The Tivoli crossover, launched last year, was the first Ssangyong built under Mahindra ownership. But more important than the Indian conglomerate’s bankrolling of the project was the nature of the car. Following on from the Korando, the Tivoli was further confirmation that South Korea’s third-largest car maker could move from producing redundant, ugly SUVs that no one wanted to the kind of affordable, easy-on-the-eye soft-roaders that everyone does. By Ssangyong’s measure, the Tivoli has been a roaring success – enough to convince the firm that the original pumped-up supermini concept can be inflated even further. Consequently, we now have this: the Tivoli XLV.
Previewed by the seven-seat XLV-Air concept in Frankfurt last year (sadly, the two jump seats have gone), the ‘eXciting Lifestyle Vehicle’ is a larger version of the Tivoli and, according to its maker, the first of a new class: the SUV-estate. That aside, the XLV’s advantages are obvious: having gently muscled in on territory occupied by household names such as the Nissan Juke, Ssangyong now wants (with minimum investment) to take on larger rivals such as the Skoda Yeti by enhancing the Tivoli’s practicality.
In the UK, with the choice limited to a single diesel engine, the XLV goes on sale with a starting price of £18,250. There’s the option of four-wheel drive and a manual gearbox to consider, but we drove the car in front-drive automatic format. That combination will need to be compelling to impinge on a price bracket that includes the all-conquering Nissan Qashqai and even entry-level versions of the recently lauded Seat Ateca. Time to find out if the eXciting Lifestyle Vehicle lives up to its name.
DESIGN AND ENGINEERING – It isn’t difficult to see from where Ssangyong has conjured the XLV’s extra space when you see the car in the metal. Rather than going to the expense of making a bespoke platform for its larger model, the firm stuck with the Tivoli’s wheelbase and instead stretched the body behind the C-pillars by 243mm. The effect – as intimated by Ssangyong’s SUV-estate claim – is a plus-sized compact crossover delivering gains in boot size rather than cabin roominess. The quoted increase in load space is substantial. The Tivoli was already capable of accommodating 423 litres with the rear seats up; the XLV inflates that figure to 720 litres -more than Mercedes-Benz claims for an E-Class Estate.
Granted, that’s measured from floor to roof as opposed to parcel shelf, but even allowing for that, the added length makes it appear to be the class leader by some margin – and therefore, Ssangyong hopes, of interest to the dog walking/avid golfer crowd who value load capacity highly. Forward of the expanded boot, potential buyers will find the XLV much like the Tivoli – which is to say a predictably conventional prospect. While its smaller sibling can be bought with a 126bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine, the XLV will be sold in the UK exclusively with a 113bhp e-XDi 160 diesel. The Euro 6-compliant four-cylinder oil-burner is Ssangyong’s latest, featuring a fifth-generation variable-geometry turbocharger and producing 221lb ft from 1500rpm.
At best, in front-wheel drive form and with the standard six-speed manual gearbox, the manufacturer claims 62.8mpg combined with 117g/km of CO2 emissions, putting the XLV at the fairly respectable end of the running cost equation. Because Ssangyong is historically tied to the broader functionality of older-school off-roaders, the Tivoli is also available with four-wheel drive.
An electronically governed on-demand system shuffles power to the rear axle when required, although, with the departure angle limited by that ample back end to just 20.8deg, the XLV’s off-piste capabilities shouldn’t be overestimated.
All-wheel-drive cars get multi-link rear suspension to accommodate the extra shafts, with MacPherson struts standard at the front. A conventional Aisin six-speed automatic gearbox (fitted to our test car) is the slusher of choice for a £1000 premium.
Multimedia System – Any proper family car on offer for less than £20,000 that comes with a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system, a decent navigation system and plenty of connectivity options deserves some credit – and that’s what we’re prepared to give here.
The Tivoli’s TomTom-based navigation system can be a bit slow to render, but its mapping is actually quite good and detailed, its view settings are easy to juggle, it’s easy to program (thanks to online points of interest search) and the infuriating always-on auto-zoom of other cheap systems is notable by its absence.
There’s no DAB radio here, nor is there any smartphone mirroring functionality, and both are big omissions, but the system’s iPod integration is quite good. The propensity of the Bluetooth to auto-connect with a paired phone is a bit flaky, and we’re not sure how much call there is for HDMI connectivity in a budget crossover (a function the Tivoli does indeed offer), but those reservations apart, this system is certainly a respectable one for the money.
INTERIOR – Plenty of space and kit, decent material quality and finish, a few neat, practical features… this is what most people shopping for a usable, versatile and inexpensive family car will expect of the Tivoli. And, for the most part, they’ll find it here. The car only really gives you what you’re paying for, in some ways -which is to say, not the most rich or carefully chosen fascia mouldings and not the last word in styling flourishes or systems sophistication. But it does much better than the class average on boot space, passenger accommodation and standard kit.
For taller drivers, the Tivoli is one of the few that actually delivers on the tacit promise of the crossover breed, in that it has plenty of head room. With more than a metre of space from seat to ceiling in the front, there’s more head room than in a Suzuki Vitara or a Renault Kadjar, while rear head room is equally outstanding. Slightly short, flat seat cushions make sitting less comfortable than it might be, but there’s easily enough space in the back for adults, with good underseat foot space and even your own heated leather seats.
