KOREAN IS SLOW BUT
On first inspection the SsangYong Musso offers a whole lot at a competitive price. Andrew Pearce takes a closer look
SOMETIMES a car comes along which might just be a mould-breaker. SsangYongs Musso is one of those cars
Built in Korea to a clean-sheet design, the Musso certainly looks different. It sounds different, thanks to the offbeat note of a five-cylinder Mercedes diesel under its swoopy English-designed bodywork. And with prices in the £16,000-£21,000 range, it intends to set about rivals in the Discovery/Frontera bracket.
Wot, no turbo?
As Mercedes holds a stake in the company, the Koreans naturally looked to Germany for power. Currently a non-turbocharged 2.9-litre diesel is the Mussos only option, although petrol alternatives are promised.
The motors five cylinders slip neatly into a commodious engine bay. Its a sweet but tame unit, generating 94hp at 4100rpm and 135lbf ft torque very high in the band at 2500-2800rpm. Youd be right in thinking this is not a recipe for excitement, yet the motor can surprise.
It needs to be revved like a petrol engine, for nothing much happens in the lower half of the range where diesel grunt usually resides. Most of the time the unit sounds exactly what it is; half-way between a four and a six. Wind it up and the note smooths out; then, while the Musso doesnt exactly take off, it gets along quite nicely. Thats fine for main roads and motorways – on gradients the car holds its speed – but lack of bottom-end punch is a trial down country lanes.
The car really needs a turbocharger, and it cant be long before somebody offers the option. The existing motor would fare better given a smooth-shifting gearbox, but sometimes the five-speed Borg Warner baulks badly. That, plus an awkward seat/pedal relationship and light throttle, can make fluid progress hard to achieve.
Odd driveline hiccups aside, the occupants travel in space and some style. The four-door shell is exceptionally well put together and provides masses of room behind the rear seats. The rear bench split-folds 50/50, room is fine all round, and the mighty one-piece tailgate makes a useful umbrella.
Seats are relaxing on long runs and the ventilation is OK. Despite this, some passengers moaned about a headachy atmosphere inside the car, suggesting that trim plastics might be to blame. Others noted the lack of a centre console box.
Something not in short supply is electronic gadgetry. Owners may want to strangle the cars tinny Oriental warning chimes, and all but the deeply paranoid will question doors which lock automatically above 35mph and stay that way until either the engine stops, or someone unlocks them.
In trying to combine a luxury car ride with good rough ground ability, SsangYong has taken the long-travel, soft springing route. The Musso pulls off a passable limo imitation on smooth roads, but both byway humps and the brakes set the front bouncing and the body rocking.
Its all soft, damped movement, which some would argue is better than a hard ride. But rear seat dwellers didnt take to it, although none crossed the final frontier into travel sickness.
Rack and pinion steering turned out to be another mixed blessing. While the setup certainly delivers sharp response and reasonable lock, it wriggles and kicks the tiller on broken tarmac and delivers uncomfortably strong self-centring through bends. A driver gets used to it, but the system still falls short of SsangYongs quality-car aspirations.
Corners are taken relatively flat. Turn-in is quick, though some of the steerings sharpness is diluted in slow bends. Grip is good through 235-section tyres and the handling is understeer-safe. Braking is well up to standard, too.
Twisting a dashboard knob shifts to and from all-wheel-drive at speeds up to 44mph. To change range the Musso needs to be stopped and the clutch pedal floored.
Low range is a big step down. Bottom gear becomes a seriously low ratio, offering snail-like clambering ability and terrific engine braking when grip is there. Second and third are both useable, and in lower gears the engines lack of snap actually helps by offsetting the bouncy throttle and damping driver error. Only sudden demands for action in higher gears leave the motor flustered.
With the standard limited slip diff driving the rear, the Musso scooted over a dry route and smoothed out some sections which had bothered others. Suspension travel is good and the occupants get an easy ride on rippled tracks. The steering is always jittering, while big ruts can make it kick.
So there it is. As things stand the Musso is no mould-breaker – more a well-put-together sheep in natty wolves clothing. But as the Koreans are unlikely to let grass grow under their feet, watch for developments.
• Model: SsanYong Musso SE.
• Engine: 2.9-litre, five-cylinder diesel.
• Power: 94hp at 4100rpm.
• Torque: 135lb ft at 2500-2800rpm.
• Weight: 1810kg.
• Towing capacity: 2.3t.
• Quoted max speed: 91mph.
• Test fuel consumption: 30mpg.
• Price: £17,498.
Left: SsangYongs Musso brings a fresh look to the 4×4 world. But does it break new ground? Below: Electric convenience. Dashboard switch selects 4WD up to 44mph, or low range with the car stopped and clutch down. Automatic front hubs complete a good package.
Above left: Musso interior is tailored in shades of grey. Instruments are clear, switches haphazard, steering wheel slippery but comfortably small. Over-chunky gear knob controls "baulky" box. Above right:Commodious space, low sill and substantial one-piece tailgate add up to a useful load area. Rear seat splits 50/50.