Like the regularly resurgent Austrian Oak, SsangYong is back. The ‘other’ Korean brand has returned to dealership forecourts after a two-year absence.
Unlike previous incarnations Down Under, SsangYong’s new Australian operation is a fully factory-backed subsidiary - a first for the brand.
In the time that SsangYong has been benched, the Australian new car market has changed and it’s now a far more competitive place to do business. The heavies at SsangYong are aware of the challenge this presents and have prepared accordingly.
There’s no point bringing a knife to a gun fight, and as such, SsangYong has arrived packing an arsenal of new metal, long specifications sheets and sharp pricing. All the necessary ingredients to make an impact are accounted for.
Given our (sometimes misguided) enthusiasm for utes, arguably, the most important brand builder for SsangYong is the new Musso.
The good news for ute buyers is, at launch, the 2019 SsangYong Musso did present a compelling case for attention in a very hectic segment.
SsangYong is offering the Musso in three trim levels - EX, EXL and Ultimate - starting in price at $30,490 drive-away. All models are powered by an in-house 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine that produces 133kW and 400Nm. Peak torque is available from a lowly 1400rpm. Those with a passion for numbers will notice the torque figure falls 30-50Nm short of what is offered by rivals.
The entry-level EX is the only variant available with a manual gearbox though a six-speed automatic from Japanese transmission specialists Aisin can be optioned. The EXL and Ultimate get the automatic as standard.
While power goes to the rear axle for regular blacktop commuting, every Musso packs a selectable 4x4 system with high and low ratios for the rough stuff. There’s also a limited slip differential.
All models are well equipped with the value equation increasing as you climb through the range. Australian buyers have developed a serious appetite for well-featured, high-end utes, which is why the range-topping Ultimate is the focus of this review. It’s priced at a razor sharp $39,990 drive-away and carries enough bling to put bums in seats.
When analysing the Musso Ultimate the (incredibly annoying) term ‘lifestyle vehicle’ was hard to escape. The standard equipment list resembles a California redwood with the highlights being 20-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, 360-degree camera system, leather trim and powered front seats that are heated and ventilated.
There’s also plenty of safety kit with blind spot monitoring, lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert all included. Autonomous emergency braking will be added to production in December. It’s disappointing the tech isn’t available at launch. When it is added, the Musso will be in exclusive company, currently, only the overpriced Mercedes-Benz X-Class comes with AEB as standard, though it can be optioned on selected Ranger variants.
Now the 2019 Musso is the epitome of fresh metal, it’s a new car, not an ageing workhorse looking for a pasture to spend its dotage which is reflected in the design. SsangYong is now playing it straight with contemporary styling. Gone are the days of attention seeking exteriors. The Musso is a bit like Warnie, it’s matured.
Instantly noticeable is the size of the tray, it’s deep but short. SsangYong says it’s rated to carry 790kg. For those needing to carry more, a long-wheelbase variant is scheduled to arrive in the first half of 2019 which will add 300mm of length to the bed increasing the payload to one tonne.
Instead of a traditional sports bar, there’s a sailplane that adds to the look but offers little in terms of additional practicality.
Move inside and the ambience comfortably exceeds expectations. The fit and finish is first class with plenty of soft-touch points and supportive seats trimmed in a surprisingly high grade of leather.
Systematically testing every button, switch and knob leaves a quality impression. The layout is instantly familiar, it’s logical and easy to feel at home.
Touches of modernity are readily available, the 7.0-inch digital driver’s information display that resides in the instrument cluster is a welcomed addition, as is the 8.0-inch infotainment screen that thankfully features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Features aside, the Musso offers a well-packaged interior with space comparable to the segment's heavy hitters.
The biggest criticism of the interior is the old-school lap-only safety belt in the middle rear seat. This seems to be a very conspicuous miss in a cabin where the details are overwhelmingly right.
On the blacktop, the surprises kept coming. The Musso is refined to the point that the establishment needs to sleep with one eye open. It feels at home on bitumen with a cabin that is remarkably well insulated from wind noise and tyre roar.
