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Driven: SsangYong Tivoli 4x4. Image by SsangYong.

Driven: SsangYong Tivoli 4x4
The most credible SsangYong by some margin, but stick to lesser specification.


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SsangYong Tivoli 4x4

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Good points: attractive exterior, passenger space, fully loaded with equipment, strong engine, decent dynamics.

Not so good: can be noisy, witless automatic gearbox, firm ride, too expensive in this guise, A-road fuel consumption, odd-shaped boot.

Key Facts

Model tested: SsangYong Tivoli ELX Style 4x4 1.6 Diesel Auto
Price: from 12,950; ELX 4x4 Diesel Auto from 19,500; as tested 20,400
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Transmission: all-wheel drive, six-speed automatic
Body style: five-door crossover SUV
CO2 emissions: 156g/km (Band G, 180 VED)
Combined economy: 47.9mpg
Top speed: 107mph
0-62mph: 11.9 seconds
Power: 115hp at 3,400- to 4,000rpm
Torque: 300Nm at 1,500- to 2,500rpm

Our view:

When telling people we were going to have a SsangYong Tivoli for a week on test loan, the level of ignorance displayed was staggering. Responses ranged from 'a what?' through 'how do you spell that?' to 'I don't care what it's called, it should be crushed'. It's this sort of searing indifference to the brand that Korea's third major automotive manufacturer has to overcome if the Tivoli is going to be a success.

Mind you, such a lack of comprehension might be better than the buying public remembering some of SsangYong's previous efforts. It has taken several years of high-level counselling for us to finally forget the horse-scaring look of the Rodius. The Kyron, with its Neanderthal's brow boot lid, wasn't much better, and although the Korando and Rexton were thankfully inoffensive to look at, they were by-the-numbers bits of design that will be inevitably fade away completely into the mists of time.

So take a good, long look at the Tivoli. It's not just 'a bit better' than what has issued forth from SsangYong before this point - it's like it's from another planet entirely. While it's not flawless, especially when viewed from the rear, it's a damn fine compact crossover to look at, especially that front end. SsangYong has been brave and risky, not going for a safe look and instead blessing the Tivoli with eagle-like lamp clusters topped with LED daytime running lights, and some neat work with the fog lights and grilles. Add in Silent Silver metallic paint (500) and the Styling Pack (black for the 18-inch diamond-cut alloys, rear spoiler, roof and door mirrors for 400), and the result is a striking little SUV - even if the styling of the back is over-convoluted.

For various reasons - such as they look very similar, they're priced about the same and they both come from less overtly 'mainstream' car manufacturers - we can't stop thinking of the Suzuki Vitara as the chief rival to the Tivoli. The SsangYong is 20mm longer and wider, yet (neatly) 20mm lower than a Vitara, although this auto diesel gives away a massive 305kg to the petrol AWD Suzuki we drove at the tail end of last year. That 1,465kg kerb weight has a big impact on the Tivoli's general fuel economy, as we'll find out later on.

Step inside the interior and you'll struggle to stop raising an eyebrow and nodding slowly in an appreciative fashion. The use of piano black trim in places lifts it and while the tops of the door cards are a little basic in finish/design, there's some tough plastic surrounding the steering column and the climate control buttons appear unintelligible on first glance, it's actually all very solidly made, the dials in the cluster are nice and clear and the SsangYong's seven-inch touchscreen looks really neat in the dashboard; in terms of its robustness, you certainly can't press the whole door cards in like you can on the Vitara, for instance.

There's a load of legroom in the rear as well, so it looks capable of carrying five adults in comfort (the transmission tunnel is low in the centre), but the boot - while rated at a massive, for the sector, 423 litres - isn't as useable as you might think. The slope of the hatchback's glass screen and the reclined angle of the rear seats' backrests make it an awkward, narrow depth at mid height.

Equipment on this range-topping ELX version is generous almost to a fault. Listing everything would take us all week, so the highlights include: full leather trim, in an appealing charcoal grey finish; TomTom satnav with European mapping; dual-zone climate control; keyless entry and go; auto lights and wipers; parking sensors front and rear with one of the best-quality reversing cameras in the business; cruise control; a multifunction steering wheel; and Bluetooth connectivity, among much more. To have the Tivoli's torque-on-demand four-wheel drive system adds 1,250, while the Aisin six-speed auto chucks on another 1,000.

Therefore, as standard, RF65 JXV tested here is the most expensive example of the crossover you can have at 19,500. Now, SsangYong can easily argue that to have an equivalent specification Nissan Juke, Honda HR-V or - given our earlier references - Suzuki Vitara, you'd spend even more than that, but we reckon that where the Tivoli feels more like a high-quality bargain is lower down the range, perhaps in EX specification and as a front-wheel drive manual (15,850). The ELX is great, but, with just two options, it surpasses the 20,000 mental barrier and that might put potential buyers off.

In terms of its dynamics, the SsangYong is polished in many areas, but exceptional in none. However, as crossovers go, it's perfectly acceptable. Upon first acquaintance, there's an odd squirrelling sensation under mid-pace cornering that feels exactly like an old ladder-frame chassis 4x4. But the Tivoli is a monocoque with advanced multi-link rear suspension, so we're not sure why it felt wobbly in the curves. Maybe it was the 4WD shuffling torque rearwards at an inopportune moment.

