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SsangYong Korando 2021 review: ELX long-term

Korandon't: at speed our ELX's steering/handling left something to be desired... like Aussie tuning.

SsangYong is remembered for some of the wrong reasons in Australia.

In the 1990s, the SUV and 4x4 specialist was all about cheap SUVs wearing aftermarket Benz badges on top and outdated Mercedes mechanicals underneath.

In the 2000s the Stavic people mover’s eyesore aesthetics brought universal ridicule and in the 2010s it stood for the Korean brand that wasn’t booming. No doubt one begat the other.

The Korando series has lived through all these eras, and even beyond overseas, with the first from 1982 just a licence-built pre-Wrangler Jeep CJ-5.

Fifteen years later it became a bizarre post-modern take of a three-door 4x4 wagon based on the body-on-frame Musso chassis, until the third Korando from 2010 morphed into a pretty, if rather amorphous, modern small SUV of the Mitsubishi ASX variety.

Which brings us to the fourth-generation, C300 Korando. Make no mistake, this is an all-new vehicle, up-sized to within a whisker of the latest Toyota RAV4’s length and wheelbase, yet is wider and taller to boot. We’re talking a fully-fledged medium SUV here.

Here’s the interesting bit. The mid-range ELX is $30,990. Driveaway. With a seven-year warranty. And turbo. And automatic. The cheapest RAV4 auto is $34,695, and that’s before on-road costs. Even the base Kia Sportage S with a matching warranty starts from $30,690 before on-road costs.

Are we missing something special here? Time to find out.

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Report 1 - August 2020

Fun fact first. Korando is a portmanteau of Korea Can Do. Anyway, my first exposure to this SsangYong was around the time of its Geneva Motor Show unveiling in March 2019, and, wow, what a change.

I’m coming out to state the bleedingly obvious here. This is a rectangularly proportioned SUV in the contemporary RAV4 mould, and a good-looking one to boot.

If you don’t agree – and few do from anecdotal experience – then maybe SsangYong’s terrifying styling phase of the mid-2000s has inflicted more long-term brand damage than one handsome model can undo.

The Korando is a big and tall SUV. The Korando is a big and tall SUV.

But it’s true. Take those blinkers off, forget about the badge, and admire the Korando’s comparative elegance. Or at the very least, give it a chance.

A fair go is what this is all about.

Our 'Cherry Red' Korando (sadly, 'Orange Pop' wasn’t available) is the recently-released ELX 2WD grade, and it certainly offers plenty for your hard-earned, not least of all, space.

This thing is a big, tall SUV, with large doors to aid entry and egress, and a sense of vast cabin space.

Our Korando ELX was finished in  'Cherry Red'. Our Korando ELX was finished in 'Cherry Red'.

My partner’s 200cm (6'6") tall and has no issue finding the right driving position. You sit high (or low if you like, but only the driver’s seat has a height-adjustable cushion) on soft cloth seats of reasonable comfort and support, behind a dashboard that is utterly conventional in layout but surprisingly classy in design and high quality in execution.

There’s nothing cheap or cheerless in this SsangYong. Somebody quipped it looks like generic Volkswagen Group interior fare from circa 2015, and that’s A-OK in our books.

Vision out is fine. Storage is ample. The Bluetooth system connects every time. Ventilation seems adequate. And nothing squeaks or rattles. Good stuff.

The rear seat can easily accommodate larger folk as well, and that sense of room remains, aided by deep windows that allow light to flood in. Something you cannot say about some SUVs (hello, C-HR).

The rear seat can easily accommodate larger folk, but there are no face-level air vents. The rear seat can easily accommodate larger folk, but there are no face-level air vents.

It’s also commendably quiet on the move, which is unexpected because even the ELX misses out on a cargo cover, and the layer of noise insulation it brings.

And while I’m whingeing, there are no face-level air vents back there, or a centre armrest, though the backrest does recline a few degrees for added comfort.

Speaking of AWOL luggage blinds, the Korando mimics some mid-sized SUVs in being a bit like a wagon on stilts, and that’s reflected in the sizeable 551 litres of cargo space (less than longer RAV4’s 580L but greater than Mazda CX-5’s 442L).

But here, too, there’s something missing: no spare wheel or covering for the well it would live in, meaning the floor is uneven. It, along with that cargo cover, costs $305.36 and $194.04 extra respectively. And if you get a puncture, there’s a compressor and tyre repair kit to tax your handyperson skills.

