SsangYong’s experience in the off-road sector might come in handy, because the Tivoli faces a real uphill battle in the UK. That’s not to say the car isn’t very good – far from it. It’s just that it’s playing in one of the most crowded sectors in the business.
Buyers can’t get enough of the so-called compact crossover and carmakers are all too keen to satisfy this insatiable demand. Can the SsangYong Tivoli compete?
It deserves to. While readers of PetrolBlog may bemoan the death of the three-box saloon and ridiculous number of niches thrust upon us by greedy carmakers, it’s easy to appreciate the appeal of the compact crossover. They tend to feel more special than a standard hatchback and are – for the most part – more practical. They’re also easy to drive, offer a commanding driving position and are – generally speaking – cheaper to run than an SUV. The SsangYong Tivoli satisfies all these demands and more.
So what’s the problem? Well, for most people, SsangYong remains an unknown quantity in the UK. Where there is awareness of the brand, it is known for producing big, value-driven SUVs. Dependable, safe, reliable, fit-for-purpose – all fine and dandy. But the Tivoli needs to appeal to a completely different audience. The compact crossover is less about hauling boats to the marina or towing caravans to the seaside and more about street appeal, good looks and a smart interior.
The sector is littered with convincing cars. The Fiat 500X is great to drive and can call upon on many millions of Fiat 500 owners who one day will want something a little bigger. The Renault Captur feels like a pumped-up Renault Clio, which – in case you were wondering – is a good thing. The all-new Suzuki Vitara is also remarkably good and can play the value card just as well as the SsangYong Tivoli. The word on the street is that the Mazda CX-3 has what it takes to trump the lot.
You can almost hear potential buyers discussing “that big version of the Fiat 500” over dinner. Or “the car that looks like a Renault Clio, but isn’t.” Or noticing the loud and proud Suzuki badges on the Vitara and knowing enough about the brand to go in search of more information.
Folk may spot the SsangYong Tivoli on the road and have no clue what it is or how to find out more about it. And that’s taking into account the delightfully retro/terribly kitsch (delete as applicable) T.I.V.O.L.I letters on the tailgate.
It speaks volumes about the sector that the majority of Renault Capturs and Suzuki Vitaras you spot on the road seem to be painted in the brightest possible colours. Both Atlantic Turquoise and Horizon Orange are popular on the Vitara and the Suzuki wears them well. Buyers will enjoy using the online car configurators to spec their ideal compact crossover, something that isn’t possible via the SsangYong website. Which could create a problem.
There isn’t such a vibrant range of colours to choose from, either. Grand White, Silent Silver, Techno Grey, Dandy Blue and Space Black are just too predictable, while Jazz Brown isn’t as jazzy as it sounds and will probably be more popular on the continent. Which leaves Flaming Red and Ice Cap Blue as the most cheerful colours. Where are the vibrant orange, turquoise or lime green options? To give the Tivoli a fighting chance, SsangYong should encourage its dealers to order demo vehicles in the most striking colour. Make it stand out in the often wet and miserable UK.
Here’s the thing. Because the Tivoli isn’t the fashionable choice in the sector, SsangYong has worked hard to give it genuine appeal in other areas. Look beyond the badge and you’ll find a hugely likeable and utterly convincing car. The SsangYong Tivoli is a car you’ll buy with your head, rather than your heart.
As Loyd Grossman might say: David, it’s over to you. No, wait, not that. Let’s look at the evidence…
Blimey, the SsangYong Tivoli is cheap. But more than that, the Tivoli is also excellent value for money. Slum it in the poverty-spec two-wheel drive petrol-engined SE model and you’ll pay just £12,950.
Only you won’t be slumming it, because even the base-spec gets air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, stop-start, remote keyless entry, seven airbags, a natty d-cut steering wheel and a mini spare wheel.
The true value comes in the EX spec, which adds dual-zone climate control, 18-inch alloys, heated leather seats, steering wheel and gear knob, a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Bluetooth, reversing camera and front fog lights. All this for as little as £14,600.
