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SsangYong Tivoli 2019 review: ELX diesel

The Tivoli has SsangYong's hopes riding on its shoulders.
EXPERT RATING
7.3
After a tumultuous few years, a re-booted SsangYong returns to the Australian market with its hopes and dreams pinned to the Tivoli small SUV.

Did you know SsangYong translates to ‘Double Dragon’?

How friggin’ cool is that? Far cooler, at least, than the Korean brand’s history, which the word ‘tumultuous’ barely begins to cover.

After years of ownership woes and a near-bankruptcy, the brand came out the other side with enough stability to field a range of new vehicles, courtesy of its ambitious new owners - Indian giant Mahindra & Mahindra.

The Tivoli small SUV is the first car to launch under the new, cashed-up leadership and when it landed in Korea in 2015 it was solely responsible for the ‘Double Dragon’ brand turning its first profit in nine years.

Fast forward a few years, and a re-booted SsangYong is again confident enough to enter the Australian market, with a four-pronged, all-new SUV assault.

So, does the Tivoli have what it takes to break into our highly competitive small-SUV scene and help SsangYong pull a miraculous Korean turn-around, a-la-Hyundai?

I spent a week in the mid-spec Tivoli ELX diesel to find out.

Ssangyong TIVOLI 2019: ELX
Safety rating
Engine Type1.6L turbo
Fuel TypeDiesel
Fuel Efficiency6.05L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$29,990

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

If SsangYong wants to roar back onto the market and challenge people’s perceptions of the brand, it’ll first need to get them in the door. After all, this low-ball strategy worked for Hyundai and Kia, who infiltrated Australia with models like the Excel and Rio, which offered all the features of more established brands at a cut price.

The challenge is not tarnishing your brand while you’re at it. Has SsangYong pulled it off with the Tivoli?

Our ELX is the mid-spec car, sitting above the entry-level EX and below the all-wheel-drive and diesel-only Ultimate.

SsangYong ticks off a big spec box across the range with a decent 7.0-inch touchscreen. (image credit: Tom White) SsangYong ticks off a big spec box across the range with a decent 7.0-inch touchscreen. (image credit: Tom White)

The $29,990 ticket price for our front-wheel-drive diesel would be about right if the Tivoli was from any mainstream brand. For roughly the same money you can get a top-spec Mitsubishi ASX Exceed ($30,990), Honda HR-V RS ($31,990), fellow Korean Hyundai Kona Elite ($29,500), or a diesel-powered Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport ($29,990).

Oh, and despite it looking quite large in the pictures, the Tivoli is most definitely a small SUV, being narrower than a Hyundai Kona and not as long as a CX-3.

Feature-wise, our ELX gets 16-inch alloy wheels, a 7-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, front & rear parking sensors with reversing camera, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, leather trim on the steering wheel, standard faire cloth seats (which weirdly remind me of Hyundai’s seats from about a generation ago), roof-rails, luggage screen in the boot, dual-zone climate control, privacy glass and halogen headlamps with LED DRLs.

The basic 16-inch alloys are hardly as flashy as most of the competition. (image credit: Tom White) The basic 16-inch alloys are hardly as flashy as most of the competition. (image credit: Tom White)

Not bad. The safety offering is not only good but available across the range, so check the Safety section of this review out for more on that.

Missing at this price are leather trim (available on the Kona Elite and ASX), active cruise, LED front lighting and powered front seats. It’s not crazy value, but it’s also not bad at $29,990.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

SsangYong is hardly a brand known for its consistent or good-looking design. In the past, the brand has floundered between the squared-off lines of the Musso and the unresolved bulbous curves of the last-gen Korando.

The brand’s re-launch has finally brought it up to speed, with every car across its range featuring a consistent design language. It’s improved out of sight, but still isn’t without its flaws.

Up front, there’s an angry-looking, squared-off horizontally slotted grille, with angles galore wrapping around the small SUV’s sides.

The Tivoli looks quite charming from the front and side. (image credit: Tom White) The Tivoli looks quite charming from the front and side. (image credit: Tom White)

The angles continue up the A-pillar and across the roof for a squared-off, European-influenced roofline.

Then, around the back things get… strange. A pronounced curvy ridge makes its way over the rear wheels and into a rounded-out boot. It seems at odds with the angular rear glass and lower garnish.

There’s just way too much going on around the back; it’s overly styled. The chintzy chrome finish around the lower reflectors doesn’t help, nor do the big round SsangYong badge and bold ‘T I V O L I’ typeface.

It's too bad the rear looks over-done. (image credit: Tom White) It's too bad the rear looks over-done. (image credit: Tom White)

The 16-inch alloys on the EX and ELX grade are a simple 10-spoke matte-silver. They’re nothing special, but at least they're easy to clean.

