little more polish, particularly in refinement, cabin feel and, to some extent, fuel efficiency. As for the entire package, it's a step in the right direction for Ssangyong's reinvention.