If you grew up in the 1990's, chances are you've heard of the Musso from Korean manufacturer Ssangyong.
It was a big and boxy SUV; a common trend at the time. Reviews were mixed at best, though it did come powered by a turbodiesel licensed from Mercedes-Benz. And the distributor at the time made sure we didn't forget it.
There was, however, another version of the Musso at the time, one that -if I remember correctly- was never sold here: the pick-up version.
Today, we finally get a crack at the new generation version of the Musso pick-up from Ssangyong, now through a new distributor, and I have to say right off the bat: I'm surprisingly impressed. But we'll circle back to that later.
The Ssangyongs we remember from the 90's and 00's were definitely not the belles of the ball, most especially the Stavic/Rodius and Actyon just over a decade ago. Today's models are much better to look at. The Tivoli, the Rexton, the Korando and yes, even the Stavic/Rodius have far better designs than ever before. And that goes for the Musso too.
Walk up to it and you'll realize that this looks quite unusual for a utility vehicle, and in a good way. The design is definitely easy on the eyes, with details that seem to work together well in this Korean truck. If anything, this truck actually looks premium, particularly with the crisp contrast between the spiffy blue finish and the flat black plastic bits underneath.
The only unusual thing about the Musso are the proportions for a pick-up truck. Compared to other pick-up models, the Musso is short in length at 5095mm (typical pick-up: about 5300mm) but wider at 1950mm (typical pick-up: about 1850mm) and taller at 1860mm (typical pick-up: about 1800mm). And it's not just based on the spec sheet: you really can tell just by walking up to it that the dimensions are very weird if you're used to something like a Hilux or a Ranger. Ground clearance is 215mm; plenty, but not class-leading by any definition of the term.
Even when you open the bed, the proportions are also off: most pick-ups have beds that are much longer than they are wide, but the Ssangyong's bed almost looks like a box. When we checked, the official numbers are even stranger: it's 1300mm long, 1570mm wide, and 570mm tall. The bed is actually wider than it is long; you won't be able to strap in something like a dirt bike for the trail, unless you do it diagonally. And with the tailgate open.
The vital thing to remember about the Musso pick-up is that it was developed in reverse. The development of models such as the Hilux, Strada, Ranger, Colorado, Navara, and D-Max came before the SUV counterparts such as the Fortuner, Montero Sport, Everest, Trailblazer, Terra, and mu-X. The SUV uses the platform of the pick-up. That's the standard practice in the industry.
Ssangyong did the opposite: the Musso pick-up uses the platform of the SUV, which is the Rexton. So what we have here is a truck from a sport utility vehicle. And that's also why, when you peek under the vehicle, you'll see a pair of coil springs for the rear suspension. Like the Philippine-spec Navara, the Musso does not use leaf springs. Another interesting tidbit is that the frame uses high-strength steel, and that can't be a bad thing. And with a payload rating of 850 kilograms, what we have here is a lifestyle truck, not a workhorse. That means it's more like the Explorer Sport Trac of old, rather than a rough and tough Hilux.
Any misconceptions that the Musso could be a workhorse will likely and immediately evaporate the moment you open the driver's door. The first thing you'll notice is the brown leather interior; something that's very uncommon in the pick-up segment. Hopping on the seat yields a surprise in itself: it's very comfortable, and even comes with seat airconditioning so you can cool it off quickly if you had to park in an open lot. There's also an abundance of legroom in the back.
To say the Musso is feature rich is quite the understatement. Both front seats are 8-way power adjustable. You have a heated steering wheel with a steering system that senses speed and adjusts accordingly. There's an 8-inch multimedia audio unit on the dash with Bluetooth, Apple Carplay and Android Auto. There's a dual-zone automatic climate control system with seat ventilation. ABS, EBD, a rearview camera and 6 airbags are standard. Heck, it even comes with a liner for the bed and 12-volt socket for tailgate parties. Again, it's specced for comfort and convenience, not for a jobsite.
Powering the Musso is a 2.2-liter turbodiesel that's rated for 181 horsepower and 420 Newton meters of torque. The figures aren't class leading, but that's alright. And no, it's not a Mercedes engine, or at least that's what the guys at Ssangyong Philippines are saying. The only version of the Musso is the 4x2, and it comes with a 6-speed automatic from Japan's Aisin; that's a proven gearbox, and should do well for long term reliability.
Driving the Musso in the city is far better than I expected. The Musso has a certain smoothness in the way it rides over our concrete roads. It really does feel more like a big, wide SUV rather than a bouncy pick-up, so much so that I'd say the ride is very comparable to the comfortable Navara which also has coil springs all around. No rattles, squeaks, or unusual noises from the cabin; this seems like a well built vehicle from Ssangyong. And the noise suppression that they put in was very good too.
Cornering and maneuverability are just scoring par for the course. I didn't have high expectations anyway. The surprise were the brakes: both front and rear are vented discs, highly unusual especially since most of the competitors use drum brakes in the back. The result is a vehicle that brakes in a very balanced manner as most pick-ups and SUVs have a tendency to nose dive under hard braking.
What I really liked was the engine and gearbox combination. The powertrain just worked very well. The accelerating was easy for such a big, heavy vehicle. Shifting was smooth. And the noise was also relatively minimal. I had no complaints about the fuel economy either: around 8.5 km/l in the city (18 km/h average) and 13.4 km/l on the highway, though I was going a bit faster than I normally would.
What Ssangyong did with the Musso is actually very clever. Ssangyong chose not to take on the big players and play by the rules of utility trucks. They didn't try to market to customers that needed a vehicle that will be a beast of burden on farms or construction sites. That market is saturated, and with the prices of the Chinese counterparts, it's going to get tough to compete in that segment. They didn't try to market to off-road enthusiasts and even if they did, the approach angle of 20.2 degrees is dismal compared to the 30+ degrees that is standard (more or less) amongst high-riding pick-ups.
Ssangyong went the lifestyle route, and shed any pretensions for serious hauling or off-roading. They're aiming at customers who want an exceptionally comfortable and well equipped vehicle that will mostly be driven on the road, but with the versatility offered by a truck bed.
The Musso isn't perfect, but for what they were aiming for, I honestly think they nailed it.