Ssangyong has quite an uphill battle ahead of it. After all, the brand has not had the best of starts in the country.
For those that still remember, the marquee first entered the country bearing Mercedes-Benz badges on its van, the MB 100D, and later its SUV/pickup stablemate, the Musso. Ssangyong further capitalized on its technical partnership with Mercedes-Benz by touting its teuton-engineered diesel engines found in its later line-up composed of the Actyon, Rexton, Korando and Stavic.
Of course, while the powertrain was certainly reputable, the styling on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. Easily a shoe-in for several “World’s Ugliest Cars” lists was the previous Ssangyong Rodius/Stavic. The Actyon and Rexton were sometimes honorable mentions, too.
Yet have a look at Ssangyong now and you’ll notice it’s come a long way from the brand some may remember. The Korean company was recently acquired by Indian automaker: Mahindra. It’s the same company that also acquired Italian design firm: Pininfarina — the same one that designs Ferraris. Its local distributor is now Berjaya, which also distributors some of the sexiest cars in the market: Mazda. The restructuring is also evident in its vehicles. We’ve recently reviewed several variants of the Tivoli. And now we come to the remake of its most controversial product, the Rodius. For those curious, the name is derived from both “Road” and “Zeus”.
From the offset, there’s more evident effort to integrate the new family face. Large, square headlights feature signal lights for eyebrows as they flank the broad trapezoid grille. It’s topped by a clamshell-like, grooved hood, angled much more horizontally, just like an SUV. Towards the side, there’s still a faint hint of the original’s faux coupe roofline, but with a D-pillar now angled much more steeply. Behind, the rear window stretches towards the sides, complemented by broader taillights across the liftgate.
While the vehicle presents itself as a multi-passenger SUV, inside is a more van-like interior. The cabin is wide and tall, with generous shoulder-to-shoulder room. The instrument cluster is positioned in the center of the dash. Ahead of the driver are the gear indicators and warning lights. Nonetheless, he has a sculpted wheel to grasp, fitted with remote controls for the stereo. This controls the unit in the center console, now an Android based system with touch screen controls. As such, when paired to your phone, it can use your signal and data to operate Waze or streaming music apps like Spotify. Just below the stereo are controls for the air conditioning, with blower controls for both front and rear. Under is a fairly organized tray for additional items with coin organizers just beside the stick shift.
Behind the Rodius offers three more rows of seats. The second and third row features captian chairs which can slide forward and back, recline and have adjustable armrests. Getting in and out for all passengers is easy thanks to the center aisle. In fact, you don’t really miss the sliding door other vans fit in this type of vehicle.
The second row is easily the best seat in the house with easy access to the door, seatback tables with cupholders and a power socket and USB charging port. Finally, the 4th row can fit three abreast and can also fold the backrest, or even tumble forward to accommodate more cargo. Unfortunately, this row is best reserved for kids. Nonetheless, it offers far more seating than your average PPV at the cost of the same amount of real estate.
Propelling this vehicle is a 2.0-liter common-rail turbo diesel that produces 155 PS and 360 Nm of torque. It pairs with a 5-speed auto to drive the rear wheels. And while that may seem inadequate for a vehicle of this size, it’s actually quite ample.
The very torquey diesel engine hauls it all along with hardly any effort. Floor the throttle and the vehicle will surprise you with its acceleration. The transmission also has a manual mode, with shifting done via a little toggle on the side of the stick, much like a Ford Explorer. It’s easy to accidentally flick the switch. Thankfully it doesn’t activate unless shifted to manual. The response is slow, but the option will be appreciated on steep inclines.
Driving the Rodius is incredibly easy and doesn’t require a big adjustment, especially for those used to driving sedans. The very good visibility, car-like steering angle, and light steering feel make it easy to navigate around tight spots and gauge the vehicle’s edges. It doesn’t feel large or long, even though it is. The ride is very soft and balmly without feeling too lumbering. In fact, the vehicle rotates around corners quite well for its size, thanks to the rear-wheel drive and independent suspension. The only complaint is the rather noisy 4th row that rattles with every single bump on the road.
Finally, the Rodius has a few odd quirks too, which can be helpful or a hindrance depending on what you’re used to. The E-brake is activated by a foot pedal and released by a latch on the dash — Mercedes-Benz style. Unlock the car with the key fob and there’s a short delay before the car lights up. They do stay on longer though, making the car easy to find in a crowded lot. Lastly, there’s no traction or stability control. As such, eager throttle application can easily spin the rear wheels, or worse (or better?) slide the tail out in a corner.
The most major issue, however, is how the airconditioning deals with our tropical heat. The A/C seems to have its work cut out for it, and I've set it to max. It's not so much a problem if you're driving solo, but for a full cabin of 9 people at 37 degrees C each and with our temperatures of late, it's a problem.
In spite of the controversial history, and a few quirks, the Rodius is quite a tempting package. At just Php 1,490,000, this is the one of the most affordable and well equipped 9-seaters in the market. In fact, it might even sway away those looking into 4x2 PPVs. Ssangyong may have an uphill battle ahead, but with new products like the Rodius leading the charge, it won’t be long before this underrated contender gives the establishment a run for their money.