That said, the ELX does actually tick lots of boxes.

On the safety front this includes Autonomous Emergency Braking, lane keep assist, lane change assist, blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, high beam assist, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, 'Front Vehicle Start Alarm', 'Safety Distance Alert', 'Driver Attention Alert', electronic stability control, traction control, hill descent control, front and rear parking sensors, seven airbags and hill start assist. All help Korando achieve a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.

Inside there's an 8.0-inch touchscreen, reverse camera, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, a sliding centre armrest, leather steering wheel, power windows, electric mirrors, keyless entry/start with walk-away auto locking, auto folding heated mirrors with puddle light, rain-sensing wipers and 18-inch alloys. Not bad.

Inside, the Korando features a 8.0-inch touchscreen. Inside, the Korando features a 8.0-inch touchscreen.

No DAB+ digital radio (unavailable on any grade) is a glaring omission, however.

$495 metallic paint is the only option on our car.

​So, in ELX trim, the Korando is well-specified for the money, but its value pitch doesn’t end there.

Under the chunky bonnet is a 120kW/280Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, driving the front wheels via a six-speed auto transmission.

That’s more torque than in most, higher-spec medium SUV alternatives, let alone the base atmo grades like the Kia Sportage S' 2.0L that typically offer substantially fewer kilowatts as well.

The 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol makes 120kW/280Nm. The 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol makes 120kW/280Nm.

While not huge on capacity, what the 1.5T powertrain provides is lively off-the-line acceleration, smooth auto upshifts and fairly muted noise levels.

Around town or out in the 'burbs, there’s more than adequate performance on tap for instant throttle response, without the wailing you sometimes find in small-displacement turbo applications. So far, so good.

The flipside here is that, in the wet, the 235/55R18 Kuhmo Crugen HP91s can lose their grip, as the front wheels scramble for traction. Also, the Korando calls for more-expensive premium unleaded petrol, though cheaper E10 is also recommended.

The Korando ELX wears 18-inch alloy wheels. The Korando ELX wears 18-inch alloy wheels.

Now, at this juncture, we’d go on about how the SsangYong would perform out on the open road or on extended trips over the past month.

However, Melbourne’s Stage IV lockdown forced almost all our trips to be limited to inner-urban or freeway journeys only (my partner is deemed an essential worker). 

Right now, then, all we can add is that the Korando’s turning circle is tight, the steering light and easy to manipulate around town or in tight parking scenarios, and the ride is firm but not harsh, and benefits from decent levels of suspension travel. Ideal for traversing Brunswick's endless speed humps. 

The Korando’s turning circle is tight. The Korando’s turning circle is tight.

That said, on a couple of occasions, while on family carer duties out in a remote part of Melbourne, an opportunity opened up to assess the real dynamic qualities of the otherwise impressive first taste of the Korando ELX.

Except, you'll have to return in a month’s time to find out about that, along with how living another four weeks in inner-urban lockdown with the SsangYong feels.

Whatever happens, one thing’s for certain. I still reckon this is one of Australia’s better-looking medium SUV options.

Acquired: August 2020

Distance travelled this month: 474km

Odometer: 6613km

Average fuel consumption for (Month): 9.7L/100 (measured at the pump)

Report 2 - September 2020

Does what works around town translate beyond the city limits?

Our second month in with the Korando ELX 1.5T 2WD auto revealed pleasing as well as perplexing insights, though the good would outweigh the bad by some margin for most urban family-SUV buyers.

Positive stuff first.

The build and finish on our well-travelled SsangYong remains impressive. There is absolutely nothing in the mid-range ELX to suggest a low price is the driving force behind this car’s existence.

No squeaks or rattles. Nothing’s snapped or broken off. And no embarrassingly bargain-basement plastics, trim or carpet... unlike the Kia Seltos, whose floor covering is like sandpaper against the skin. Burn!

Over a demanding road-test route the Korando stayed on course and went precisely where it was pointed without fuss. Over a demanding road-test route the Korando stayed on course and went precisely where it was pointed without fuss.

Given our long-termer presumably endured a hard road-test life in the hands of many other journalists prior to landing with us, that’s a mighty thumb’s up for quality.

We’re also endlessly impressed at how reliably everything works, such as the Bluetooth connecting seamlessly to our phones – something we’ve noticed is rarely the case in others (hello, Mazda); entry/egress is equally easy, operating all aspects of the dashboard is child’s play, the front seats remain comfortable even after an extended journey, vision out is exemplary, and of course there’s room aplenty – particularly for the price. These are basics the generously-specified ELX nails effortlessly.

