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Ssangyong Tivoli review: First drive

The Good

  • Quirky crossover styling
  • Likable drive
  • Cheap

The Bad

  • Only certain configurations are economical
3.5

Ben Griffin takes the latest Korean crossover for a spin in his Ssangyong Tivoli review and finds it to be a quirky runaround that really benefits from a new diesel engine.

Mention Ssangyong to the average bystander and you can expect a confused or judgemental look, but then it has released some frankly awful cars. The wallet-friendly Tivoli is, however, a huge improvement on past efforts, as we discovered while driving around Buckinghamshire.

Would you choose it over a Nissan Juke, Renault Captur or other quirky crossovers, of which there are so many? With the new Euro 6 diesel in tow, added in August 2015, you just might. Here’s why.

Design

Fresh is the most apt word to describe the Tivoli, closely followed by boxy. It looks somewhere between a Mini, Nissan Juke and a Skoda Fabia. 

It may lack the panache of cars like the Nissan Juke but it shares the same level of quirkiness and should be given credit. Look at the Rexton and you will see Ssangyong has made huge amounts of progress in the cool department. 

The interior is well designed, too, and has an uncluttered layout let down only by the ugly storage compartment in the dashboard and some slightly ugly plastic here and there. Even the most basic spec looks the part, with chunky, no-nonsense switches and buttons throughout. 

Higher-spec models benefit from a 7-inch colour display and infotainment system that has integrated TomTom navigation if you pay a little extra. There’s even a HDMI connection for hooking-up certain mobile devices for video playback. 

Taking a leaf out of Fiat and Mini’s book, the Tivoli can be customised using the My Tivoli personalisation programme, which lets you choose from five two-tone colour roof combinations, red leather and six exterior paintjobs.

Practicality

Having such a high roof does harm its appearance slightly, but sit inside and you can see the benefit. 6-footers are easily accommodated, while the space for long legs is nearly as impressive. 

It’s a roomy cabin, make no mistake, with good-sized door pockets and storage areas. The boot is impressive, too, with 423 litres available with the seats up. A Juke offers 354 litres and a Renault Captur has 455 litres so it punches with the best of them. 

The front seats are comfortable and supportive enough to make long journeys a pleasure. We also liked the massive windscreen and slightly raised ride position, which makes it easy to drive.

Performance & handling

We drove both the petrol and diesel versions and we have to admit the latter is far superior. Sure, it grumbles a bit at higher revs but the 300Nm of torque available from 1,500rpm means you can get away with lazy gear shifts to keep it quiet. 

It may lack an impressive 0-62mph time, but you can overtake in most gears fast enough to keep your other half from panicking and it’s more responsive than we expected it to be, with turbo lag minimal.

The petrol, by comparison, is flat, gutless, sounds really rattly and is less fuel efficient and therefore undoes a lot of Ssanyong’s hard work to make the Tivoli likable. It is, however, £2,250 cheaper, but we would still front up the extra as it will pay off in the long run.

The six-speed manual gearbox may have a rather long throw between gears, but it is smooth and weighty without being too much work. An Aisin six-speed automatic (as found in the Mini) is available for the lazier among us, but the fuel economy drop is sizable. 

The extra oomph of the diesel helps remind you the chassis is actually capable of going into a corner and making it out without drama. It offers a likable drive that makes up for a slightly harsh and often unsettled ride with enthusiasm and light, accurate steering. It is possible to go for a 4×4 model if you find yourself wanting a bit more traction.

Economy & environment

The Euro 6-compliant turbo diesel can achieve a claimed 65.7mpg with the manual and 51.4mpg with the automatic. 

It will also manage CO2 emissions of 113g/km for the two-wheel drive manual version, making it cheap to tax. The manual two-wheel drive petrol comes in at 149g/km, which is reasonable, although eclipsed by other cars in its class like the Juke. 

The automatic is more expensive and makes the Tivoli much less competitive than its rivals, with as little as sub-40mpg for the petrol version and the claimed figure could be somewhat generous.

Equipment & value

There are three trim levels, starting from the entry-level SE. It comes with 16-inch alloys, smart grey cloth trim, stop/go system for saving fuel when idle, cruise control, smart steering and an RDS radio with Bluetooth. Not exactly a barren spec sheet given the £12,950 starting price for the petrol.

Next up is EX, which adds the option of an auto, grey or beige leather upholstery, 18-inch Spiral alloys, 7-inch infotainment display, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear view camera, front fog lights, heated front seats and a luggage load cover.

ELX, which is the top spec, has posher alloys, a smart instrument cluster, front and rear parking sensors, privacy glass, rear spoiler, automatic headlamps, full TomTom navigation, keyless ignition and the option of the Styling (£400) and Red leather (£350) packs. It starts from £16,000.

It’s worth noting Ssangyong offers a five-year limitless warranty on the Tivoli, which is great for peace of mind and more generous than its rivals. That, and being cheaper than other cars in its class (bar the mundane Dacia Duster) makes it tempting.

Safety

Seven airbags makes the Tivoli a safe bet in the event of a crash, but the lack of emergency braking and lane assist will undoubtedly hamper it when it is Euro NCAP tested. It is, however, seemingly well built.

Conclusion

We have to hand it to Ssangyong, this really is the car to put it on the map and change customer perceptions. It drives well, looks as good as its rivals and is great value for money.

But it starts to pale in comparison if you get a bit crazy with the optional extras (not that you need to) and is off the pace in terms of economy when equipped with the diesel and automatic gearbox. 

It is, therefore, worth fronting up a bit extra for the diesel and stick with the mid-range EX at most. Do that and the Tivoli is a viable alternative to the usual crowd that will cost you nothing in repairs for five years providing, of course, you are happy explaining what it is everytime someone sees it.

Specification

Engine1.6-litre e-XDi 160 turbo diesel
Power113bhp (115PS)
Torque221lb/ft (300Nm) from 1,500rpm
Acceleration0-62mph in 12 seconds
Emissions113g/km of CO2
Economy65.7mpg (combined)
PriceFrom £12,950

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