Long-term test review: SsangYong Tivoli

Final report: Diesel drone is the only thing we won't miss about crossover

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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Our time with the SsangYong has been a bit of an eye opener. We didn’t expect to like it as much as we have, but it’s clear the Tivoli is the most capable, desirable and best value model the brand has ever built. It’s not perfect, due to the rattly diesel, but this car is proof that SsangYong is ready to shake off its bargain-basement image.

Mileage: 7,950Economy: 44.7mpg

The SsangYong Tivoli has been a fixture at Auto Express for six months, but now it’s time for the compact crossover to leave our fleet. This gives us the perfect opportunity to reflect on the car tasked with changing the Korean brand’s fortunes in the UK.

Overall, we’ve enjoyed running the SsangYong. With its mix of space, value, and standard kit, it’s proven a popular choice among our staff. However, there’s one thing that’s bugged me the more time I’ve spent with it: the din of its diesel engine.

It’s not so much the volume of the noise (there are louder diesels); it’s more the tone. In lower gears and under load, the 1.6-litre unit has a grating, coarse drone right up the rev range. It’s so unpleasant at times that you find yourself accelerating hard, just to make the noise go away quicker.

Fortunately, once you’re cruising, the engine settles down to a distant murmur, and is rarely intrusive on the motorway, but a bit more sound insulation under the bonnet would make things less irritating. It’s a shame, because in most other respects, this is a competitive engine. It’s a punchy performer, plus we’ve also averaged around 45mpg over the six months, despite a demanding mix of Central London traffic and motorway journeys.

• SsangYong Tivoli in-depth review

It’s telling, too, that the diesel drone is our only real complaint after nearly 8,000 miles with the car. We’ve talked about how SsangYong has entered an extremely competitive sector with the Tivoli, and the product seems to be up to the job.

Inside, despite concerns about a few cheap materials, the Tivoli has stood up well to the demanding needs of various staff members. The cabin still feels solid after months of hard use, with only minor problems arising, like the flimsy string map-holders on the seatbacks falling off occasionally. Everything on the generous kit list has been faultless – particularly the infotainment screen that’s remained slick, clear and easy to operate. We’re also impressed by the lack of any rattles or squeaks around the Tivoli’s cabin.

Initially, the crossover’s suspension tuning left a little to be desired, with the 18-inch alloys picking up most potholes and bumps, and crashing about a bit in town. This seems to have softened up as we’ve piled on the miles, but road noise remains the biggest issue. Still, the upshot is composed and reasonably agile handling.

What’s made the Tivoli stand out as a popular daily driver among the team is the space on offer. I’ve carried large adults in the back on a few long journeys with no complaints, and three can sit fairly comfortably, thanks to the lack of a transmission tunnel. The boot is a good size, too, despite its high loading lip.

It seems that SsangYong has succeeded with its crossover, then. If you’re in the market for a bargain-priced, well equipped, distinctively styled and practical family runaround, look no further than the Tivoli. Just don’t forget your ear plugs...

SsangYong Tivoli: third report

In today’s over-saturated, information-rich age, brand awareness is more important than ever. Thanks to the Internet and wide-reaching advertising, companies are vying to grab the attention of buyers and become the next household name. However, one car marque that’s always struggled to make that leap in the UK is SsangYong.  

We’ve touched on the Korean brand’s image in previous reports, but it’s been a dominating theme throughout our time with the Tivoli. Friends, relatives and even strangers in the street have all asked what it is – “It’s a SsangYong” is fast becoming my unwanted catchphrase. Even then, the familiar reply is either “never heard of it” or “I didn’t know it still sold cars here”.

SsangYong has been selling SUVs, 4x4s and pick-up trucks in the UK for more than two decades now, yet even when its vehicles were marketed under the name of fellow South Korean company Daewoo from 1999-2002, nobody really noticed. 

This identity crisis never used to be a problem when it sold no-nonsense vehicles to those in the know or commercial fleets, but now it’s more of an issue as it tries to tackle one of Europe’s most popular new car sectors – the cut-throat crossover market.

It’s fortunate, then, that the Tivoli is arguably the most competitive car the brand has ever produced. Almost everyone who’s driven or sat in it has reacted positively, including some of my most car-savvy friends. At first, I was convinced it was because the company and car are so unknown that nobody expects much in the first place; but now I’ve realised it’s because it’s a genuinely capable small SUV. 

Arguably, there are more desirable cars in this sector. The Tivoli isn’t unattractive – it’s just that the likes of the Renault Captur and Mazda CX-3 are far more likely to get you noticed. The SsangYong appears a little awkward from some angles, while the mass of tailgate badging in different fonts is just plain messy. Still, the gloss-black alloys and roof that come as part of the £400 Style Pack on our ELX-spec test car make it look classier than its £17,250 price suggests.

And, inside, the Tivoli proves that you don’t have to compromise on space, either. There’s a considerably bigger boot than in a Nissan Juke, and even with three passengers across the back seat, we’ve had few complaints. But there is one thing we’d like to see SsangYong improve when it facelifts the car: the dash design. It’s pretty solid and there’s no shortage of kit, but the hard plastics and fiddly buttons wouldn’t look out of place on a budget-brand stereo. The lack of reach adjustment on the wheel is also frustrating for taller drivers. 

At least the seven-inch touchscreen is slick and easy to use – it could teach some more established brands a thing or two.

We’ve had no complaints about the Tivoli’s motorway cruising abilities over the last 8,000 miles, either. The punchy diesel gives enough overtaking urge, while the seats are comfortable and it’s reasonably refined. Despite a modest 113bhp, it feels quite lively through the gears once the turbo gets up to speed. However, you’ll have to put up with a harsh, gravelly engine note when accelerating, and the engine isn’t as refined as units found in more expensive rivals. 