Then we have a ride that's too firm at low to medium speeds, three-mode steering that lacks any meaningful feedback in any setting (we simply left it in Sport mode, the weightiest of three rather light options) and a large amount of tyre roar. Accelerate the 1.6-litre diesel past 3,000rpm and the noise is exactly the same as a Ford Transit being gunned to within an inch of its life, while the automatic gearbox is far from the best of its type. It's a unit used in cars like the MINI and some Peugeots, but maybe the software is different for the Tivoli. It's fine enough on the flat, slushing gears smoothly, yet when you show it even the slightest of inclines on a steady throttle, it'll start hunting desperately for gears in a clunky fashion. And its manual mode is accessed not by a sequential up-and-down gate on the lever, or paddles on the steering wheel - instead, there's a little overdrive-esque switch on the side of the gear knob, which is extremely odd.

This might sound like things are going badly for the SsangYong, but over the course of the week the Tivoli started to prove more and more endearing. The ride sharpens up its act beyond about 40mph, so on dual carriageways and motorways the SsangYong lollops along in a comfortable fashion. The diesel engine is definitely the one to pick, because the alternative (again, this is similar to the Suzuki Vitara range) is a normally aspirated petrol. While it's 13hp more powerful than the diesel, the 1.6-litre petrol is down on torque to the tune of 140Nm. And, if you don't rev it hard - and you shouldn't with small capacity turbodiesels - then this 1.6 derv is a fine little lump. It's actually pacier mid-range than the on-paper stats might suggest, which makes it highly capable on the motorway.

The thing is, you'd be better off dropping both that automatic and the AWD, and sticking with a manual front-driver. The auto 4WD diesel does 47.9mpg and 156g/km CO2; the manual version of the same car, 60.1mpg and 123g/km. That's enough to drop the Tivoli three VED bands, from G to D, so instead of paying 180 every year for road tax on the auto, the first 12 months with the manual would be free and it would be 110 per annum after that. Stick to one driven axle and another 10g/km comes off both transmissions' CO2 outputs, moving them down another VED band each, while economy climbs to 51.4mpg on the auto and 65.7mpg on the manual.

Not that the auto 4x4 diesel didn't prove frugal... in the end. For the first 259 miles of country roads pootling, the Tivoli managed a disappointing 38.4mpg at an average 31mph, which is simply not good enough in this day and age. One motorway trip to Bradford and back, a distance of 142 miles at an average 47mph, bumped that up to 41mpg overall, with the 0-25-50mpg horizontal bar graph instant read-out in the SsangYong's dash reading over 50mpg most of the way to Yorkshire and back. Given that the car felt much quieter, more comfortable and at home sitting at 70mph, it has clearly been geared for motorway work over urban commuting. That might not be the best strategy for a B-segment crossover, vehicles that spend most of their time in the suburbs, but nonetheless it's commendable high-speed refinement engineered into the Tivoli by SsangYong.

We don't want to feel like we're damning the Tivoli with faint praise when we say this, or even worse, patronising a company that has been around since 1954, but this could be SsangYong's breakthrough car. Initial impressions weren't great, but during 400 miles and 11 hours, 20 minutes behind its D-shaped steering wheel, it grew in our affections with every passing minute. Even with the Korean firm's five-year, 'limitless mileage' warranty, it'd take a daring and alternative-thinking individual to pick one over the more obvious competitors from Vauxhall, Renault, Skoda, Kia, Nissan, Honda and others, yet the Tivoli doesn't feel like a hopeless also-ran in class.

We like it more than that Suzuki Vitara we've been mentioning every five minutes. We really like the exterior styling and the space inside the Tivoli. If this had been a 16,000 mid-range example with the 1.6 diesel, front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox, so likeable was the Tivoli during our time with it that we'd have had no compunction in awarding it four stars. Whatever you think of a 20k SsangYong, though, it is clear this is the benchmark all its future products must eclipse; it's a thoroughly pleasant little SUV. Hopefully, some of that ingrained ignorance SsangYong has to overcome will evaporate when people realise its cars are this good.


Nissan Juke: you can't talk about B-segment crossovers without mentioning the Nissan. British-built with unmistakable looks - not hugely exciting, but it doesn't need to be.

Skoda Yeti: some say it lost its idiosyncratic appeal during the 2014 midlife facelift; we say the more relevant fact on that note is that Skoda is likely readying an all-new version for 2017.

Vauxhall Mokka X: the addition of an X to its name and some fresh front-end styling probably won't be enough to turn the Mokka into a class-leader. Great 1.6-litre diesel engine, though.

Matt Robinson - 21 Mar 2016

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2016 SsangYong Tivoli. Image by SsangYong.2016 SsangYong Tivoli. Image by SsangYong.2016 SsangYong Tivoli. Image by SsangYong.2016 SsangYong Tivoli. Image by SsangYong.2016 SsangYong Tivoli. Image by SsangYong.

2016 SsangYong Tivoli. Image by SsangYong.2016 SsangYong Tivoli. Image by SsangYong.2016 SsangYong Tivoli. Image by SsangYong.    


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