2019 SsangYong Musso XLV
Image courtesy of Digital Fuel Productions

KOREAN car maker SsangYong has rolled out the next phase of its return to Australia with the launch of the long wheel base version of the Musso, with the XLV dual cab added to the Musso short wheel base it launched back in December last year.

SsangYong is the only Korean maker offering a ute and it is being launched into what is a fast-growing and very competitive segment, after years of piecemeal SsangYong efforts from varied distributors, and cars with at best, challenging looks.

SsangYong says all that has changed, with the local operation now factory owned, and that the days of odd styling now behind the Korean brand. The company estimates about 5,000 cars have been sold here in the last 23 years.

It’s not a huge number for 20 odd years of toil but if the improvements in quality, engineering, performance and styling with the latest offerings are anything to go by, they should sell a whole lot more in the next few years.

The company, it must be said, has modest and realistic sales expectations, targeting 3,000 sales this year, 4,000 in 2020 and 5,000 in 2021. It currently only offers the two Musso variants, plus a small crossover called the Tivoli, and its Rexton SUV.

So far this year, SsangYong says it has moved about 1,000 units in Australia, so it is a little behind its projected target, but says that with new models and more dealers expected on board it will finish close to the 3,000 unit figure this year.

The new Korando is expected to join the line up in October, while in 2020 the Rexton gets a model refresh. There’s a potential new C segment SUV as well as a new MPV expected later next year.

The dealer network currently numbers 40 but SsangYong Australia boss Tim Smith says they are targeting 50 dealers by the end of next year. Enough about the brand though, let’s talk about the new ute variant.

The new Musso XLV is a an extremely competent and capable multi-purpose vehicle with excellent fit and finish, ride and handling and a comprehensive list of standard features. More importantly, it’s got sharp pricing.

As with the short wheelbase offering, the XLV will be available in three different trims – ELX, Ultimate and top of the line, Ultimate Plus. Starting price for the manual ELX is $33,990 drive away, moving up to $35,990 for the automatic.

The Ultimate is priced from $39,990, and the Ultimate Plus from $43,990. All prices are drive away. Buyers will be excited by the 7-year warranty, with a 7-year roadside assist and 7-year servicing package, which SsangYong calls the Triple 7 package.

As far as we can tell that’s unmatched across the industry and should certainly be a swaying factor for buyers worried about long term reliability and maintenance costs.

The Musso is powered by the 2.2-litre e-XDi220 turbo diesel engine which is also used in the Rexton, offering 133kW of power and maximum torque of 420Nm. It’s available with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed Aisin automatic transmission.

The engine is flexible, quiet, smooth and quite punchy, with plenty of climbing and overtaking power and good take off. It’s perfectly mated with the auto gearbox, which has good ratios and smooth shifts.

There’s also a nifty shift switch on the side of the lever that allows for manual shifting. We didn’t get to try the actual manual, but with such a small number of manuals being sold these days most will be choosing the auto anyway.

Ssangyong says the XLV boasts the longest tray in the segment, with a 1,262-litre capacity in the tub, which comes with a liner as standard. It is a big, deep load area and the extra length of the XLV model is immediately apparent.

This is an area that the Musso will win buyers with, we are sure. The load deck is large enough to carry a Euro pallet. It also comes equipped with 12V/120W power outlets, and conveniently positioned hooks to help strap down loads.

It will also be available with a choice of either leaf spring or multi-link coil spring rear suspension. SsangYong says local suspension calibration work has been done on the Musso to ensure it works well in Australia.

This was quite apparent on our test drive in the hills around Marysville in the Great Dividing Range east of Melbourne. Some may question the twin ute suspension strategy after the disaster that was Nissan with the Navara, but SsangYong is confident it can do it.

The leaf spring ELX comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, heavy duty truck tyres and a maximum payload of 1,020 kilograms. The Ultimate and Ultimate Plus come with 18-inch alloy wheels, and a payload of 800 kilograms.

The Musso uses the same body-on-frame architecture as the Rexton SUV. So like the prominent one tonne pickups on the market (HiLux, Ranger and Colorado), it has the toughness to handle off road conditions but still deliver smooth on-road manners.

Interior styling is excellent, with comfortable seating for five and a dash and instrument layout that is easy to use and nicely designed. Standard equipment includes a state-of-the-art infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth.

On the safety front, there’s autonomous emergency braking, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot detection, front vehicle start alert and a 360-degree camera.

The truck is finished in a choice of eight exterior colour options: Silky White Pearl, Grand White, Fine Silver, Space Black, Marble Grey, Indian Red, Atlantic Blue and Maroon Brown.

The Musso’s drive system features part time 4×4, with power delivered permanently to the rear wheels while 4WD is ‘dialled in’ electronically as required, with high and low ratios available on demand.

The new Musso XLV also comes with a locking differential system to provide better traction on steep and slippery gradients, and for increased towing capability.

After an all too brief time behind the wheel of the Musso XLV we came away impressed by the car. The challenge for SsangYong though will be overcoming the lack of brand awareness and making people realise it’s a very capable, good value ute in a highly competitive market.

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