Ssangyong’s for some time been making pretty good bakkies and SUVs at a decent price, but what freaked out many prospective buyers was the strange and Picasso-esque styling of some of its vehicles, not to mention the brand nearly going bankrupt.
But things have been resolved on both counts, which should put Ssangyong on buyers’ radars once again as there’s real value for money to be had here. The Korean automaker has been bought by India’s Mahindra and is financially stable, while the designers no longer seem to be indulging in dodgy recreational pharmaceuticals.
The Actyon Sports double cab is the latest recipient of this Ssangyong’s more mainstream styling, and a major facelift (including new grille, fenders and headlamps) no longer makes it look like the phantom of the opera unmasked.
The interior’s also been freshened up with a classier look, and the audio system’s been upgraded with an MP3 player and Bluetooth compatibility.
At the same time a new budget-friendly 110kW/214Nm 2.3-litre petrol version has been added to South Africa’s Actyon Sports range, but it felt rather gutless when we drove it at the recent media launch.
DIESEL A BETTER BET
The turbodiesel model on test here is still a better option if you can afford its 320 grand pricetag. Though nearly 50 grand more than the petrol, the diesel has much gutsier outputs and also comes in a higher Deluxe spec with added comfort features like cruise control and a trip computer.
The power delivery of 114kW and 360Nm produced by the 2-litre four-cylinder diesel outmuscles most other bakkies of similar cubic capacity – only the high-power Volkswagen Amarok beats it – and some 2.5-litre diesels too, and delivers all the power you’ll need for easy cruising or towing (it can pull a braked trailer of up to 2.3 tons).
There’s some turbo lag at lower revs which can become an annoyance when you’re late for an appointment and in full throttle-attack mode, but drive normally and it feels more than adequately powered. Once past that initial lag, the engine pulls strong and smooth, and I enjoyed the slick action of the six-speed manual transmission. The sixth gear contributed to average fuel consumption being a decently economical 10.1 litres per 100km.
The Actyon Sports 4x4 is a proper donga-duelling bushwhacker for weekend warriors, with a high ground clearance, robust chassis, and selectable all-wheel drive with low range.
You can switch between two- and four-wheel drive on the move by simply twisting a knob on the dashboard; there’s no second gear lever to manhandle.
The cargo area looks reasonably spacious and the tailgate opens with a convenient centre latch, but the load bay is covered by a brittle-looking ribbed plastic that doesn’t look like it will stand up well to the rigours of carting around garden rubble. There are internal tie-down hooks, and an aftermarket tonneau cover can be fitted optionally.
Ssangyong’s bakkie has a very pleasant interior with trimmings that don’t come across at all as cheap and nasty. It’s definitely more of a family lifestyle vehicle than a workhorse, which is why it’s strange that the designers skimped on rear legroom so much. The back seat’s suitable only for young kiddies unless the front occupants squash their knees against the dash.
There’s no skimping on specs to arrive at this Ssangyong’s very competitive price however, where it retails for between 30 and 70 grand less than rivals like the Hilux, Isuzu KB, Amarok and Ranger. This top-of-the-range Actyon Sports comes with standard items including automatic aircon, remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors, 18” mag wheels, a reverse parking sensor, cruise control, and an audio system with Bluetooth and MP3 and controls on the steering wheel.
Dual airbags, ABS brakes and electronic stability control take care of the safety aspect.
Selling for R319 995 and backed by a 3-year/100 000 km warranty and 3-year/60 000km service plan, the Ssangyong Actyon Sports 4x4 Deluxe is pitched – both in price and execution – between cheapie Chinese bakkies like the GWM Steed, and stalwarts like the Hilux, Isuzu KB and Amarok.
The Actyon Sports is closer in execution to the stalwarts with its reasonably classy interior execution and it has a distinct power advantage over most rivals.
Now that the styling isn’t inspired by Halloween it’s a much more palatable design and, apart from its cramped rear legroom, it makes a good value-for-money package. -Mercury Motoring