Onboard stowage options are good, with usefully large cubbies in the doors, inside the centre armrest and inside the glovebox. We’re not entirely convinced by Ssangyong’s preference for elasticated bungee-style retainers on the front seatbacks (where you might otherwise find a pocket), because smaller, loose items aren’t as easily held. It also seems a shame that sliding rear seats have been omitted because, without an extended wheelbase in play with this XLV version, they might have allowed for an even larger boot when the occasion called for it.
As it is, and although it looks large judging by the bulky rear bodywork on the outside, the Tivoli XLV’s boot is actually slightly shorter behind the rear seats, and both narrower and shallower under the load bay cover, than that of a full-sized crossover like a Renault Kadjar. It’s still a good size and beats most smaller crossover rivals on overall load length, but Ssangyong could and should have done more to offer underfloor storage space, and perhaps to make the standard boot board adjustable on height.
PERFORMANCE – Although the Tivoli’s powertrain is a bit noisy and much prefers a measured driving style to a hurried one, it offers three things that are likely to appeal to its customer base: decent fuel economy, adequately gutsy acceleration and the laid-back ease of use conferred by the use of a proper torque converter automatic gearbox. It’s a combination that’s actually quite rare at the affordable end of the crossover class, with the diesel options either costing more or coming with a fairly small and relatively weedy engine and either a robotised manual or dual-clutch automatic gearbox. The upshot is that you can punt around in the Tivoli very easily and without investing much effort.
There’s plenty of torque on offer without needing to work the engine up to its 4000rpm rev limit, and certainly enough that you can keep the car’s mass rolling along easily and then accelerate it fairly briskly when you need to. That Aisin gearbox is at its best when shifting ratios on part-throttle and keeping the engine’s crankshaft between 2000 and 3000rpm, something it does well enough. There is a manual shift mode, commanded by a small switch positioned on the gear selector itself, to be twiddled with your left thumb. But honestly, it’s a mistake to try to interact too closely with this powertrain or generally stoke it too hard, with manual changes being delivered in an unhurried fashion. There’s also no kickdown switch at the bottom of the accelerator pedal travel; as a result, there’s no easy way to keep the car locked in gear at full power when climbing or overtaking.
Downshifts can come at anything more than about 75% throttle, whether you’re in manual mode or automatic and whether you want them or not – except, that is, when you really want one, such as when you’re climbing hard or overtaking and need every available horsepower, at which point they seem to either take an age to arrive or sometimes fail to materialise at all. It’s a bit disappointing that the Tivoli’s engine isn’t more mechanically refined.
The cabin registered 68dB at 50mph, compared with 65dB in the equivalent Renault Kadjar (although the French car is slower and, in some ways, less driveable). But overall, while we have a few issues with the way in which it goes about its business, we’d accept that what the Tivoli delivers is competitive in most of the ways, and in most of the usage modes, that matter to its target audience.
RIDE AND HANDLING – It’s here that the XLV’s positioning begins to work against it. The decision to offer it only in range-topping ELX trim, which packs it full of kit and makes it appealing in some ways, means that an 18in alloy and relatively low-profile rubber is the sole wheel and tyre combination on offer. And if you believe, like us, that the dynamic brief of a pragmatic, practical, sensibly priced family car is to be quiet and comfortable first and foremost, you won’t fail to be a bit disappointed by the upshot of that. Predictably, that upshot is a ride that is slightly abrupt, coarse and unflattering.
While it isn’t anywhere near as poor as the one we reported on recently from the similarly positioned MG GS, the ride does just about enough to remind you, every mile or so with a fidget, rumble or thump, that you’re driving something that wasn’t as skilfully judged through the chassis development stages as it might have been. But all is not lost.
There are three presets on power steering weight to choose from. The heaviest, Sport mode, gives the wheel the most helpful on-centre stability and just about enough heft to keep you from overworking the controls at low speeds and inadvertently breaching what are respectable but quite middling grip levels.
Little contact patch feel is detectable through the rim, but weighting and pace are consistent and the system is well mannered at all times, except when bigger bumps cause some disruption. Bigger, taller front-wheel-drive cars can sometimes suffer from poor traction when cornering, but the Tivoli XLV doesn’t, while body control is decent and matched well to available lateral grip.
When you do begin to lean on the car harder than its suspension will tolerate without forcing its tyres to run wide, the standard stability control system intervenes progressively and effectively to keep you roughly on your intended path.
BUYING AND OWNING – Ssangyong’s positioning of the XLV is steadfastly Korean in approach. The model is not intended to be a cut-price alternative to mainstream options; instead, it is meant to compete with them as a simultaneously better equipped and manifestly more affordable rival. Consequently, the sole ELX trim comes with leather seats (heated front and rear), dual-zone air-con, keyless start, automatic lights and wipers, the 7.0in touchscreen with nav, cruise control and 18in wheels for slightly less than Nissan charges for its cheapest (and far less well equipped) Qashqai.
For those concerned with running costs, it should be noted that both a Qashqai and a Kadjar can be had in sub-100g/km forms – and with the prospect of 74.3mpg average fuel economy. It’s also worth noting that the Renault can be had with a dual-clutch automatic transmission that doesn’t penalise emissions.
That’s in stark contrast to the XLV, which adds an old-fashioned torque-converting 37g/km of CO2 to the road duty obligations. Buy it with four-wheel drive as well and the Ssangyong’s emissions total rises to 164g/km – almost 30g/km higher than the range-topping Seat Ateca, which develops 74bhp more from a larger-capacity engine. Not exactly state of the art, then – but it is almost £9500 cheaper to buy, which will be a sufficient headline for some.