Being the new kid in town can mean one will have a lot to prove before gaining the trust and respect of the locals. Let's face it, most are weary of newcomers just because of the fact that they're 'new' to the place.
Ssangyong, which recently returned to the Philippine market, plans to shake off that notion by introducing a new-generation of crossovers that offer style, practicality and space in a small package. One of the models that the brand is banking on is the Tivoli, their smallest offering in the crossover lineup.
After getting to test the top-of-the-range Sport-R, it's time we tested what could be their mass-seller, the EXG.
When I first saw pictures of the Tivoli, I was immediately impressed by its good looks, aggressive lines and round shapes. In the metal, it clearly did not disappoint. While some may be put off by the Tivoli’s unique shape, do remember that Ssangyong had far more outlandish designs back in the day (i.e. Musso, Rexton and the previous-generation Korando).
The eye-catching projector headlights with LED daytime running lights (DRLs), sloping roofline, distinct C-pillar design and upright taillights make the car standout from the rest. Driving it around the city, I was able to get curious looks from passers-by. It’s unlike anything Ssangyong has come up with and for me that’s a good thing.
It also looks wider than it is thanks to the use of flared wheel arches, with the rear quarter having the most prominent set I’ve seen for quite a while. It does not get, however, the high-gloss black alloy wheels and low-profile tires. Instead, the EXG model gets smaller alloy wheels and chunkier tires. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing as the thicker sidewalls makeup for a slightly comfier ride which I’ll get to later.
Unlike the Sport-R which gets a pre-dominantly bright red interior, the midrange EXG gets a more conservative look. Hues of black and gray surround the cabin and is spruced by high-gloss black trim pieces and faux metal finishes. Leather upholstery also comes as standard, a unique addition if I do say so myself as B-segment crossovers typically get fabric seats only.
For the technophiles, the Tivoli EXG comes with a 7-inch Android-based touchscreen infotainment that supports AM/FM radio, CD, Bluetooth, Aux, USB and Mirror Link. Navigation is also standard courtesy of Waze.
Perhaps my favorite portions of the cabin are the steering wheel and instrument cluster. The leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel is smooth to the touch and denotes the Tivoli’s sportiness. On the other hand, the illuminated dials are easy to read and are finished in a white-red hue. Also present is a multi-information display (MiD) that shows average or instantaneous fuel consumption, outside temperature and tripmeter. I did find it odd that the controls for the MiD are placed on the center dash, right beside the steering effort control.
Despite its compact dimensions, the Tivoli is actually quite spacious inside. There is plenty of leg- and elbowroom at the back, allowing three large individuals to seat comfortably. Interior fit and finish is equally good too as the car did not felt like it was going to come apart when going through rough roads.
If there’s one thing that I find disappointing in the Tivoli is its awkward driving position. It took some time before I was able to find what I can describe as an ‘acceptable compromise’. The steering rack is only tilt adjustable which meant I had to adjust the seat right for my 5'7 frame. Let’s just say this is a crossover I would not want to take on a long drive as I had to sacrifice reclining comfortably in the Tivoli, just so my arms can stretch to reach the steering wheel. Also, my feet were not able to find a comfortable position which can be a hindrance when driving hundreds of kilometers.
A 1.6-liter naturally-aspirated inline-four with dual continuously variable valve timing (D-CVVT) provides the necessary propulsion for the mid-range Tivoli EXG. Like the Sport-R we tested awhile back, the engine produces a respectable 128 PS at 6000 rpm along with 160 Nm of torque at 2800 rpm. Delivering power to the front wheels comes courtesy of a 6-speed automatic with manual select.
Power from the 1.6-liter mill is adequate. Pulling power is readily available at 2800 rpm which was nice as typical gasoline-powered engines in this segment usually generate maximum torque at 4000 rpm or above. The only thing that lets the powertrain down is the transmission. Like the Sport-R we got to test several months ago, the automatic gearbox is hesitant to upshift and too eager to downshift. I was able to work around the erratic behavior of the gearbox by manually going through the gears myself when I need to overtake or slow down smoothly.
As I previously mentioned, ride quality on the EXG is slightly better than the Sport-R but in my opinion, Ssangyong should have gone for a softer damping altogether for the Tivoli. Even with thicker tires, the Tivoli’s stiff suspension meant that you will feel every bump on the road. On the flipside, the stiff ride also means that anyone that plans to take the Tivoli for a spirited drive along twisty mountain roads can take advantage of the setup. The crossover also gets powerful disc brakes on all corners which is a nice touch.
As for fuel economy, the Tivoli is slightly on the thirsty side. Drive it around the city and the crossover will only return about 7-8 km/l. For highway runs, the Tivoli will be able to average 13-14 km/l. In my opinion, Ssangyong could have done more for the transmission which could be affecting the Tivoli's fuel consumption.
So what's my verdict for the Tivoli? For starters, it's very stylish which gets high marks for me. It has a decent engine but is let down by its so-so transmission. There's plenty of interior space in the tiny Tivoli and is well appointed too. But unless they soften the suspension and fix the driving position, it gets below-average comfort from me.
The Tivoli may not be as well-known in the B-segment crossover, but what Ssangyong has here is a nicely packaged five-seater. It's aimed directly at other segment stalwarts like the Ford EcoSport, Nissan Juke and Mazda CX-3.
Retailing for PhP 945,000, it's less expensive than the range-topping Sport-R, but still has plenty of features and accommodations for a mid-range offering. A little bit more refinement and the Tivoli is something to look out for in the cutthroat segment.