A Stylish And Capable Newcomer
You may have probably not heard of SsangYong, but I’m pretty sure you’ve seen one. Have you seen this van across the Philippines, especially in school bus configuration?
Well, those are actually not Mercedes-Benzes, sort of. You see, that van is often badged as a Mercedes-Benz MB100, which is about as half true as Kendall Jenner saying she’s a sister of Kim Kardashian-West, because in reality, those two are step sisters, not biological, and that Mercedes-Benz you’re seeing is actually half a SsangYong. The story behind the confusion is due to SsangYong actually having a long time partnership with Mercedes-Benz, and this Mercedes-Benz MB100, also known as the SsangYong Istana, is one of the fruits of the partnership. The other fruit of this partnership is the somewhat popular SsangYong Musso, which was first sold as a Mercedes-Benz in some countries.
With a technology partnership with Mercedes-Benz, and an entire line-up of purely SUVs and crossovers when every other manufacturer is just starting to jump into the crossover and SUV bandwagon, it seems that SsangYong is one step ahead, right? On paper, yes, but it isn’t entirely the case. It had its fair share of financial troubles, especially in 2009 when it entered receivership 5 years after being bought by Chinese automobile manufacturer SAIC. To cut the long story short, the company is currently doing well under the ownership of Indian car manufacturer Mahindra & Mahindra, in which the Indian company owns and finances the company. Research and development is purely made by the Korean brand, and its technologies still being shared from Mercedes-Benz. Now that you know the history behind SsangYong, let’s get into the review of this mid level Tivoli EXG.
The Tivoli comes from the name of a stylish and quaint Italian town, and the name was also chosen because it can be read as “I love it” in reverse (ILovIt). Does it reflect in the styling? In a word, yes! In many words, the Tivoli is a stylish small SUV, probably even one of the best looking subcompact crossovers out there. The SsangYong Tivoli is an unexpected head turner, with its sharp halogen headlights flanked by LED daytime running lights, stylish silhouette, swanky 16-inch alloy wheels, and its brown paint that can be contrasted with a different colored roof and mirrors if you purchase the top trim Sport R variant. It’s a design that clearly doesn’t disappoint, with its good proportions and wide wheel arches, especially those at the rear, giving it a wide stance. It’s unlike any SsangYong before it, which used to have the beauty of a woman smacking her face on a wall. The Tivoli is just the first wave of SUVs to come from the financing of Mahindra & Mahindra, so it’s exciting to see what the brand is cooking next.
The interior, while not as stylish as the exterior, still looks great. Hard plastics dominate the interior, but at least it is solidly built and well screwed together. The monotony of the predominantly black interior is broken by the addition of high gloss black finishes, red details, and faux metal trims. Leather seats come as standard, which feel good to the touch, and is a plus since most subcompact crossovers have fabric seats at this price. The manual aircon controls look smart and it works intuitively. Further breaking the monotony of the interior are some details that are in red, such as the buttons in the center console, and the high contrast two-tone LED-lit gauges. An LCD is sandwiched between the twin LED-lit gauges, providing key information at a glance. Perhaps my most favorite design detail is the flat bottomed steering wheel, which looks cool and highlights the Tivoli’s supposed sporty driving dynamics. More on that later.
Space and Practicality
Surprisingly, the SsangYong Tivoli is spacious. Adults will fit in all five seats no problem. Also thanks to the flat rear floor, all three rear seats are usable for adults, and there’s enough shoulder room for three people to sit in, thanks to the interior being wider than most competitors. However, I must mention the elephant in the room, and it’s the lack of reach adjustment for the steering. While it tilts for rake adjustment, it doesn’t telescope for reach, and while I have no complaints in the driving position I have made, it proved to be weird for my father, who thinks the steering is too far for his liking, while the gas and brake pedals are too near for him.
There’s plenty of storage spaces inside the Tivoli, including a neatly designed shelf just above the glove box. The trunk is spacious, with 425 liters of space, which is among the biggest in its class. It’s expandable to 720 liters, thanks to the 60-40 split folding rear seats, but there is a lip from the trunk when the seats are folded, making it difficult to push things further inside. Thankfully, there’s an optional false floor in order to raise the trunk floor and provide both a flat loading area extra underfloor storage.
Features, Safety, and Infotainment
The SsangYong Tivoli is generously equipped. Standard features include a 7-inch Android-based touch screen system which supports AM/FM, CD, Bluetooth, AUX, USB, and MirrorLink. Being based on Android means that you have access to a Google Play Store, in which Waze is standard fitment in your dashboard.
SsangYong also fitted the Tivoli with Smart Steering and Smart Driving Modes. Smart Steering changes steering effort through the choice of three modes. Comfort makes steering effort weirdly light; Normal is self-explanatory; and Sport makes things artificially heavy with no improvement in response or feedback. I just left it in Normal the whole time. Smart Driving Modes change the throttle and gearbox response. There are three modes, Economy, Winter, and Power. I just turned it off altogether and left it at normal the whole time, as it gives the best blend of fuel economy and smooth performance. As I mentioned, leather seats come as standard, but if you’ll notice, it’s the perforated type, which led me thinking if the car has heated seats, and surprisingly, it does.
Unfortunately, the Android-based system is fiddly to use. As it’s basically having an Android tablet glued to the dashboard, its user interface is not designed for use while driving. Aside from its graphical user interface (UI) which looks weird with crunchy and cartoonish graphics in some menus, stuff like connecting your phone through Bluetooth or changing the radio is a multi-step process buried under menus that oftentimes require looking away from the road too much. A redeeming feature is that a rear back-up camera can optionally be fitted, though rear parking sensors are standard.