Spend £16,000 and you can have the bells and whistles ELX spec, with added 18-inch diamond cut alloys, smart instrument cluster, keyless start, front and rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers, TomTom sat nav, power folding mirrors, tinted rear glass and a roof spoiler.
In fact, the most you’ll pay is £19,500 for the top-spec ELX with four-wheel drive and a diesel engine. You won’t get value for money like that from any of the big-name rivals. The SsangYong Tivoli is the Aldi or Lidl of the car world.
SsangYong’s five-year warranty is properly good. Not only is it limitless mileage, but it also covers the battery and audio system. The warranty also covers light commercial users.
To reiterate, the SsangYong Tivoli is a car you’ll buy with your head, not your heart.
It’s at this point that you’d expect the arguments in favour of the SsangYong Tivoli would start to fall apart. OK, so not literally, but the interiors in previous SsangYong models have been a bit rubbish.
Not so in the SsangYong Tivoli. While there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the interior, everything is well laid out and the fit and finish is well above what you’d expect for a car costing so little. Being ultra critical, it perhaps feels as though it was designed a decade ago, but on the plus side, this means SsangYong hasn’t gone down the route of putting all the controls on the touchscreen.
The (award-winning) seats are excellent, too, especially if you opt for leather, which is standard on the EX and ELX models. If the mood takes you, there’s a red interior package on offer, which is perfect if you fancy the look of a Rover 200 BRM. This is no bad thing. We all love a good Rover 200 BRM.
There’s plenty of headroom in the rear seats, although the so-called ‘seatback band’ storage system will dig into the knees of taller passengers. Maybe SsangYong should have called them the Fatback Bands?
The boot offers a useful 423 litres of space, but while the 60:40 spilt rear seats do fold down, they do leave a huge step between them and the boot floor. There are also plenty of storage pockets, including a centre console box specifically designed to house an iPad and an upper open tray on the dashboard, which is the perfect place to put your phone. Get SsangYong, with its new millennium thinking.
To say the SsangYong Tivoli looks like a cut-price Range Rover Evoque would be stretching things, but it’s a handsome little thing. Note the pumped-up haunches and floating roof design. Such design cues are nothing new in this segment, but they mean the Tivoli slots neatly into a crowded sector.
Undoubtedly it looks at its best in ELX trim, largely thanks to the roof spoiler and diamond cut alloy wheels. There’s a hint of Nissan Juke here, a touch of Suzuki Vitara there and yes – a dash of Evoque, too.
For now at least, you’re limited to 1.6-litre petrol engine, although a 1.6-litre diesel engine will be available later this year. As you’d expect from a 1.6-litre non-turbocharged petrol engine offering 126bhp at 6,000rpm, you really need to push the Tivoli hard to get the best from it. It’s not the most characterful of engines and it sounds coarse at the upper reaches of the rev range, but you suspect that it and the gear ratios have been set up with economy in mind. It’s generally pleasant enough to drive and for most people, that will be enough.
It also rides surprisingly well and feels composed through the corners. Expect razor-sharp dynamics and enjoyment from the Tivoli and you’re likely to be disappointed. But for ease of use and comfort, it’s very good. It can get a tad noisy at motorway speeds, with the engine having to work hard, plus a fair amount of wind and road noise.
Quite frankly, who cares what your neighbours will think? Here’s a car you can buy today and enjoy total piece of mind until the year 2020. This isn’t something you can say about many of its rivals. If there’s a SsangYong dealer near you, you should really think about checking it out for yourself. It will almost certainly be much, much better than you expect it to be.
The SsangYong Tivoli captures the spirit of PetrolBlog to a tee. It’s understated, not the obvious choice and offers truly exceptional value for money. We just have to hope that in years to come we don’t look back on it as an obscure little car that deserved greater success than it actually achieved.
Apologies for using stock images. It was a wet day in Italy and there was no time to get good photos.