By Jonathan Crouch
The Korando was the first really credible car that SsangYong brought us, launched in 2011 to compete as a more affordable alternative in the market for compact SUVs and family-sized Crossovers. It offered lusty torque from its 2.0-litre eXDi diesel engine and the option of more 4WD ability than you'd usually expect from a car of this class. To improve this model's sales momentum, SsangYong facelifted it in 2013 to create the version we're going to look at here as a potential used car buy, this variant lasting until 2015 when the brand introduced its slightly more powerful and efficient 2.2-litre engine. If you're shopping in this segment, is this a contender you should be seriously considering? Let's find out.
Remember the old Korando of the Nineties? Probably not - and that's just as well: it was a distinctly unlovely thing. The very different Korando model launched in 2011 was a much more class-competitive thing, with smart Giugiaro styling and a competitive 2.0-litre diesel engine. Most importantly, it was the first of the Korean brand's models to feature a car-like monocoque chassis for reasonable tarmac handling.
Sales were modest to start with, despite the fact that this was a Toyota RAV4-style vehicle for up to £10,000 less. Still, things picked up as SsangYong's UK dealer network expanded. Here, we're looking at the facelifted version that launched in 2013 and sold until the brand further revised the range with a larger 2.2-litre diesel engine in late 2015.
What You Pay
What You Get
This modern era Korando wasn't only the first SsangYong to feature more car-like monocoque underpinnings. It was also the first one with styling you'd really be quite pleased to see on your driveway. For this, the South Koreans had 'Il Maestro', Giorgetto Giugiaro to thank, a man known as one of the great automotive stylists of his generation and responsible for designs as diverse and enduring and the DeLorean and the Fiat Panda. In the clean, sculpted look of the original version of this car, there was certainly evidence of the master's deft touch and this updated model doesn't deviate too far from that, simply modernising the look with sleek projector headlamps and LED daytime running lights framing a reshaped black grille and lower air intakes. SsangYong hopes it's enough to create a sharper, more contemporary look.
Get up close and personal and you'll notice the squat stance, beefy wheel arch bulges and sharply rising belt line carrying through to a smart tailgate that also features LED lighting. Lifting it reveals 486-litres, which is usefully more than you'd get in a Nissan Qashqai or Hyundai ix35 from this era. If you need more, then pushing forward the 60/40 split-folding rear bench reveals 1,312-litres.
Take a seat at the wheel and you'll find yourself in a reasonably smart interior with sharp, angular styling quite reminiscent of the far pricier Hyundai Santa Fe, which is no bad thing. SsangYong has also taken note of the way its Korean competitor brands have been better using aluminium-look trim and soft-touch plastics and the result, providing you can overlook the artificial wood trim, is a far more inviting cabin than that of the original model. You might not think you were in a much more expensive Sportage or a Qashqai but it's certainly a world away from the Bulgarian thrift store feeling you get sat in a Dacia Duster, the only other car in this segment able to approach this Korando's asking price.
Storage is reasonably ample with a practically-sized central cubby and decently shaped side door pockets. The stereo system's built into the dash with a standard set-up that's much easier to use than the fiddly Kenwood DAB system that top-spec variants offered with or without satnav. Getting comfortable at the wheel isn't a problem thanks to a height-adjustable driver's seat and a reach and rake-adjustable steering wheel. Plus, thank goodness, there's a proper conventional handbrake, rather than one of those fiddly electric button ones. The build quality feels reasonable and though there are still a few more hard plastics than you'll find on many more city-orientated rivals, these do feel better suited to a tough and durable life.
Whatever your feeling is on that, you certainly can't argue with the amount of rear seat space on offer. This is the only car in this class (premium brand models included) able to comfortably transport three fully-sized adults on the back seat for any distance - long journeys helped by the fact that the seat backs recline, while the seats themselves are even heated on top models. Rear legroom is quite plentiful, aided for the passenger in the middle of the rear seat by the fact that, unlike many of its rivals, this car has no bulky transmission tunnel.
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.
Few problems have been reported amongst owners. A few people we came across had had transmission issues and one owner had experienced the engine light staying on during use. Other owners had experienced a few issues in terms of hesitation and unevenness in acceleration which was solved by correcting a partly sticking EGR valve.
(approx based on a 2014 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
You'd expect an up and coming brand to borrow an engine - or at least engine technology - from someone more established for a car of this importance. Especially in this case, with SsangYong's modern era history in relying upon elderly Mercedes oily bits under the bonnet. But no, with this Korando, the Korean company has gone it alone and produced its own in-house diesel - and a very powerful one too, a 2.0-litre e-XDi unit developing a pokey 149PS in manual gearbox form. This, remember, in a segment where every other sub-£20,000 contender offers less than 120PS. There's a slight running cost penalty to pay in exchange for this kind of grunt of course - but in return, you get the kind of performance and pulling power that you'd otherwise have to find a lot more for in this class of car. Sounds tempting doesn't it?