The Musso has also been tuned by Italian firm Pininfarina to ensure the biggest disturbance to the ride will be the rug rats in the rear seats. Eight body mounts and large rubber engine mounts, polyester wheel-arch linings, new engine bay sealing, fourfold door sealing and aerodynamically designed wiper blades all contribute to a serene drive at highway speeds.
Handling is good too, the Musso Ultimate is equipped with speed-sensitive steering which enhances manoeuvrability by adjusting the resistance to the driving application.
As of 2019, SsangYong will be tuning the Musso’s suspension to suit local conditions. It’s the first time the brand has developed a bespoke tune anywhere in the world, so the pressure is on. It remains to be seen what improvement can be gained over the compliant set-up on the launch vehicles.
At the rear, the Musso rides on coil springs which provided a settled ride with an empty tray. The opportunity to sample the Musso with some beef in the tub wasn’t available during this drive.
Even without a heavy right foot, the unladen Musso gets along without any fuss. We are keen to see the Musso under duress with a towing assessment. Automatic versions of the Musso are rated to pull 3500kg.
The engine feels up to the job with an abundance of low down torque. While on the engine, it exhibited a high degree of mechanical refinement. SsangYong has done away with the agricultural oilers of the past.
Reassuring stopping power is courtesy of disc brakes all around. This is another aspect of the Musso that defies its price point, considerably more expensive rivals still wear drums on the back.
Heading off-road, the Musso was able to traverse bush tracks with relative ease, in low-range climbing uneven terrain was achievable and with the assistance of hill descent control, the journey back was just as simple. The off-road course the Musso was subjected to at launch didn't see it break a sweat.
As an off-roader for the hobbyist, the Musso is a sensible choice. Those wanting to go further away from civilisation will require more height, ground clearance of 215mm won't be enough for the hardcore enthusiast. For context, the HiLux SR5 dual-cab has 279mm of ground clearance. For greater insight into the Musso’s nature conquering ability, we will need to wait until we can get one back to the Goulburn Valley.
Combined fuel consumption is listed at 8.6L/100km, on this test, the on-board computer hovered between 10-11L/100km.
In terms of ownership, SsangYong has thrown down the gauntlet to Japanese rivals by offering the best after sales package to accompany any ute in Australia. The Musso is backed with a seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, seven years’ roadside assistance and seven years’ capped-price servicing which the brand calls, ‘service price menu’.
Maintenance intervals are set at a customer friendly (and Ingenium rivalling) 12 months/20,000km. The long kilometre allowance easily betters the Ranger and HiLux.
At present, the dealership network numbers 34, with an expectation it will crack 40 before too long. While those numbers seem small, looking at the map, SsangYong has already established a strong rural presence to cater for those who travel.
The competitive drive-away pricing puts the Musso firmly into Triton territory, however, the current Triton is due for replacement and nowhere near as nice to drive. If you move the equation to specification and features, the Musso Ultimate fares well against the market leaders.
Other than badge cachet it’s hard to see why the Musso is so much cheaper than the equivalent Japanese utes. To put it in mathematical terms, is the equivalent Toyota worth upwards of $15K more?
The launch vehicles aren’t perfect, the wait for autonomous braking and the middle rear seat belt knock some of the shine off.
Those issues aside, the new Musso will find plenty of fans. The combination of style, performance and features, along with sharp pricing and strong ownership credentials will put SsangYong in the game. Those who look beyond the badge will discover the Musso isn't just here to make up the numbers, it’s here to play.
2019 SsangYong Musso Ultimate Specifications
Price from $39,990 drive-away Engine 2.2-litre turbo-diesel Power 133kW @ 4000rpm Torque 400Nm @ 1400-2800rpm Transmission six-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 8.6L/100km Tank Capacity 75L Length 5095mm Width 2175mm Height 1840mm Wheelbase 3100mm Kerb Weight 2192kg Ground Clearance 215mm Turning Circle 11.8m Service Intervals 12 months/20,000km Warranty seven year/unlimited kilometre
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