Inside, things are also mixed. There’s plenty of good and bad. The seats are clad in a robust cloth with plenty of sponge for comfort, and there are sensibly placed soft surfaces in the doors and on the centre console for your elbows.

It's far from perfect, but there's lots to like about the Tivoli's interior. (image credit: Tom White) It's far from perfect, but there's lots to like about the Tivoli's interior. (image credit: Tom White)

The dash has an aesthetically pleasing symmetrical theme to it and is finished mostly in decent plastics. The 7.0-inch media screen is pretty good, too, but the rest of the centre stack is a bit nasty and old fashioned.

There’s the mix of gloss plastic and silver surfaces, a giant climate control dial and the so-so buttons that litter its surface. It reminds me of Korean car designs past, like the Holden (Daewoo) Captiva and generations-old Hyundais. Credit where credit is due, though - it all feels much better built.

It's naff touches like this gloss-plastic centre stack that remind of Korean designs of old. (image credit: Tom White) It's naff touches like this gloss-plastic centre stack that remind of Korean designs of old. (image credit: Tom White)

I’m actually a big fan of the Tivoli’s steering wheel, it has a ridged, chunky shape and is finished in a pleasing artificial-leather material. The function stalks behind it are solid, with rotary dials on them to control lights and wipers. As the primary touch-points for the driver it’s neat that they have a unique, SsangYong personality to them.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

The Tivoli might be a small SUV but it has a cavernous cabin. It’s seriously impressive and rivals some of the best players in this segment, like the Honda HR-V.

The front seat offers huge amounts of headroom, leagues of legroom, great space for your arms on either side and a fully telescopically adjustable steering wheel.

Storage is comprised of a shallow trench under the climate-control stack, decently sized cupholders in the centre console and doors, as well as a deep console box and a glovebox, which seems to disappear forever into the dash.

There’s also a rather odd trench cut out of the dash above the console box. It’s ridged and has a rubbery surface but seems useless for storing things, which will simply topple out when you accelerate.

As previously mentioned, there are comfortable surfaces for resting your elbows on for front occupants.

Room for back-seat dwellers is also excellent, with awesome legroom for the segment and leagues of airspace even for taller folk. There are the same padded elbow-rests in the doors and deep cupholders, but no air-conditioning vents or USB ports.

Back seat room is excellent for the class, but is a bit light on amenities. (image credit: Tom White) Back seat room is excellent for the class, but is a bit light on amenities. (image credit: Tom White)

There are also weird elastic ropes on the back of the front seats for storing things (with mixed success) and a pull-down armrest.

The boot is rated at 423-litres (VDA), which is deceptively large (size-wise not far off the HR-V’s 437-litre space). The problem here is the shape of the boot itself. It’s deep from the floor to the retractable screen, and SsangYong says it will hold three golf bags, but it’s the narrow width and length which limit  its potential.

Boot space is fantastic on paper, but a bit hard to make the most out of in practice. (image credit: Tom White) Boot space is fantastic on paper, but a bit hard to make the most out of in practice. (image credit: Tom White)

I found it awkward to move some odd-shaped objects, like a heater and some boxes, and the high entry-point to the bootlid makes things a little difficult when moving heavier items.

Our ELX has significantly more room thanks to a space-saver spare under the boot floor. The Ultimate, which sits above has a full-size spare, further limiting boot space.

There are the same odd elastic ropes in the edges of the boot wall for smaller loose objects or cables.

Our ELX makes do with a space saver spare under the boot floor. (image credit: Tom White) Our ELX makes do with a space saver spare under the boot floor. (image credit: Tom White)

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

Our Tivoli is powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine producing 84kW and 300Nm of torque.

That seems a little low on the power front compared to petrol competitors, but the strong torque figure available from an almost instantaneous 1500rpm gives this engine a solid amount of get up and go.

The 1.6 diesel is definitely the better choice out of the two available 1.6-litre engines. (image credit: Tom White) The 1.6 diesel is definitely the better choice out of the two available 1.6-litre engines. (image credit: Tom White)

If you aren’t opposed to diesel, I would strongly suggest this engine over its underpowered 1.6-litre petrol equivalent, as it has almost twice the available torque.

It might seem risky for SsangYong to be offering diesel in a segment where the fuel type is unpopular, but it makes sense from a global supply point of view, as diesel is largely the fuel of choice in the Tivoli’s home country of South Korea.

The ELX is front-wheel drive and can only be had with a six-speed torque converter auto transmission manufactured by Aisin.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

Over my week of mainly urban driving I scored a fuel-consumption figure of 7.8L/100km against a claimed urban figure of 7.4L/100km which is not too bad, but also not stellar.

The official claimed/combined usage figure is at a bold-sounding 5.5L/100km.

