You probably first saw SsangYong vehicles on our roads with the Musso, an SUV, and the Rodius, a van. They were gray market cars that, though they had their audience, didn't quite capture the imagination of the general car-buying public because, well, they looked a bit odd.
The Musso looked rugged, like an SUV should, but having known just now from the General Information Office (the goog) what musso means in Korean—rhinoceros—in hindsight it might have taken on too much of the gruff of its namesake.
The Rodius (the first gen we saw, at least) has had it much worse from design critics, bluntly calling it "ugly." Seen from the side, it had a sloping line from the roof down to the rear. But then the roof really goes all the way to the back, before dropping down almost perpendicularly to complete the van's form. Slapped with windows curving down and pointing up, it seemed like a visual confusion of a box and a tail. It was supposedly inspired by the design of a yacht, which is a boat.
And this leads us to the Tivoli crossover. Does it look odd? No. Is it beautiful? Yes. For a while there, did it look like the Range Rover Evoque? Yes, almost.
This is the new SsangYong, and suddenly it doesn't seem odd to get one now. They have other new cars in their lineup, but the Tivoli appears to be the rock star. The bigger story is that the Tivoli is the first product after Indian carmaker Mahindra acquired the Korean car brand. Now, India is slowly gaining a foothold on the global car market as a maker of cheap cars, giving you the valid next question: how much is the Tivoli?
It starts at P785,000 for the base manual transmission model and tops out at P1,080,000 for the all-in Sport R version.
That's the price of a subcompact on the low end, and a sedan on the high end. but you get a classy crossover across the entire spectrum. That is not a bad deal. But does it drive cheap? Amazingly, no. Man, does it drive like you have money.
The unit we tested, an AWD diesel, long body variant-Tivoli XlVi had a Comfort-Normal-Sport drive selection. Even on Comfort, when the engine works for economy and smooth and early gear changes, it can accelerate pretty fast. On Sport, the engine gives back as much as you demand from it, and in a snap. Across all drive characteristics, the steering feedback is so light it can be too much fun.
Inside, the first thing you will probably fuss over is the touchscreen on the dash. In brochures, it's a 7-inch touchscreen DVD/MP3 player, but really it's a tablet. You can connect with your mobile network and basically do what you do on tablet computers—Google, YouTube, and all other else. There are built-in apps on the screen, with an interesting one being its GPS. When you tap it on, it'll show bar graphs and a map of the globe, showing your exact coordinates. It had the promise of Mission: Impossible, but we never got to learn it.
Overall, the Tivoli offers a premium ride, something that people have come to expect from cars now with all the technology going around. So it's the price that is the real selling point here. The challenge for Ssangyong is in convincing who they say their market is—"the young professionals and middle management executives"—to buy into the brand and forget the gray market reputation.
So we asked SsangYong Philippines' top guy, Mr. David Macasadia, managing director, how he would sell the car if he were a salesman in their showroom and a guy comes in checking the Tivoli out, but is having doubts about buying because he remembers the brand from the gray days.
"The fact that the customer is in the SsangYong showroom means they are curious about the brand—don't know much about it, at best—and probably want to know more," Macasadia says. "I will give him the facts: SsangYong is one of the largest Korean automakers. It has over 60 years of history and has presence in over 115 countries. In short, SsangYong is not a run-of-the-mill vehicle. It's big, it's global, it has history, it has heritage."
"Then I'll ask him to just take a look at it. We're in the showroom anyway. SsangYong may not be a mainstream brand (yet) but the vehicles speak for themselves: our styling is arguably better, and our technology is at par with the most popular brands. In other words, inside we're as good as your mainstream brands, but we look better.
"Then I'll say we are competitively priced and that our dealers are fully equipped to handle their service requirements."
Just take a look at it. That's how you really begin buying cars. On this part, SsangYong looks like they're up for it.