SsangYong was once known for low-priced vehicles with unfortunate styling that made dogs bark at them.
Along the way the Korean brand gained better quality and more palatable designs, but going into receivership didn't help the company's cause and sales predictably took a dive.
Being taken over by India's financially stable Mahindra in 2011 has steadied the ship and, now that this merger filtered through to South Africa earlier this month, SsangYong immediately launched two new products to expand its South African range.
They're not brand new, as local buyers are familiar with both the Korando SUV and the Actyon Sports double cab bakkie that until now were sold by former importer Imperial, but new engine derivatives with lower pricetags are what prickle the interest.
So too a major redesign of the bakkie which should ensure children are no longer embarrassed to sit in it.
NOW WITH PETROL POWER
Formerly sold only as diesels, both vehicles are for the first time available with petrol engines - the Korando with a two-litre while the Actyon Sports has a 2.3 - which has enabled Mahindra SA to drop the starting prices for these models quite significantly.
The five-model Korando range is priced from R249 995 to R324 995, while the three-derivative Actyon Sports line up ranges from R269 995 to a competitive R319 995.
The Korando's new two-litre engine is paired with a six-speed manual transmission and two-wheel drive (only the diesel version offers automatic and all-wheel drive) and produces 110kW and 197Nm. These outputs felt rather modest when I drove the petrol Korando at the media launch earlier this week and it required vigorous gearbox-stirring to elicit overtaking pace, although the car I drove had very low mileage and the engine was admittedly still extremely tight.
But it was otherwise an impressive family SUV with good refinement, a quality feel, a very roomy cabin, and a handsome Giugiaro-styled body.
PLENTY OF BELLS AND WHISTLES
The competitive price-tag - about ten grand cheaper than rivals from Korea and Japan - comes with plenty of bells and whistles, including Bluetooth mobile phone connection, automatic-on wipers and headlamps, and sound systems with USB and auxiliary ports. Safety comprises airbags and ABS, while all but the entry-level version have leather seats.
The Actyon Sports double-cab pickup has undergone major cosmetic surgery and looks as similar to the old model as the adult Michael Jackson did to his kiddie pictures. The new grille, headlamps, and bumpers give the Korean bakkie a more mainstream look.
The cabin's also been given a substantial revamp although rear legroom is still very tight.
The new 2.3-litre petrol engine makes 110kW and 214Nm and, while also no powerhouse, is reasonably quiet and apparently rated to tow a braked trailer weighing 1800kg.
It's mated to a five-speed manual gearbox and all-wheel drive, while the 114kW/360Nm six-speed diesel versions come in a choice of 4x2 or 4x4.
Like the Korando, the Actyon Sports undercuts the opposition on price while offering a high level of spec and safety, and SsangYong's products are aimed at people who want to buy a lifestyle SUV or double cab bakkie earlier in life.
SsangYong has undergone a big turnaround internationally since Mahindra took a 70 percent controlling share in March 2011, with sales last year growing 40 percent over 2010.
SsangYong is hoping for a similar upturn in fortunes in South Africa, and backs its products with a five-year or 100 000km warranty and a three-year or 60 000km service plan.
The range is sold through a new network of dealerships all linked to established Mahindra outlets.
There are currently 19 dealers countrywide with 30 to be operational by the end of the year. - Star Motoring
Korando Petrol 4x2 - R249 995
Korando Petrol 4x2 High-end - R269 995
Korando Diesel 4x2 High-end - R289 995
Korando Diesel 4x2 A/T - R299 995
Korando Diesel 4x4 A/T Deluxe - R324 995
Actyon Sports Petrol 4x4 - R269 995
Actyon Sports Diesel 4x2 - R279 995
Actyon Sports Diesel 4x4 Deluxe - R319 995