The 2019 SsangYong Musso, a dual-cab ute with a 1300mm-long tray, is part of the Korean company's four-model launch plan to re-establish itself in the Australian market after an absence of almost two years.
SsangYong Australia is SsangYong's first fully owned factory subsidiary outside of Korea and has a few lofty goals – including a sales target of up to 3500 units over the whole new range in 12 months – but does its sporty-looking weekend-warrior ute have what it takes to rattle the gilded cage of our workhorse-loving market? Will its sharp pricing be the key to open that cage? Read on.
There are four variants in the 2019 Musso range – all are five-seaters and all have the Rexton's 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine (133 kW at 4000rpm and 400Nm at 1400-2800rpm): the base-spec EX ($30,490 drive-away) has a six-speed manual gearbox; the next-up EX ($32,490 drive-away), mid-spec ELX ($35,990 drive-away) and the top-shelf Ultimate ($39,990 drive-away) all have a six-speed Aisin automatic transmission.
The manual EX's standard features include fabric seats, rear-seat child-anchor points, an infotainment unit with AM/FM radio and Bluetooth connectivity, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, cruise control, limited slip diff, 17-inch steel wheels and a full-sized spare, and lane-departure warning.
The EX auto adds the auto box to that standard package, while the ELX gets the multi-media unit with 8.0-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay / Android Auto, power windows, ventilated/heated front seats, daytime running lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system, front/rear park assist, blind-spot detection (BSD), lane-change assist (LCA), and rear cross traffic alert (RCTA).
The Ultimate gets leather seats all round, powered front seats, heated/vented front and rear pews, speed-sensitive steering, sunroof, 360-degree camera, HID headlights, and 20-inch alloy wheels.
That's a whole lot of gear and premium-level equipment packed into a sub-$40,000 ute. I spent most of my time in an Ultimate, because I'm like that.
Note: current-stock Mussos do not have AEB but that safety tech is scheduled to be installed from December 2018 builds onwards at no extra cost over current drive-away pricing.
Bear in mind, also, that an Aussie suspension tune is planned for the entire SsangYong range, with Musso planned as first in line for the tweaks. SsangYong Australia officials say they're hoping that will roll out within three months.
Also on the way is a long-wheelbase, leaf-spring Musso, measuring 5400mm long and with a 1600mm tray (300mm longer than the current Musso), which is expected in the second quarter of 2019.
Every Musso has an impressive seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, seven years of roadside assistance and a seven-year service-price plan.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 7/10
That stubby-tray look might polarise opinion but otherwise the Musso has on overall pleasing appearance. (image: Marcus Craft)
For something modelled on a lumbering, odd-toed ungulate, the Musso (Korean for “rhino”, which is a slightly less-sexy animal than a, cobra, a raptor or a mustang) looks pretty good, with a sporty, recreational appearance, inside and out.
That stubby 1300mm-long tray – 200mm-300mm shorter than most others – might be irksome at face value for a few people, but many of those residing in urban areas will recognise its actual real-world suitability to them as a small, but deep, storage space in which to transport bits and pieces from point A to B. In width terms, it's still big enough, between the wheel arches, to fit a European-size pallet.
How practical is the space inside? 7/10
The Musso's interior styling really is impressive (image: SsangYong Australia)
For a sub-$40,000 ute, the cabin feels very premium indeed. Inside you'll find a well-designed, well-appointed space with durable surfaces everywhere and an added touch of class: this interior is equally ready for a national park day trip or the rigours of daily suburban life.
SsangYong has really maximised the space made available by chopping the tray to 1300mm long, and there's plenty of leg room for those in front and back seats.
The Ultimate's Nappa leather seats are nice, fit and finish throughout the cabin is spot-on – no cheap-looking, floppy plastics here – and all switchgear is easy to locate and operate, and it all feels well attached, not flimsy.
Up front, riders get centre-console cup-holders, USB port, power plug, door bulges, glove box, controls for everything and comfortable heated seats.
A few issues to note, though: the multi-media unit does not have sat nav – you have to use your smartphone for that; the system's 8.0-inch screen is big enough but, at times, it seemed a little too murky looking; and the rear-view camera seems tilted too much towards the ground.
The Ultimate's 360-degree around-view monitoring is great, offering a clear augmented view of the ute's surroundings, and you can switch between camera-view modes.
Second-row passengers don't miss out on comfort and amenities; their seats are more comfortable than a ute's usual go-to bench-style bum rest and – wait for it – they're heated.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 7/10
All variants of the 2019 Musso are powered by the SsangYong-built 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine (133kW/400Nm). (image: Marcus Craft)
As mentioned, all Mussos have the Rexton's SsangYong-built turbo-diesel engine (133kW at 4000rpm and 400Nm from 1400-2800rpm) with either a six-speed manual transmission (in the EX) or a six-speed Aisin automatic transmission.