You’re not going to get excited by the handling, either. It’s tidy and stable, rather than particularly thrilling, but we still wish the ride was a bit smoother around town. You get used to it the more you drive, but sharp bumps still unsettle the car. 

Overall, though, these are flaws we’re happy to put up with during what has been a generally surprising time with SsangYong’s new star.

SsangYong Tivoli: second report

Mileage: 5,740Economy: 52.3mpg

Value brands no longer have the stigma attached to them they once did. You just need to look at major supermarkets to see how the rise of budget chains has developed over the years. 

It’s claimed that almost half of UK households now shop at either Aldi or Lidl, both of which were bit-part players only a few years back. But a shift in public perception now means they’re knocking on the door of the retail giants. 

The same can be said of SsangYong. The Korean brand was a bit of an unknown a few years ago, feeding on the scraps of the SUV market with the boxy Turismo and back-to-basics Rexton. Yet, with the all-new Tivoli, SsangYong has introduced a car into the market which has genuine showroom appeal, and buyers have no choice but to stand up and take notice of the little known newbie, simply because of the value on offer.

• Best crossovers

Our top-spec 1.6D ELX model comes with all the bells and whistles, including a reversing camera, seven-inch touchscreen with navigation, dual-zone climate control and a full leather interior. You also get heated seats, Bluetooth audio and 18-inch alloys. Yes, these are all features you can find on the spec sheets of major rivals such as the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur, but the Tivoli offers this all at a price they simply cannot match.

While low price is one thing, what really impresses about the value supermarkets is their ability to deliver high-quality produce for very little cash. Happily, that appears to be a policy that the Tivoli subscribes to. For instance, on a recent slog from London to Newcastle I was massively impressed atthe SsangYong’s ability as a long-distance cruiser, where it proved comfortable and reasonably refined. After 300 miles in the Tivoli, I emerged ache-free, with the standard cruise control, decent seats and punchy diesel all taking the strain out of the five-hour journey.

And I’m not the only one who’s impressed, as the Tivoli’s blend of decent fuel economy and a surprisingly roomy interior has made it a popular choice with members of staff looking to cover plenty of miles cheaply.

Admittedly, the car isn’t perfect. The various plastics you’ll find dotted around the cabin look a little cheap compared to the mainstream competition and the bold styling still divides opinion. And while the Tivoli is always safe and surefooted, it’s not a car that you’ll drive just for fun, but then neither are its rivals.

Ultimately, though, as with the budget brand supermarkets, the Tivoli demonstrates that paying less doesn’t mean that you have to settle for less.  

SsangYong Tivoli: first report

Mileage: 3,597Economy: 46.0mpg

The first car I drove as an Auto Express journalist was a 2011 SsangYong Korando ELX. Back then, the South Korean brand was a relative newbie in the UK car market. It had just a handful of dealers and an even smaller model line-up. But four years and several new cars later, it should be an established player, right?

Not quite – SsangYong has sold just over 3,000 cars in 2015. While that’s a 114 per cent increase year-on-year, it’s some way behind the 97,000 Peugeots that have found new homes, or the 312,000 models that Ford dealers have shifted since January.

But when we were offered a Tivoli to run on our fleet, we jumped at the chance. It’s a game-changing model from the reinvented brand, and one that bosses want to capitalise on the ever-growing supermini-crossover market – spearheaded in recent years by cars like the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur. SsangYong is hoping it will help boost total sales to 5,000 in 2016, with that figure doubling in the next three years.

On paper, that seems entirely feasible. Our car is the all-singing, all-dancing, top-spec ELX model – the top seller in the range. It costs just £17,250 and comes loaded with kit. Keyless go, 18-inch alloys, auto lights and wipers and tinted rear windows are all standard. It also gets a seven-inch touchscreen with TomTom sat-nav, plus heated leather seats and dual-zone climate control from the mid-range EX.

In fact, this flagship model is such good value that the sales team at Horsham Car Centre in West Sussex haven’t yet sold a single lesser-specced Tivoli. We picked our car up earlier this month, and were greeted by boss John Pudney and sales executive Dean Stogdon. On a wet and windy Monday morning, it seemed little could dampen their spirits as they talked me through all the features we could find on our new Tivoli.

As they rattled through the spec sheet, it quickly became clear how much time and thought the Koreans had put into this hugely important car. Stogdon pointed out items like the customisable dials and centre console with iPad holder, plus the heated leather seats and space-saver spare wheel – features you just don’t see on similarly priced rivals.

On the open road, the SsangYong feels strong and stable; and the 1.6 diesel is the engine to go for. There is a petrol option, yet that’s a little underpowered. Our car feels punchy when you put your foot down in third gear, although low revs result in a type of lag rarely associated with modern diesels. It is frugal, though – we’re managing close to 50mpg on steady motorway journeys.

Elsewhere, the 18-inch alloy wheels and firm suspension result in a slightly harsh ride, and the lack of reach adjustment in the steering column is proving a little frustrating for one or two of my colleagues. You do get used to the driving position, however, and it would be very harsh to call the car uncomfortable. Interior quality isn’t quite up to VW standards, but, then again, neither are the great-value list prices.

It’s not the most desirable car around, but the Tivoli is a stylish and roomy supermini- crossover with heaps of kit – and it’s cheaper than a top-spec Ford Fiesta. There’s a five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty, too, which will be a big selling point for many buyers.

Insurance quote (below) provided by AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old living in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

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