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In the 1990s, the SUV and 4x4 specialist was all about cheap SUVs wearing aftermarket Benz badges on top and outdated Mercedes mechanicals underneath.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


The Wrap

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:

The Kids:

$30,990

Based on new car retail price