No matter how you look at them, people carriers are not the most exciting vehicles out on the road.
Big, heavy, and sometimes a handful, this type of vehicle lives a thankless life ferrying people to and from their homes and destinations.
Then there’s the Ssangyong Rodius. Yes, it is a people carrier through and through, but historically it had the distinction of having one of the most revolting of designs. Its reputation as one of the ugliest-looking vehicles on the road was perhaps matched or exceeded only by the Actyon... also from Ssangyong.
In 2017 when Ssangyong returned to the Philippine market, they surprised everyone when they revealed the all-new Rodius (the new local name for the Stavic) wearing a fresh face which looked way better than its ugly forebear. Ssangyong has decided to give it a facelift, resulting in a cleaner and more cohesive design than before. In addition, the automaker also decided that instead of having three variants for the Rodius, they decided it would be better to have just one offering while offering it with a bit more standard equipment.
But will those characteristics of this new-ish model be enough to actually convince buyers is worth their time and money?
We've already said that when the Stav...err... Rodius first came out, it was the most hideous of MPVs. Fortunately, Ssangyong learned from this and decided to make the Rodius look a bit more upmarket.
While it already looked better when it first came out three years ago, the 2019 update actually conforms with Ssangyong’s current design direction. The ‘eyebrow’-like turn signals at the front have been replaced by new LED daytime running lights. Meanwhile, the headlights have been reshaped for a sleeker overall look. Also receiving a makeover are the front grille and front bumper. The former now has a thinner, three-bar style look, while the latter’s design now resembles the one seen on the Tivoli.
Apart from those obvious changes, the rear and side profile of the Rodius remain unchanged. While some may see this as a lackluster redesign, Ssangyong felt it was only the face that actually needed to be redone. Although I do have to say that having LED taillights do enhance the look a bit.
Stepping inside (or climbing aboard rather) the Rodius and you are greeted to a, well, rather dated dashboard. The overall design of the Rodius’ interior seems to hail from a different century; more specifically the early 2000s. I was also not a fan of the center dash-mounted gauges as I preferred to have them placed right in front of me.
Despite all that, I do have to say that dashboard itself is ergonomic and user-friendly. The switches and buttons for the automatic climate control and touchscreen infotainment are all within easy reach. For the technophiles, I’m happy to report that the Rodius has the following: AM/FM radio, USB, Bluetooth, Aux, as well as Android Auto & Apple CarPlay. There are also three 12V charging points inside the people carrier; two at the front, and one at the back which is accompanied by a USB charging port.
While I did find the rear captain seats impressive and comfortable, I was let down by the lack of cupholders on the second row. This is rather strange as the third-row captain seats have them. Ssangyong could have at least put some on the armrests or maybe along the aisle that can be stowed away. I can’t imagine having to hold a drink throughout an entire journey while seated at the back. Additional charging points are also welcome since this is, after all, a family MPV.
Like the Maxus G10, we got to test a while back ago, there is not much luggage space left if all of the seats are deployed. Should you or your other 8 companions need to stow luggage, you can only do so by placing the bags on the center aisle. But should the rear-most bench be folded and stowed away, the Rodius can easily accommodate a weekend’s worth of bags and still have enough room for some pasalubong.
As before, the Rodius is powered by a turbo-diesel engine. Given the MPV’s heft and size, you’re probably thinking it has a 3.0-liter under the hood. In reality, however, it has a small 2.0-liter four-cylinder motor that sends power to the rear wheels. Compact the engine may be, it has 155 PS along with a generous 360 Nm of torque. Power is then sent through a five-speed automatic transmission with manual select.
Despite its size, the engine is actually more than capable of hauling this big and heavy brute of an MPV. Torque is always at the ready at below 2000 rpm which meant a light step on the throttle is all that is needed to get the Rodius moving. Whether you’re carrying four or nine people, or just yourself, the Rodius can move without much trouble. Kudos to Ssangyong's engineers, and the fact that they're no longer trying to emphasize the Mercedes connection so heavily like before.
The five-speed slushbox smoothly changed gears every time, with no apparent shift shock. It does come with sequential shift but since it was doing of a good job of switching cogs, I mostly left it at its own devices. The only time I actually had to use manual mode was for engine braking while going down steep hills or inclines. The only gripe I have with the automatic transmission is its button-style manual select which I’m not too fond of. I much prefer having a traditional manumatic gear selector.
As far as fuel consumption was concerned, the Rodius was able to average about 9.0 - 10.0 km/l in mixed driving conditions while carrying four people. While acceptable, perhaps fitting a six-speed automatic will help improve its fuel economy in the future.
It has powerful brakes but I wished the brake pedal had more feel and easier modulation. Steering, on the other hand, was light and it delivered feedback so you know where the tires are pointing. The power steering assist may be of the hydraulic kind, but it was light nonetheless. What also impressed me was its tight turning radius which was great for making U-turns, as well as navigating around narrow parking areas.
Ride quality on the Rodius was a bit strange. If you were seated at the front, you were treated to a relatively comfy ride. However, sit at any of the rear seats and you’ll experience a bouncy ride. From pock-marked streets to rough roads, it seems as if Ssangyong tuned the rear suspension to be a bit stiff to compensate for load carrying. I wished they could have installed softer dampers so as to make its ride quality a bit more bearable for the rear occupants. And, should it only be you driving the Ssangyong, the rear seats tend to rattle at the slightest of bumps.
Noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) management could have been better too as outside noise tends to permeate into the cabin quite easily. Better fit and finish of the interior panels can be improved as well as there were several noticeable panel gaps and uneven surfaces that can be quite unnerving. But what disappointed me were its noisy windshield wipers which constantly annoyed me whenever there was a heavy downpour.
Originally, this 9-seater Rodius was available at Php 1,690,000. But despite its price, I wished Ssangyong put a bit more effort when it comes to quality control, consistency, and overall refinement. With most people carriers/MPVs living a hard, thankless life, the perception of build quality will come into play in a very significant way. Also, a bit more attention to safety would do wonders as it only has anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, and dual airbags at the front. Granted, the model we drove is a 2019 model, but it still would have been the for this year had it not been for one complication: they aren't selling this model anymore.
Ssangyong Philippines appears to have thrown in the towel in the MPV segment with the Rodius. If we were to venture a hypothesis, the Rodius simply couldn't keep up with the prime choice in the MPV segment: the Toyota Innova. The pricing also put the Rodius within striking distance of many other 7-seater SUVs, and the uphill climb got even harder.
Ssangyong says they're now focusing on SUVs and pick-up trucks, and so they decided to discontinue the Rodius outright. That's a shame. Had the Ssangyong made a more concerted effort to be competitive in the MPV market with quality, the Rodius could have made a much more significant impact.