Brief encounter: SsangYong Korando EX

Major Waffle New cars

Location: Bowood Hotel, Wiltshire

Date: 5th October 2011

Korando. It sounds like the name of a detective in a US cop show from the 1970s. He'd probably drive a Buick Riviera, have a penchant for a glass or two of Scotch and be a complete failure with the ladies. But he would of course be the world's best detective and have an ability to solve a murder using nothing more than a doughnut and a discarded match. In short, Lieutenant Korando would rock.

Sadly there is no Lieutenant Korando, but for as little as £16,995, you could get behind the wheel of SsangYong's new SUV. The name Korando is deconstructed from 'Korea Can Do' and has been in use since 1983. It's fair to say that the second and third generation cars were a little aesthetically challenged, but they did have the benefit of Mercedes-Benz power plants. The new Korando is a ground-up redesign and includes SsangYong's own 2.0 litre 4-cylinder diesel engine. The company clearly has faith in the unit as the Korando comes complete with a five year, unlimited mileage warranty. Impressive.

SsangYong Korado EX frontThe first thing that strikes you about the Korando is that, unlike the majority of recent SsangYongs, it actually looks quite attractive. In order to address the obvious styling issues of previous models, SsangYong called in 'Il Maestro' himself, Mr Giorgetto Giugiaro. Sure, the Korando doesn't have the same impact as say the MK1 Golf or Lotus Esprit, but by not making small children cry when they see it, the look can be put down as a huge step forward. To my eyes it's better looking than the dull Nissan Qashqai or the fussy Hyundai ix35.

Once inside, the Korando is less impressive and it's easy to see where any cost savings have been made. The quality of some of the plastics used is questionable and the overall design feels dated and uninspiring. Cars in this sector have to put up with a lot of abuse and hard use, so it will be interesting to see how the interior feels once the car is a few years old.

SsangYong Korado EX interiorAn area where the Korando excels is the level of standard kit you get for your money. I drove the range topping EX model priced at £21,445 and for that price you are treated to a range of toys that would be optional on many competitor cars. Highlights include front and rear air conditioning, electric driver's seat, front and rear heated leather seats, windscreen de-icer, cruise control, parking sensors, front, side and curtain airbags, Bluetooth connectivity and steering wheel controls. My test car included a set of 18" 'Ethos' alloy wheels (£1,418) and detachable tow bar and electrics at £602.

Which brings me nicely on to the Korando's USP - its towing capabilities. The car's 2.0 diesel engine generates 360Nm of torque and when combined with the car's structural rigidity, the Korando delivers 2 tonnes of towing capacity with an 80kg tow bar limit. Factor in the EX's 'Torque on Demand' 4x4 system and you can easily see the Korando becoming a favourite within caravan and boat owning circles. SsangYong claims that the Korando is the most powerful towing car in its class, so you can expect to find yourself stuck behind one as you make your way past Stonehenge next summer.

So far we've established that the SsangYong isn't offensive to look at, has one or two toys and has enough power to pull the roof off a rice pudding factory, but what's it like to drive?

Surprisingly good. If you're approaching the Korando and looking for a razor-sharp B-road warrior, then look away now. But it is possible to press on and approach corners in a way that belies the Korando's tall stance. Body roll is minimal and the steering is direct and consistent. As you'd imagine, steering feel is virtually non-existent.

The engine delivers 175bhp and it's enough to propel the Korando along at a reasonable rate. Sadly though, it does feel rather unrefined and there's a constant gruff and unappealing engine note. In common with other engines of this nature, the power delivery is mostly in the mid range and it soon runs out of puff when changing up through the gears. My car came fitted with a six-speed 'box, although an automatic option is available. Fuel economy is a respectable 44.1MPG on a combined cycle.

SsangYong Korado EX interiorThe final word should be on space, because this is something the Korando has in abundance. There's easily enough room in the cabin to seat five adults comfortably and the boot offers 486 litres of space. More good news is you find yourself pulling a boat or caravan around on a regular basis then?

That just about summarises by brief encounter with the SsangYong Korando. As I gave the keys back to the SsangYong team as I was asked what I thought. After a brief pause, I replied with 'surprisingly good'. This is a fitting conclusion for a car that deserves to do well.

Whether it does or not is down to a number of factors, some of which are out of SsangYong's control. First up is the subject of image. SsangYong's brand reputation in the UK could probably fall into one of two categories - non existent or mixed. After years in the wilderness, the brand needs some support if it's to take the likes of Nissan and Hyundai head on. Without a substantial marketing budget, this will be tough.

SsangYong Korado EX rearThe second problem is the dealer network. SsangYong tells me that it's currently engaged in a full scale dealer recruitment programme and that the number of dealers has risen to 50. But taking my area in the south west alone, it looks like Exeter, Andover, Malmesbury and Bristol are your only options if you live in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire or Somerset. There's work to be done.

The final problem I foresee is depreciation. The price and level of standard equipment when new make for a tempting proposition, but future values have to be taken into consideration. However, one must assume that the five year warranty will help matters considerably.

But in my book, the SsangYong Korando is a welcome addition to the UK market. It's available in front-wheel drive form if required and can be yours for as little as £16,995, putting it head to head with the likes of the Qashqai.

Assuming you've got a SsangYong dealer in the same county as you, the Korando is certainly worth adding to your shortlist.

Just 'one more thing', if you're looking to arrange a test drive, 'book 'em, Danno'. Or 'keep 'em peeled'. Or 'do it'. Over and out.