Text and photos by Chris Van Hoven
Ssangyong’s automotive journey hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing over the past decade. Financial troubles, a limited local presence and an inability to stay competitive hindered their local growth, forcing them to eventually pull out of the industry.
Forget the Ssangyong of old, however. With a fresh injection of resources from Mahindra & Mahindra Limited, Ssangyong is a global force once more, ready to storm the automotive scene with a fresh set of concepts to be revealed over the next few years. Leading the charge are Ssangyong’s reasons to be taken as a serious contender: The Ssangyong Tivoli and XLV crossovers.
Both Tivoli versions are impressively styled. An attractive front fascia conveys the fact that Ssangyong’s design team has been hard at work creating contemporary styling cues that look fresh and modern. The floating roofline has caused more than one person to ask if I was driving a Mini, which demonstrates Ssangyong’s ability to infuse sporty aesthetics into a normally bland segment. Both the Tivoli Sport R and XLV ride on 18-inch alloys, with the Tivoli Sport’s wheels receiving an attractive all-black finish. One prominent styling feature is the bulge above the rear wheel arches, which gives both Tivolis an aggressive, rugged squat.
Class-leading cargo space
The two Tivoli versions share almost identical cabins, down to the seat cushions, with the Tivoli Sport R getting a more adventurous two-tone red and black trim on the seats and dash as opposed to the XLV’s more subdued all-black treatment. The seats are comfortable and supportive for both, with adequate leg room for three adults even at the rear seats. The driver gets height-adjustable seats, though the steering wheel is only tilt-adjustable, not telescopic. However, the steering wheel does feel nice to the touch and features a flat bottom for easy gripping.
The XLV extends the Tivoli body by 245mm, of which only the XLV’s luggage space benefits. From the Tivoli’s cargo space of 423 liters — already one of the best in its class — the XLV offers a generous 720 liters of extra space. The XLV’s false floor makes the loading bay level with the boot lip, for easy loading and unloading of heavy cargo. The rear seats of both the Tivoli and XLV can be folded flat with a 60/40 split, for even more space, if you need it.
Both models receive a seven-inch touchscreen featuring mirror-link, which allows you to sync with your mobile phone. The software used is based on Google’s Android operating system, which opens you up to millions of apps from its app store. Both Tivolis feel well-put together, with some minor exceptions. The buttons located in the center console that control the air-conditioning system feel out of place, and would have been better as knobs instead. The plastics on the door panels are also shaped with sharp angles, making it feel less modern than its rivals. Nevertheless, both Tivolis are built surprisingly well for their respective price levels.
Fun to drive
Both Tivolis are agile for their size,and return good steering feedback. This is helped further by an adjustable setting that allows you to switch between comfort, normal, and sporty steering modes, each one reflecting a different level of steering weight. Cornering at speed reveals moderate understeer, more so on the longer XLV, but driving on normal city and highway conditions is what these crossovers were made to do, and it’s in these situations where they both shine.
The Tivoli Sport R is powered by a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 128 hp and 160 Nm of torque. It’s well-suited to the smaller Tivoli, providing adequate power for quick overtakes at around 60 km/h, though overtaking at speeds faster than 100 km/h requires you to squeeze the throttle a bit more.
All is forgiven with the XLV’s own 1.6-liter engine, this time turbo-diesel powered. At 113hp available at 3,400-4,000 rpm and 300Nm of torque at 1,500-2,000, the XLV is much quicker off its feet. It does take a split second for the turbo to kick in, but the torque is readily available from that point forward, making short work of hills, inclines, or rugged terrain. The diesel engine is also thriftier, easily achieving over 10 km/l even in traffic congested situations.
Both cars use a six-speed automatic transmission sourced from Aisin, providing smooth shifting through each gear. The XLV also receives another upgrade from its smaller brother in the form of a lockable all-wheel drive system, giving you that extra bit of confidence in situations that call for it. While the Tivoli is fun to drive zipping around the city, it’s the XLV that you’d want for the family out of town trips.
Both cars are surprisingly comfortable to ride, easily absorbing bumps on the road, and other road irregularities. The XLV is slightly more comfortable and stable on rough roads, thanks to its longer dimensions, and as a result, heavier weight. It’s safe to say that the XLV has one of the best rides in its segment, and that’s a feat worth praising.
The Tivoli Sport R is the top-of-the-line variant, and is still priced competitively at P1,080,000 and comes with a decent amount of bells and whistles, including two airbags, daytime running LED lights, HID lamps, ABS, EBD, full leather upholstery, auto climate control, keyless entry, and push-button start/stop.
That’s already impressive value, but the XLV tops it at P1,245,000 also for the ELX AWD top-of-the-line variant. It carries all the features of the smaller Tivoli over (minus the start/stop button and leather seats) but adds loads of cargo space, all-wheel-drive, and a torquey, thrifty diesel engine.
It will take a while for people to trust Ssangyong, being a relative newcomer. But those willing to give them a chance will be rewarded with excellent value and quality products — a combination not easily found in the segment.