The new Tivoli is Ssangyong's bargain-priced competition for the Nissan Juke and Citroën C4 Cactus. It's made by South Korea’s own 4x4 brand - the same people who brought you the Musso, Korando and Rexton.
Going on sale as just about every other car maker in the universe launches a pumped-up supermini, it’s got a lot to do just to announce its presence on the European scene. However, Ssangyong's aggressive, value-for-money positioning should help.
This entry-level Tivoli in SE trim gets seven airbags, 16in alloys, cruise control, Bluetooth and USB connectvity and plenty of power, for a price that undercuts smaller and less well-endowed rivals; in some cases, by thousands of pounds.
It looks better value still as you move up the model ladder. Mid-range EX spec gains heated front seats, dual-zone climate-control, 18in alloys, full leather interior and a 7in touchscreen with reversing camera. Range-toppng ELX trim further adds keyless-go, front and rear parking sensors, sat-nav and automatic headlights and wipers.
Those who want a compact crossover with proper SUV features such as heated leather seats, an automatic gearbox or four-wheel drive often find they’re available only on headline versions of these junior utility vehicles, some of them priced on the far side of £20,000.
However, the Tivoli offers four driven wheels from just over £17,500, a six-speed automatic 'box from less than £16,000, and both heated leather and 18in wheels as standard for less than £15,000.
The firm’s done its financial homework, too, and is offering super-affordable, pay-monthly PCP deals from less than £170-a-month, underwritten by lenders already willing to take a punt that residual values on the car will be competitive.
Ssangyong’s claim that the new car's design is eye-catching, probably has more credibility in its native Korean market than in Europe. Here, the likes of the Nissan Juke and Citroën C4 Cactus make the Tivoli look derivative. That said, it’s a sufficiently competent and contemporary-looking car to merit a closer look.
The cabin’s chief virtue is its space. Occupant room in both rows is close to class-leading and easily generous enough for larger adults. Getting in and out is easy thanks to the raised seating level. Even without sliding the back seats, the boot will accommodate 423 litres of stuff, making the car one of the more useful of its kind. The boot’s fairly short but also square, wide and tall, and for anyone requiring significant boot space, Ssangyong also sells the Tivoli XLV, offering an extended rear end for more space, though still only a five-seater.
The fascia's design is as derivative as that of the exterior, but it’s far from plain. With the exception of the plastic steering wheel and cheap, dated-looking gearknob of the SE version, cabin quality is more than acceptable. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of useful storage around the interior, including a centre cubby large enough for an iPad.
To drive, the car lacks the dynamic sophistication of some of its European rivals, but does enough not to disgrace itself. The 147bhp 1.6-litre petrol is short on torque compared with turbocharged alternatives, and its long gear ratios have been chosen for economy rather than speed.
As a result, it doesn’t deliver remotely peppy or particularly flexible performance but goes well enough, and better than some of its competitors. Mechanical refinement is quite good, even if the cabin isn’t isolated from road noise with the same thoroughness.
There’s also a 113bhp diesel that’s more efficient than the petrol, and the auto is also a poor option efficiency wise on the diesel, with a clear 12mpg difference between the transmissions, though on the petrol that narrows to just under five mpg with the petrol.
The car’s ride is busy, and occasionally thumpy and hollow feeling. It’s not as comfortable or fluent over bumps as some of the European crossovers the car seeks to undercut, and neither does it handle with much vigour. Body control’s decent, but grip and agility levels are modest on the 16in rims of the SE. The car’s steering is consistent and friction-free, but devoid of feedback.
Ssangyong remains a relative unknown in Europe, and owning one of its vehicles requires a bigger leap of faith than you’d take on other budget brands. However, on the Tivoli, it’d be a rewarding act for those with a pragmatic enough attitude.
The car’s neither desirable enough, interesting enough, nor quite good enough to drive to compete with the better members of its competitor set on equal terms, but Ssangyong’s pricing means it doesn’t really have to be any of those things.
The Tivoli is also scheduled to become Ssangyong’s first electric model around 2020.
It may not have the character or the standout price of a Dacia Duster, but the Tivoli isn’t far behind that model as a value champion. Ssangyong hopes the new car will double its UK sales volumes over the coming year and do wonders for the company’s profile. It deserves to do nothing less.