The Tivoli has a 47-litre fuel tank.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

We never recommend that you drive blindfolded, but if you could and you drove the Tivoli, I honestly believe you’d have trouble telling it apart from any other small SUV on sale today. 

The diesel engine feels strong from the get-go and pushes the 1390kg SUV along with a reasonable urgency. It’s no performance drivetrain, but it's as good as, if not better than, most of the petrol competitors.

The six-speed torque converter auto is mostly great around town but is old-school in that you can definitely feel each ratio. It also had the unfortunate habit of occasionally grabbing the wrong gear.

I once caught it out altogether under heavy acceleration and it spent a whole second fishing for the ratio it wanted. It’s still better than a continuously variable transmission (CVT) for driver engagement, though.

Steering is on the light side but is direct and offers decent feedback. The ELX offers three steering modes - 'Comfort', 'Normal', and 'Sport', which artificially alter the weight behind the steering. 'Normal' is by far the best.

The Tivoli's steering has three modes, but the default mode felt the best. (image credit: Tom White) The Tivoli's steering has three modes, but the default mode felt the best. (image credit: Tom White)

The suspension was also notably impressive. Fellow Korean brands, Hyundai and Kia, have harked on for a long time about local tuning efforts, but I found the Tivoli’s suspension tune almost as good. It’s a slightly more spongey, comfort-focused tune, but I was impressed at how composed it felt in the corners.

The ELX has a cheap torsion-bar rear suspension setup, which could only really be noticed over rough road conditions.

Behind the wheel, the Tivoli was also surprisingly quiet at lower speeds. This makes for a nice, quiet drive around town, despite the diesel engine, but at speeds above 80km/h and engine rpms above 3000 the noise became significantly worse.

I’d say the Tivoli drives just as well as most Hyundais and Kias from just a few years ago. There’s room for improvement in the little details, but for the brand’s first effort since its international re-boot, it does a darned good job.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

7 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   7/10

The Tivoli comes with a reasonably comprehensive safety offering, but there’s room to improve here, too.

On the active-safety front our ELX has auto emergency braking (AEB – works up to 180km/h), lane-departure warning (LDW), lane-keep assist (LKAS) and high-beam assist.

There’s no active cruise, blind-spot monitoring (BSM), traffic-sign recognition (TSR), or driver-attention alert (DAA) available on even the top-spec Ultimate.

The Tivoli has seven airbags, two ISOFIX child-seat mounting points on the rear outboard seats and top-tether anchorages across the second row, as well as the expected brake and stability controls (but no torque vectoring).

The Tivoli has received a four-star ANCAP safety rating as of 2016, however this is based on a EuroNCAP score and now-available lane-assist technologies were not factored into this test.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   9/10

The SsangYong Tivoli now leads the small SUV segment with a seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is miles ahead of the acceptable industry standard of five years/unlimited kilometres offered by most competitors.

SsangYong is offering a long warranty and affordable, transparent servicing. (image credit: Tom White) SsangYong is offering a long warranty and affordable, transparent servicing. (image credit: Tom White)

Service pricing comes in at a completely fixed and impressive-for-a-diesel $322 per yearly 15,000km service for the life of the warranty.

Extra service items are tidily laid out in a chart breaking down parts cost, labour, and total price, with the most notably expensive item being transmission fluid ($577), which, at worst, is recommended to be changed at 100,000km.

From this we can tell SsangYong intends to target Kia’s audience and use this part of the business to categorically beat its competition.

Verdict

I was asked the critical question while I had the Tivoli ELX on test – “Do you think people will buy this car?” After some time in thought, my answer was – “Not many… yet.”

Those who can look past the brand perceptions are getting an SUV which is damn near as good as anything on the market – and likely cheaper to run.

To that, you can say a lot of things: If only it cost slightly less. If only its rear was better looking. If only it had a five-star safety rating.

But here it is – the fact that the Tivoli can even hold a candle to its slick, finely tuned competition says a lot. The Double Dragon is back, and if it can afford to stick around for a while, perhaps it will stand a chance of putting the big players on notice.

Can you look past brand perceptions, or is the re-booted SsangYong too much of a leap to trust? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Pricing Guides

$28,990
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$23,490
Highest Price
$34,490

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
ELX 1.6L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $27,490 2019 Ssangyong TIVOLI 2019 ELX Pricing and Specs
EX 1.6L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $23,490 2019 Ssangyong TIVOLI 2019 EX Pricing and Specs
ULTIMATE (AWD) 1.6L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $33,990 2019 Ssangyong TIVOLI 2019 ULTIMATE (AWD) Pricing and Specs
ULTIMATE (AWD) TWO TONE 1.6L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $34,490 2019 Ssangyong TIVOLI 2019 ULTIMATE (AWD) TWO TONE Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.3
Price and features7
Design7
Practicality7
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption7
Driving7
Safety7
Ownership9
Tom White
Journalist

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