Ssangyong is confident its new Musso pick-up truck will move it in from the margins of the expanding sector and lead the charge in establishing the South Korean brand in the UK market.
The Musso is now based on an SUV, Ssangyong’s Rexton, which, the manufacturer claims, therefore makes it a more refined and civilised proposition than many of its rivals – principally the Mitsubishi L200 and Isuzu D-Max – plus the truck is backed up by a class-leading, seven-year/150,000-mile warranty, beating Isuzu’s previous best five-year/125,000-mile offer on the D-Max.
Another selling point is price – the double-cab-only range starts at just under £20,000 (all prices exclude VAT) and this is significant because Ssangyong admits it cannot attract customers with its brand name, at least not until the Musso becomes more established.
The Isuzu D-Max double-cab range starts at over £20,000 while the Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux, Mitsubishi L200 and Nissan Navara all come in at well over £21,000 in double-cab guise.
There are currently 60 dealerships in the UK plus 12 aftersales-only sites. The boss of importer Ssangyong Motor UK, Nick Laird, says the initial target is to sell 1,500 Mussos a year and stresses that a requirement for the dealers, who are predominantly rural-based, is to raise awareness of the Musso through taking it to country shows and agricultural events.
Laird says Ssangyong has recruited some former Land Rover dealers who parted company with the 4x4 brand when they were expected to take on Jaguar too, and adds that other sites are shared with Mitsubishi and Kia.
Chairman Jim Tyrrell, formerly Mitsubishi’s UK boss, says 2018 marks the start of a three-year plan for Ssangyong Motor UK, at the end of which it aims to be selling 10,000 vehicles through 90 dealerships. The Musso, which is now the brand’s only LCV (it has dropped commercial Korando and Rexton variants), has a key role to play, with Tyrrell saying it could account for four in 10 of the brand’s total car and LCV sales in the UK.
The Musso is powered by the same 181hp 2.2-litre engine delivering 400Nm of torque that serves the Rexton, and this is mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.
It has selectable four-wheel drive with high and low ratios to match off-road demands, a 1.0t payload and 3.5t towing capacity, which matches the class leaders such as the Isuzu D-Max, Nissan Navara, Mercedes X-Class and Ford Ranger.
The truck is available in four trim levels: Musso Ex (£19,995), Musso Rebel (£22,495), Musso Saracen (24,995) and the limited edition Musso Rhino (28,495), which is restricted to 100 examples.
We got behind the wheel of a Saracen with the automatic transmission, which adds £1,250 to the starting price.
Spec levels are high throughout the line-up with DAB radio, Bluetooth and manual aircon on all models. Rebel trim adds kit such as a reversing camera and 18in alloy wheels, and Saracen brings on board a larger (9.2in) touchscreen, cruise control, TomTom navigation and power-adjustable front seats.
A few weeks ago we had the chance to drive a left-hand drive Korean-specification Musso at the Millbrook Proving Ground testing facility and found its handling, ride quality and refinement compared favourably to competitors such as the Ranger and Toyota Hilux.
Thanks to its coil-springs rear suspension and Pininfarina’s tuning, levels of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) were impressively suppressed.
We were surprised, therefore, to experience a good deal of bounce and vibration from the rear when we took to the road in the right-hand drive Musso. For the UK version to hit the crucial 1.0t payload target it has received tautened new springs and dampers, which have not done the ride any favours. Ssangyong has acknowledged the problem and vowed to add spring assistors or new springs to settle it down again.
Aside from that, on-road performance is smooth enough with reasonable response from the 181hp drivetrain, and while the steering is lightweight the six-speed auto gearbox is slick enough. Off-road, the Musso can comfortably handle steep ascents and descents, wade through shallow rivers, and generally offer more than enough to cope with a tough shift on the farm.
Ssangyong Musso Saracen 2.2-litre 181hp automatic
Price (ex VAT) £24,995
Price range (ex VAT) £19,995-£28,495
Insurance group 41
Service intervals 12,500mls
Load length 1,300mm
Load width (min/max) 1,110/1,500mm
Load bay height 765mm
Gross payload 1,085kg
Engine size/power 2,157cc/181hp
Combined fuel economy 32.9mpg
Despite teething problems with the suspension in the UK model, the new Musso offers decent refinement and genuine workhorse credentials for a competitive price, although fuel economy does not match rivals.