By Andy Enright
The SsangYong Korando is a vehicle that's been easy for the British public to overlook. After all, if you're in the market for a compact SUV, you could choose as Toyota RAV4, a Honda CR-V, a Mazda CX-5, a Hyundai ix35, a Kia Sportage or any one of a vast array of competitors, many of whom have bigger research and development budgets and all of which have deeper pockets with which to promote their products. So why would you choose a used Korando of all things?
It's a rugged thing, and offers decent choice regarding trim, chassis setups and engine choice. Best of all, because there's such little public recognition, you can pick a solid used Korando up for much less than you'd think. All of which makes it a worthwhile used bet if you pride yourself on not following the pack.
Remember the old Korando of the Nineties? Probably not. That was a distinctly unlovely thing and SsangYong would probably have been better advised to rename this vehicle to bury memories of that car. Still, we did get an all-new Korando launched in 2011 and a very pleasant surprise it was too. Of course, a cynic could say it didn't have much to live up to, but the 2011 Korando looked good, featured a powerful but vocal diesel engine and wasn't too badly finished inside either. It could have been a contender but for some wholly optimistic pricing that ruled it from most people's shortlists.
SsangYong tried to spark interest with the introduction of a special edition LE model in early 2012, introduced with a low interest finance deal and the carrot of five years free servicing and warranty. It barely caused a ripple, so it was just as well that bigger changes were to come. The following month saw a revised Korando appear at the Geneva Motor Show. Both convenience and safety specifications were improved, while CO2 emissions were also driven down. A newly added 2.0-litre 148bhp diesel engine brought emissions down to 147g/km (2WD, manual) and 157g/km (AWD, manual). The Korando also got a chrome-coated mesh radiator grille, while inside, the trim was upgraded to a carbon grain pattern with a high gloss finish applied to the switchgear and an improved LED illuminated instrument cluster. SsangYong's engineering team also strove to reduce the Korando's NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) with revised gearing along with a new engine casing to reduce diesel engine noise.
This generation Korando soldiered on until late 2013 when the car was revised again with a more extensive facelift. Most importantly, SsangYong managed to slash the asking price.
What You Pay (used_pay)
What You Get
The interior is cleanly styled, albeit a little shy of toys for those who expect Korean cars to come with more buttons and gadgets than a branch of PC World. Hide the badge on the steering wheel and few would be able to identify quite what car they were sitting in. Come to think of it, few would be able to identify the vehicle even with the help of the SsangYong badge on the wheel, but the build quality feels reasonably good, even if some of the materials have clearly - and justifiably - been built down to match the car's price. Rear legroom is generous, although the flipside of this looks to be a luggage capacity of 486-litres which is some way off the best in class.
What to Look For
The latest Korando has proven reliable, the old problems SsangYong had with vacuum pipes long since being laid to rest. Both the 148bhp and 173bhp turbodiesel engines are tough units but keep an eye on oil levels once a month. Look for signs of neglect from off-road excursions such as battered exhaust back boxes, broken wheel arch liners and hedge scratches on the paintwork. The interiors are also fairly indestructible but the metallic plastic finishes can quickly lose their lustre.
(approx based on an Korando S 2.0) SsangYong parts aren't too expensive, given that it's a low volume importer. You'll need to set aside around £180 for a starter motor and £140 for an alternator with tyres costing around £90 per corner. Front brake pads are a modest £45 a set.
On the Road
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the latest Korando is its choice of engine. Whereas SsangYongs of yore were powered by some rather superannuated Mercedes-Benz diesel powerplants, the Korean company has got a little ambitious this time round and developed its own diesel engine. That it has done this against a financial background best described as chaotic is a miracle in itself. The engine many will look to is a 173bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel unit and initially was the only unit offered with the Korando. The most popular option was the entry-level front-wheel drive model but there's also a four-wheel drive variant and a six-speed auto gearbox as well.
At idle, the car is fairly refined but extend it and there's plenty of noise with a relatively narrow usable power band, the engine's best work being done between 2000 and 3,000rpm. This means you'll need to work the gearbox, which isn't the slickest. Soft springs and bushings means decent ride quality and cornering is better than would be expected given the well cushioned ride. The steering takes a little getting used to, with a rather odd sponginess in of-centre feel. With 266lb/ft of torque to call upon, the front-wheel drive Korando can step off the mark quite smartly and gets to 60mph in 9.7s on the way to a 111mph maximum speed. Torque is readily available across a broad plateau from 1,600 to 5,300rpm, which means that you'll rarely be caught off boost.
We're usually advocates of the 'more is better' approach when it comes to diesel engine torque and power, but in this instance less is more. Do yourself a favour and focus on the 148bhp engine that was introduced a few months after the 173bhp unit. This is a sweeter thing and here the benefits of SsangYong's revised engine mounts and improved soundproofing around the engine bay are more apparent. It's still not the most hushed powerplant in it's class by a long chalk, but it's perfectly acceptable, especially at this price point. With a manual box, it'll get to 62mph in less than ten seconds, registering exactly the same time as the 173bhp diesel.
The SsangYong Korando won't be for everyone. After driving it, you'll probably feel that it doesn't match the refinement and cohesion of design of the very best Japanese and Korean compact 4x4s and you'd probably be right. Still, if you don't mind that it's not the last word in slickness, it has a lot going for it. The high prices that crippled its sales are but a memory when buying used and there are real bargains out there. If all you need is a reliable and comfortable SUV that has a bit of poke, there's a lot to be said for the Korando.