When Ssangyong returned to the market earlier this year, you could perhaps say there were a lot of raised eyebrows, mine included. Looking at the lineup, gone are the goofy designs of the marque's previous attempts in the country. Still, I admit there was a degree of skepticism on my part due to the brand's history.

Just a week ago, we tested a Ssangyong Korando and concluded that it was the step in the right direction for the brand. The Korando could perhaps be Ssangyong's turnaround moment as it transformed itself from a truckish SUV to crossover with a rather handsome exterior. This time around, we try out it's smaller, younger stablemate, the Tivoli.

2016 Ssangyong Tivoli Sport-R 

Before we take on the car, let's first talk about its name. Ssangyong's smallest crossover takes its name from town in Lazio, Italy. Amusingly, the name Tivoli can also be read backwards as “I Love It”, perhaps to highlight its design. Did Ssangyong choose the name on purpose? Judging by the press materials, they probably did.

My first impressions? You will either love it for beings extroverted or dislike it for looking rather distinct. Whereas the Korando is conservatively styled, the Tivoli is all about curves and rakish angles. At the front, it gets large, upswept headlights complemented by LED daytime running lights which accents its design. The bumper meanwhile goes for a sporty look with defined creases and a honeycomb pattern at the lower valence. From the front, you wouldn't mistake it for anything else on the road. 

Giving the Tivoli more presence are the fender flares, making the small crossover look wider than it is. Moving to the rear, the tail lights catch you attention with its distinct, upright design. Also, the unpainted trim surrounding the lower section of the car seems to be de rigueur in the segment these days. Being the Sport R model, the roof is finished in black and rides on low-profile, 18-in black alloy wheels. Love it or loathe it, this Flaming Red example stands out in the car park.

2016 Ssangyong Tivoli Sport-R

The red and black theme continues to the inside of the Tivoli. Its design is youthful and the materials used made it feel more upscale than its bigger sibling. From the feel of the leather to the fit and finish, the Tivoli felt more expensive inside than the Korando. This is probably due to the fact that the Tivoli is the brand's newest model whereas the Korando has been around since 2011. Adding to the Tivoli Sport R's sporting intentions is a thick-rimmed steering wheel with a flat bottom.

Moving to the center console, it boasts a novel design. Its climate control functions are laid out in a non-traditional manner with slim buttons arranged horizontally. Fan speed meanwhile is controlled by a large dial in the center and also houses the automatic function. Speaking of climate control, the Tivoli also has heated front seats. As for space, it offers a decent amount of legroom and cargo capacity is about on par with its class.

A button that caught my attention was for the steering. Thanks to electronic power steering, one can adjust the steering effort at the press of a button with three modes to choose from, namely Comfort, Normal and Sport. As for cabin materials, the use of soft padding on the dashboard is a welcome addition. Unfortunately, the Tivoli also comes with the same Android-powered infotainment system from the Korando. During the Korando's review, I found the system difficult to use because of the hidden menus and multi-step process of linking your phone.

2016 Ssangyong Tivoli Sport-R

All Tivoli variants in the Philippines come with a 1.6 liter gas engine. Internally known as the e-XGi160, it produces 128 PS and 160 Nm of torque. It then shifts via a six-speed automatic transmission with manual mode, sending power to the front wheels. Ssangyong does offer diesel power for the Tivoli but it is only available with the longer XLV version.

Without the benefit of turbocharging, the performance of the 1.6 liter engine in the Tivoli is best described as adequate, if not outstanding. The accelerator needs a good prod before the car gets moving but maintains decent speed once on the move. I also noticed that the transmission was reluctant to upshift and too keen to downshift in an abrupt manner. Add in the sensitive brake feel and it's difficult to drive the Tivoli smoothly on your first try. Once your foot gets used to the pedal, you get to appreciate the strong brakes of the car.

2016 Ssangyong Tivoli Sport-R

Out of the few B-Segment crossovers that I have tried out, I noticed that this class of car tends to ride on the firm side. The same rings true for the baby Ssangyong, thanks in part to those 45 series tires. Those with sensitive backs will complain endlessly at low speeds, with every expansion joint and small pothole sending shockwaves into the cabin. However, with five on board, the ride significantly improves. Perhaps with a smaller rim and tire combination, the Tivoli will have a more comfortable ride. The hard ride does help with handling though, staying relatively flat in corners when out on provincial roads. 

Highway jaunts meanwhile are relatively smooth as long as it's on asphalt as the firm suspension setting makes its presence known throughout the trip. Also, the low profile tires causes road noise to seep into the cabin but other than that, it's not a bad way to drive from North to South. As for fuel economy, the Tivoli did 9.2 kilometers per liter in the city at an average speed of 17 km/h. Highway cruising meanwhile nets 14.1 kilometers per liter at an average of 92 km/h.

2016 Ssangyong Tivoli Sport-R

Like its bigger sibling, the Tivoli also needs a bit more polish. I do wish there Tivoli had a little more grunt a more responsive transmission, not just to add overtaking confidence but also improve fuel economy with the engine being less strained at higher speeds. The ride also needs to be softened a little bit to adapt to those low-profile tires. However, at Php 1,080,000, the Tivoli is a tempting value proposition for those looking for a B-Segment crossover. It comes fully loaded with an advanced, albeit difficult to use, infotainment system, seat warmers and variable steering modes. On top of that, it handles surprisingly well and has more than enough space when compared to its contemporaries. The Tivoli then represents a clean slate for the Korean automaker. As long as Ssangyong keeps on churning out cars like the Tivoli, Ssangyong will continue its road to recovery.