Which leads to another Korando strength. Its 120kW/280Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine is gutsier and smoother than most similarly-priced alternatives, offering instant throttle response across the rev bandwidth. 

Maybe too much so in the wet, as it turns out, since the front wheels are prone to spinning too readily. But this is the least of the SsangYong's sorrows.

It’s disappointing the Korando’s dynamics cannot equal its many other capabilities. It’s disappointing the Korando’s dynamics cannot equal its many other capabilities.

Over our demanding road-test route – a mix of broken bitumen and gravel, containing odd cambers, tight switchbacks and lots of undulating surfaces – our SsangYong's appeal began to wane.  

Sure, at a moderate pace, the Korando takes the route in its stride, staying on course and going precisely where pointed without fuss.

But push on a little bit harder, and the steering turns springy and vague, with zero road feel, eroding confidence.

The build and finish on our well-travelled SsangYong remains impressive. The build and finish on our well-travelled SsangYong remains impressive.

There’s a lot of body lean and quease-inducing suspension bounce over mid-corner bumps as further discouragement to spirited driving, before the traction control abruptly intervenes, sporadically cutting engine power, for frustratingly jerky off/on progress. And the accompanying driver warning chimes – particularly the shrill lane-keep squawk ­– is relentless.   

It all points to a desperate need for Australian road suspension tuning and finessing. Of course, most families rarely undertake such driving, but it’s disappointing the Korando’s dynamics cannot equal its many other capabilities.

Knowing it’s not the sort that could slay a quick cross-country blast, like most rivals can nowadays, dulls the handsome Korando’s sheen somewhat.  

Acquired: August 2020

Distance travelled this month: 352km

Odometer: 6966km

Average fuel consumption for (Month): 10.1L/100 (measured at the pump)

Report 3 - October 2020

Over the past decade, I’ve taken on many long-term models as part of this job.

Some – like the current Peugeot 308 – far exceeded expectations while others – hello, outgoing Honda Jazz VTi! – left me stone cold. There’s been the Fiat 500 I loved but never want to ever get back behind the wheel of again, a Suzuki Celerio I revelled in thrashing about town but could never get under my skin, and a Volkswagen Up that still makes my heart ache, nearly eight years after reluctantly returning one.

The point is, as with most things, an extended period of exposure doesn’t so much solidify preconceptions as much as change perceptions.

The Korean mid-sized SUV at a small-crossover price certainly was never parked up for long. The Korean mid-sized SUV at a small-crossover price certainly was never parked up for long.

And in no small way, the same is very true for the latest, C300-series SsangYong Korando. Looking splendid in rich Cherry Red, our ELX 1.5T 2WD auto arrived just in time for Victoria’s Stage IV lockdown, but as my partner needed to commute as an essential worker and me having to share duties caring for a family member, the Korean mid-sized SUV at a small-crossover price certainly was never parked up for long.

Confession time: I've loved its looks, from the moment I first cast an eye over it watching the 2019 Geneva Motor Show coverage. Some digging around revealed that SsangYong owner Mahindra of India also controls design house Pininfarina of Italy, so surely that might explain the handsome proportions and stylish detailing. I’ve said this before, and seem to be laughed at for having such opinions, but I reckon some people are just blinded by their own preconceptions…

Anyway, moving on, there is very little to fault about the Korando's packaging and interior. Big doors, easy entry/egress, and heaps of space. More so than the smaller SUVs and crossovers priced against it. You've gotta love that.

There's more, like the soft cloth seat material that's so inviting, on broad cushions that fit most shapes and sizes. Generous glass areas and big mirrors really help in manoeuvring about the tight urban streets of Brunswick, as does a large central screen for the reverse camera. And the dashboard’s look and finish are on a par with most mainstream marques from Asia and Europe. Seriously, it's true! 

Being almost wagon-shaped, the Korando’s 551 litres of cargo space certainly came in handy.  Being almost wagon-shaped, the Korando’s 551 litres of cargo space certainly came in handy. 

There are no nasty plastic off-gas or cheap trim… just lots of glossy piano-black finishes, amid simple dials, ample storage, excellent ventilation and an up-to-date multimedia system. So far, so good.