You can get this surprisingly effective powerplant mated to either two or four wheel drive but either way, you're looking at a car that'll be significantly quicker than just about all its competitors, sixty achievable from rest in 9.9s on the way to a theoretical maximum of 116mph. To put this showing into perspective, that's about two seconds and 8mph quicker than the kind of 1.7-litre CRDi diesel Kia Sportage or Hyundai ix35 you'd pay significantly more for. Where you really feel that difference is in pulling power - and when you come to things like towing. This car has 360Nm of torque, which means that it can tug 2.0 tonnes: the 1.7-litre Kia and Hyundai rival models we've just mentioned can manage just 1.3 tonnes. Quite a difference. There's also a decently capable 80kg towbar limit. It is, in summary, the most powerful towing car in its class. Not surprising then, that in 2014, the Caravan Club voted it a 'Towcar of the Year' class winner. They reckon there's nothing else in this segment that's a better load lugger.
That'll sell this car to many potential buyers right off the bat, whatever its other attractions. These people will probably also want the Torque-On-Demand 4x4 system fitted to the all-wheel drive variant that around two-thirds of buyers chose from new. It's one of those set-ups that is constantly able to shunt torque around to the wheel that has most grip so that power is always used efficiently. Unlike some of its rivals, this particular system also has a 'Lock' mode, selectable should you be on very loose or slippery surfaces or find yourself with this SsangYong somewhere you really shouldn't have ventured in the first place. Here, drive is allocated equally between front and rear wheels to give you the best possible chance of extricating yourself.
Not that this should suggest a Korando to be a fully-fledged off roader: it isn't. All previous Ssangyong models have been but to facilitate that, they've needed clunky ladder-framed chassis' which has sometimes meant pick-up quality standards of ride and handling. That would have got this Korando nowhere in tarmac comparisons with Qashqai-like Crossovers and soft roading-style SUVs. Hence the Korean company's decision at this model's original introduction to use a more car-like monocoque chassis for the very first time. It's still enough though, to make this car as capable off piste as most owners will ever need it to be, with an approach angle of 22.8 degrees, a departure angle of 28.2 degrees and a ramp angle of 18.5 degrees. Surprising though, that the engineers haven't fitted the kind of Hill Descent Control system that's now quite commonplace in this segment to help your vehicle slither down steep slopes. There is a Hill Holder clutch though, that'll aid you starting off up them.
But of course most of this will be pretty irrelevant for the majority of potential Korando buyers, quite a number of whom will be quite happy with a front-driven two-wheel drive model. Either way, two or four-wheel drive, what'll one of these feel like in this car's more natural habitat, on-tarmac? Well not as sharp as one of the class-leading contenders in this segment, we have to say. The steering seems to have been primarily geared for off road use, which inevitably means it'll feel a little vaguer than the helms offered in more car-like rivals.
Having said that, if you're not a driving enthusiast - and few buyers of this kind of car are - then you're probably going to find this model's ride and handling balance perfectly adequate. If all you do is cruise around on half-throttle anyway, why buy a car purpose-designed for country-lane cornering?
And if you're of that mindset, then this car's 6-speed automatic transmission option (which comes mated to a pokier 175PS version of the e-XDi engine) will probably be quite tempting, especially as the standard 6-speed manual 'box can be a bit notchy. Refinement wasn't a strong point when this car was first launched but with this updated model, SsangYong's engineering team worked hard to bring NVH (Noise, Vibration & Harshness) levels down to meet the expected class standard, primarily by installing new engine mounts. Their efforts have paid off.
'Korea can do'. That's apparently what this word means - and it seems appropriate. After all, it's hard to think of a car maker that has come so far, so quickly as SsangYong. This Korando was the most accessible model the company produced in the 2011 to 2015 era and feels even more class-competitive in this revised post-2013 guise. It was a model that showed just how quickly this Korean marque was learning when it came to understanding just what European customers really want.
Yes, the cabin feels a little cheap and running costs are a little higher than the class norm, but there are lower prices to compensate for that. Plus there's the fact that when it comes to things like pulling power, rear passenger space and sheer value for money, this Korando can take on and in many cases beat the best of its rivals in the Crossover and soft-roading compact SUV sectors. It's better off road than many of them too. Overall then, what we have here is a difficult option to ignore if you're shopping for a used car of this kind and have value for money as an over-rising priority.