After a three-and-a-half year product drought, and right in the middle of a strategic partnership with Indian automaker Mahindra, Ssangyong last week unveiled its new Korando to the world's media.
Designed and developed in Europe by renowned car stylist Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Korando (the name emanates from "Koreans can do") gets an all-new platform, design and engine range (with no powertrain ties to Mercedes-Benz as before).
The Koreans have aimed the newcomer at combining the benefits of a family hatchback with the offroad capability of an SUV. And they're not calling the Korando a Sports Utility Vehicle, but have rather dubbed it as a Classy Utility Vehicle.
It's a bold and strong design, with a high bonnet, big headlamps and garish radiator grille. The tail lights are also quite big with built-in indicator and reversing lenses which appear red when not in use.
The Korando also gets big wheel arches with a black finish for off-road skirmishes, while ground clearance is 180mm.
Powering this soft roader is a two-litre turbodiesel producing 129kW and 360Nm, which the maker claims is 20 percent better than the model it replaces.
The new oil-burner not only meets Euro 5 emission regulations but also fulfils the upcoming Euro 6 rules - thanks to technologies such as third-generation, common-rail injection, electric exhaust-gas recirculation, and a catalysed diesel particulate filter.
Ssangyong claims six litres/100km fuel consumption, but with a 157g/km emission level the Korando will face emissions tax penalties when it lands in South Africa early in 2011.
Ssangyong has plans to develop a smaller diesel and a petrol derivative for introduction towards the end of 2011.
Buyers will have the option of six-speed manual or six-speed auto, and front-wheel or all-wheel drive derivatives. In normal driving the AWD system directs all the power to the front wheels and will feed the rear wheels once it detects loss of traction. The AWD system also has a lock mode to enforce an equal power split between front and rear axles at speeds below 40km/h.
The roads and mountain passes around the sunny island of Mallorca were at times narrow yet surprisingly pristine, and offered a reasonable test of the Korando's ride and handling capabilities.
The Korando is no doubt in the league of competitors such as Hyundai's ix35 and Kia's Sportage, with the diesel engine offering plenty of low-down torque. We drove the six-speed manual but I suspect the auto 'box may enjoy the torque more, especially as turbo lag was virtually non-existent.
The interior was quiet, practical and spacious with limo-like rear legroom (I'm not kidding) and the typical commanding driving position. The second row of seats split 60:40, fold flat, or recline to various settings.
50 PPM DIESEL ONLY
The luggage area gets an underfloor tray for additional storage - but the highlight has to be that the switchgear has been treated with anti-bacterial paint which stops the growth and spread of germs.
The European-specced cars also had snow demisters and rear seat warmers as standard fare, which I thought a nice idea.
South Africa will get the front-wheel and all-wheel drive two-litre turbodiesels (50ppm diesel only) in manual in February 2011, followed by the auto soon after.
But the challenge for Ssangyong SA will be to better the pricing (after the emissions tax), and five-year or 150 000km warranty of its major Korean competitors; Ssangyong currently offers three-years or 100 000km of protection from Murphy's Law.