A thumbs-up also goes to the rear seat, which is certainly roomy enough for a trio of kids who’ll appreciate the lofty seating (with backrest-recline in the ELX) and overall spaciousness. This thing is made for families.

There are some annoyances, though, like the fact that Korando owners must pay more for a cargo luggage blind, meaning that more road noise enters the cabin than there needs to be. And there are no central face-level air vents for rear occupants, or digital radio availability, or spare wheel (just a compressor and tyre-repair kit) or cover for the well it would live in, making for an uneven floor. Both the blind and the well cover add $500 to the sticker price.

Still, we learned to love the distinctive chimes and endlessly entertaining ding dongs emanating from the dash – warning us of imminent dangers associated with leaving lights on, seatbelts off, or anything crossing our paths while on the move. Heaven forbid we ignore the klaxon call of the Korando! At least there are volume and delete-altogether options within the many multimedia submenus for this stuff. And what other car trumpets its travellers a warm and welcoming fanfare before and after every drive?

Being almost wagon-shaped, the Korando’s 551 litres of cargo space certainly came in handy. 

Australia, your stylish, practical and safe family wagon-cum-crossover-panel-van is here.  Australia, your stylish, practical and safe family wagon-cum-crossover-panel-van is here. 

One trip saw us collect an entire tailgate assembly - including back window and struts, rear bumper casing, a complete driver’s seat and smaller miscellaneous items - for my 1995 Mazda BA Astina/323F that I’m restoring for reasons only my future therapist might fathom. And, guess what? It all fit inside, neatly and without issue. Australia, your stylish, practical and safe family wagon-cum-crossover-panel-van is here. 

Finally, we appreciated the ELX combination of strong performance and drivetrain refinement. Its 120kW/280Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, driving the front wheels via a (somewhat lazy and slow-witted) six-speed auto transmission, is plenty powerful in and out of town, with strong and sustained acceleration when required. And while it does demand premium unleaded, it will happily dine on 94 RON E10 unleaded (which is often cheaper than the standard brew), while our commuting average of 9.0L/100km is impressive for an SUV of this size (and muscle).

We’re less enamoured by the Korando’s handling away from town, though. Yes, the steering is light and direct, but there’s no road feel or feedback, and it can seem a little unsettled, and even a bit springy and bouncy if you start hurrying through corners at speed. Obviously, being a mid-sized SUV, the Korando isn’t designed to be a serious driver’s car, but the ELX can be unnecessarily floaty, with excessive body movement leading to queasiness after a while, which won't please anybody.

Like we said before, what this needs is some Australian road-tuning TLC.

Good looks, great packaging, decent seating and more. Good looks, great packaging, decent seating and more.

The fact that the Korando is so keen to travel far and fast but doesn’t really keep it together dynamically when there are corners and bends to contend with is a crying shame, because otherwise there are so many things to commend the SsangYong for.

Good looks, great packaging, decent seating, a generous list of standard essential items (including decent safety kit, that helps it score a five-star safety rating), a seven-year warranty, oodles of oomph, a smooth powertrain and that headline low pricing.

There are far more positives than negatives associated with the ELX 1.5T, and that’s another misconception obliterated after living with it for three months.  

So, it’s so long to the SsangYong Korando, a can-do medium SUV at a small SUV price. We’re missing BDU-972 already.

Acquired: August 2020

Distance travelled this month: 566km

Odometer: 7532km

Average fuel consumption for October: 9.0L/100km (measured at the pump)


The Wrap

The still-fresh SsangYong Korando ELX 1.5T auto 2WD won’t appeal to brand snobs, and it isn’t the most immersive driving experience over a winding set of roads (despite having a gutsy yet refined and frugal powertrain), but as an urban family-sized hauler, the handsome, roomy, well-specified, comfortable and thoroughly modern midsized SUV is impressively capable, with a charm you may not be expecting. Considering how keenly priced it is, and backed by a five-star safety rating and seven-year warranty, it definitely deserves a good, hard look, especially if value-for-money is a top priority.

I gave it a 7 out of 10, and it gets a kids score of 10 out 10 (Lana the Labrador loved the fact that the side windows are deep and easy to stick her head out of).

Likes

Styling
Packaging
Value

Dislikes

Sub-standard steering and handling
Over-sensitive traction/stability control intervention
No spare wheel, cargo cover and cargo floor

Scores

Byron:

3.5

The Kids:

5

$37,860 - $40,585

Based on 31 car listings in the last 6 months

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