Other safety features include dual airbags, and ABS with EBD. Though it is still rare in the subcompact SUV class to have standard stability control, we at Go Flat Out recommend car manufacturers to offer any form of stability control as standard.
The Tivoli is powered by a 1.6 liter inline-4 cylinder petrol engine with dual continuously variable valve timing (D-CVVT), which produces 128 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 160 Nm of torque @ 2,800 rpm. It is mated to a single choice Aisin-sourced 6-speed automatic transmission, powering the front wheels. All wheel drive is not available.
How It Drives
Upon pulling out the Tivoli out of our house’s garage, stares from different people in our village are drawn towards the stylish sheetmetal, and thankfully, the stylish and sporty exterior reflects in the driving experience for the most part. The SsangYong Tivoli has a firm suspension, which translates to a surprising level of agility I wasn’t expecting from this small SUV. Aiding to more driving thrills is the 6-speed automatic’s ability to shift manually, making you partially in control of the whole driving experience. The mechanism for the manual mode is weird, though. Throw it into a corner, and the Tivoli enters into corners confidently, with its sporty aspirations only limited by its steering that, while accurate and responsive enough for the task, provides little in terms of feedback. This is a subcompact crossover that did surprise me genuinely in the way it drives.
Don’t be fooled by the engine. While its 1.6 liter petrol engine isn’t exactly going to make you win any drag races, this engine provides an excellent torque curve. With peak torque available at just 2,800 rpm, torque is somewhat similar to what you’d expect from the excellent pulling power of a diesel. Never at any point did the SsangYong Tivoli feel lethargic, even when going uphill. With this particular Tivoli being fitted with a tow hook, I was curious if it is only just for show, but surprisingly, the spec sheet says it is capable of pulling up to 1,000 kg (1 tonne) of payload. This is a small SUV that has capabilities.
Out on the highway, the SsangYong Tivoli’s road manners are good. Refinement is good overall, only let down by a certain amount of road noise, while wind noise is kept to a minimum. Its strong engine and an automatic transmission that’s willing to downshift means overtaking slower cars at SLEX is not a problem with the Tivoli, though at very high speeds, the Tivoli’s engine sometimes does feel wanting for more power. Upon entering into the city, the Tivoli’s strong torque curve means that you rarely feel outgunned when trying to nip through gaps in traffic, complemented by its small dimensions and great overall forward visibility. It’s only when in parking do the thick rear pillars pose a challenge, but rear parking sensors are there to save your day.
The SsangYong Tivoli provides rather okay and not best in class fuel economy, returning an average of 9.8 km/l combined highway and city driving, though its 47 liter tank seems small for the way it consumes gas, requiring slightly more fill ups than I expected throughout the time the Tivoli was in my hands.
On The Downside
Due to the aforementioned firm suspension, the car has a stiff ride. Even when driving through relatively smooth SLEX, the Tivoli EXG’s body constantly moves around and never seems settled. Small but sharp bumps such as expansion joints in bridges and in Skyway is enough send a shudder inside the cabin, though the faster you go, and the more people you feel it up with, the better the ride quality becomes. I can’t imagine the ride of the Tivoli Sport R variant with its 18-inch wheels and low profile 45 series tires.
Also, when I first got the SsangYong Tivoli, during the first few kilometers it was in my hands, I initially thought of the transmission to be really annoying. This is due to the transmission being overly eager to downshift. At least in the way I step on the throttle, it is enough for the transmission to overeagerly shift down to first gear, making the car jerk and lurch forward too much. This is also the case during braking, as its eagerness to downshift also sends a slight jerking motion and too much engine braking oftentimes. This is a problem specifically experienced when driving in the city and in heavy traffic, where many stoplights exist. An extremely smooth and gradual application is needed to keep the car from overly downshifting, or simply put it in manual mode to make the operation smooth, but what’s the point of getting an automatic transmission then?
Other downsides are levelled towards the interior’s weird ergonomics. The controls for the gauges, Smart Steering, and Smart Driving Modes, are scattered all over the interior. While the Smart Driving Modes (E-W-P button) is thankfully where you’d expect it, located at the left of the steering clustered together with blank buttons I assume are for the missing traction control system, the Smart Steering is oddly located in the center console, together with the button for the hazards and (weirdly) the gauges. I kept looking for the rheostat knob that controls the gauge brightness and information the entire time. Least would I know it’d be located beside the hazard lights.
The SsangYong Tivoli is an great small SUV, marred by an unrefined automatic gearbox during city driving. The Tivoli EXG is surprisingly sporty to drive, capable, spacious and very stylish. If only the automatic transmission was well calibrated, not only would it be refined, it would probably also be very fuel efficient as well, due to the transmission not being overly eager to downshift. In a segment filled with established rivals from companies with loads of cash for research and development, the SsangYong Tivoli needs more than style to be able to stand out. Maybe extremely generous levels of equipment, and a free preventive maintenance for 3 years might convince you. Does the offer sound similar, perhaps an offer similar to an established Japanese brand? Well, it’s no coincidence, as SsangYong Philippines is managed by Berjaya Auto Philippines, the same company behind Mazda Philippines. With stylish looks, generous features, excellent pricing, and a free 3-year maintenance program to boot, why not give the SsangYong Tivoli EXG a chance?
Exterior Design: ★★★★☆
Interior Design: ★★★★☆
Space and Practicality: ★★★★☆
Fuel Efficiency: ★★★★☆
Value For Money: ★★★★☆
Overall: 4 out of 5