The engine and Aisin auto are generally and reliably workmanlike and sometimes a bit sluggish – steep hills with a load anywhere near its 790kg payload onboard will be interesting – but none of that is a deal-breaker. If you want at least the potential of a lot more high-speed thrills out of your ute, go buy a Ford Raptor.
The Musso has a selectable 4WD system, with low- and high-range, as well as hill-descent control and hill-start assist, which are both pretty solid in operation.
What's it like to drive? 7/10
This dual-cab ute is nice to drive – quiet and refined – on most surfaces.
The 2019 Musso is rather nice to drive for a ute – hinting at its SUV body-on-frame construction.
The steering is generally well-weighted and the wheel is reach- and rake-adjustable.
Ride and handling are mostly well sorted – it's a smooth and settled experience for driver or passenger, tending towards a too-firm ride. Minor suspension and off-road-capability shortcomings were exposed during our 4WD loops, but more about that below.
The Musso has Euro-tuned suspension at the moment, but an Aussie tune is planned for the entire SsangYong range, with Musso first in line, and that process is tipped start within three months.
Overall, though, the Musso was sure-footed on every surface, even at pace, exhibiting a ute's typical tail-end jittering only through deeper, sharper corrugations.
The tub, though, did tend to vibrate – not terribly so, but enough to warrant regular visual checks; long-term use over much harsher terrain than the stuff we drove on might make that an issue. The tub's roller cover also rattled a bit on more pronounced lumps and bumps.
We'd advise you to get rid of the 20-inch wheel and tyres and replace them with some off-road-suited combinations, at least 18-inch wheels and all-terrain rubber.
Otherwise, the news is mostly good: a lot of effort has gone into getting noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) to a very muted level – better engine-bay sealing, four-fold door sealing, polyester wheel-arch linings – and all that work shows. It's very quiet in the Musso cabin, when driving on all surfaces.
The 20-inch wheel-and-tyre combination is one of the weak points in the Musso's arsenal of off-road weaponry. (image: Marcus Craft)
The Musso is 5095mm long (on a 3100mm wheelbase), 2175mm wide, 1840mm high and has a kerb weight of 2192kg. It feels nimble enough on overgrown, shallow-rutted bush tracks and the like, but it also feels quite low when the going gets any tougher than that.
Ground clearance is listed as 215mm but there was ever-present concern about knocks to the vulnerable underbody on even innocuous-looking bumps. The plastic bash-plate at the front copped a bit of a pasting as did several underbody components, including the rear-suspension lower control arms.
Off-road angles of 22.8 (approach) and 23 degrees (rampover) don't particularly help the Musso's bush cause either, but its short rear overhang results in a 23.4-degree departure angle, which isn't too shabby. A suspension lift and bigger tyres will adjust any not-so-great angles enough to make them less of a concern.
The suspension set-up – firmer at the front (coil springs, double wishbones) and softer at the back (coil springs and a five-link set-up with panhard rod) – tends to bottom out too readily for my liking.
The Musso's 4WD system is switchable on a dial (2H, 4H and 4L) but is a little slow to fully engage. Hill-descent control is operated via a button (push to engage, push to disengage). The automatic rear-diff lock chirps in seamlessly when needed.
The Musso's tray is 1300mm long, 1570mm wide and 570mm deep, so that space will be found wanting if you're intending anything more adventurous than a day-trip and picnic out of town, but you could fit a few mountain bikes in there, with front wheels hanging over a padded tailgate cover. Bear in mind that the Ultimate's roller-cover takes up a chunk of the load space.
The tray has a plastic load liner, a 12V/120W power outlet and rotating tie-down hooks. Towing capacity is 750kg (unbraked) and 3500kg (braked).
How much fuel does it consume? 7/10
The claimed fuel consumption of 8.6L/100km (combined) never appeared on the dash readout, and in fact it averaged out around 11L/100km or so, after driving along twisting roads (bitumen and gravel), as well as a fair chunk of low- and high-range 4WDing. The manual's claimed fuel consumption is 7.9L/100km.
Warranty & Safety Rating
7 years / unlimited km
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 6/10
The Musso has six airbags, forward collision warning (FCW), blind-spot detection (BSD), lane-change assist (LCA), rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA), 360-degree camera; AEB will be included in models built from December 2018 onwards.
The Musso does not have an ANCAP rating because it has not been tested here yet.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 8/10
Every model in the SsangYong Australia range comes with a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, seven years' roadside assistance and seven years' service price menu.
Servicing intervals are 12 months/20,000km, but service pricing was not available at time of writing.
The Musso is a decent dual-cab ute if you prefer comfort over capability and cabin space over load-carrying ability.
You do get quite a bit for the price tag, including plenty of safety tech, and it's all wrapped up in a not-unpleasant package. The Ultimate is the pick of the bunch.
The Musso is a decent weekend warrior ute – and that stubby tray will have its fans – but a lot of potential buyers will likely hold off until the long-wheelbase, AEB-equipped Mussos arrive here.
What do think of the Musso? Does tray size really matter? Tell us what you reckon in the comments section below.