(Photo Credit: @jabariphotos)
With a revamped exterior and a new punchy turbocharged powerplant, the new 2020 Ssangyong Tivoli signals the arrival of the brand as a proper alternative to the established big players.
It's finally happened. My bosses gave me a call and said that I had to pick up a Ssangyong to review. Great. A Ssangyong? Really? This was one trip to the showroom I really wasn't looking forward to.
Why, you ask? Well, I once listed the entire 2005 Ssangyong model line-up as number two in the Top Five Ugliest Cars Ever Produced. Would the folks at Ssangyong welcome me with open arms and try to impress me with their latest model, or would I enter the showroom with their staff armed to the teeth, ready to burn me at the stake?
Only one way to find out.
(Spoiler: I'm still alive, so obviously the staff at Motorway Ssangyong didn't choose the latter).
Laugh all you will about Ssangyong's older designs, but one thing the Koreans are good at is plastic surgery. And my word is the Tivoli a pretty thing.
I'm not proud to admit it, but be objective and just look at the Tivoli. The pre-facelift was already quite a looker, and the plastic surgeons have truly upped their game for this facelifted model by giving it a nip and tuck in the front, giving the 2020 Tivoli a more defined and chiselled bumper and sleeker headlights.
The rear wheel arches even stretch across the doors, giving this SUV a mean, hunkered-down haunch, while also creating the visual impression that the Ssangyong is a Coupe-SUV.
Not bad, but good looks alone aren't enough to win me over. After all, to qualify as a K-Pop star, one not only has to look good but also pack the necessary talents to wow audiences.
Interior and Features
After shutting the door of the Tivoli, the first thing you will hear is an excessively long welcome chime. Not only that, there are five different chimes to choose from (there's even one that plays traditional Korean music if you're so inclined to choose that chime).
(Scroll to the next panel to hear all the chimes)
The interior is rather ergonomically designed and spacious, with controls that are mostly easy to reach. The only exception is the drive mode button, which is oddly placed right at the bottom of the dash's centre stack.
Storage spaces such as the glove compartment are large and spacious, as is the boot space, which can carry up to 427 litres of cargo.
Furthermore, the rear seats can be folded flat in a 60:40 split-folding configuration to give you even more cargo-carrying capacity.
There is also no load lip to lift over when the seats are folded down, giving you a seamless flat floor.
At the back, there is more than adequate legroom for this SUV, and the illusion of space is further bolstered by well-designed front seats that are high enough for the rear passengers to slot their feet under.
I was genuinely impressed with Ssangyong on how they managed to create a muscular rear haunch on the exterior, without sacrificing visibility of the rear cabin (unlike in the Toyota CH-R, which has the tendency to make rear passengers feel slightly claustrophobic).
The multifunction steering wheel isn't exactly circular, but this is no bad thing. Instead, it is designed such that the driver can have a better grip than your typical round steering wheel.
Ahead of the steering wheel lies a 10.25" TFT fully digital meter cluster, which provides up to four different digital meter cluster designs.
However, I do have to say that the interface to control the digital dash was slightly counterintuitive to use, at least to me.
What wasn't counterintuitive was the 8" LCD touchscreen display system on the centre stack, which is capable of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
If you think I'm impressed with the 2020 Ssangyong Tivoli at this stage, here's a news flash: you're wrong. It's not all well and good in the interior, and here are the two major complaints that I have:
First, the windows are all-electric, but only the driver's window gets an automatic function. This alone may be common, but it's only an automatically descending window. If you want to wind it back up, you'll still have to hold on to the switch.
This truly begs the question: why did Ssangyong not just include an auto-up and down driver's window in the first place? Surely it wouldn't have added much to the production costs to programme that auto-up function as well.
As it stands, not having the corresponding auto-up function makes the auto-down driver's window moot, as you'd still need to use one hand to wind up the window instead of keeping away the cash card you have just inserted into the carpark gantry.
Secondly, the interior is full of plastics of varying qualities. We managed to find three different types of plastics on the dashboard: soft-touch plastics, hard plastics that didn't feel brittle, and scratchy hard plastics that did.
Despite Ssangyong obviously having included soft-touch plastics in some parts of the dash, they chose to omit them on the door cards, bar a very small area intended to be a padded armrest.
One saving grace, however, is that the Ssangyong Tivoli still feels quite well put together.
On the Move
The Ssangyong Tivoli is the only car I've reviewed so far that I can truly say has fought against me as I was trying to drive it.
Perhaps the test unit I drove had a Herbie-like sentience and chose to actively fight against my steering and throttle inputs because it knew I held a bias against Ssangyong.
Or it could be that Ssangyong still has to work on improving its electronic power steering dynamics and throttle tuning.
Whichever case it was, the Tivoli's steering lacked resistance to the point where I could literally turn the wheel with just my little finger. While other electric power steering systems weigh progressively heavier the faster you drove, the Tivoli's system felt like it changed abruptly each time you started accelerating.
Such problems are arguably inherent to electric power steering systems, although some other manufacturers have managed to find the sweet spot to avoid the over-assisting until their cars are devoid of steering feel.
What's worrying about the Tivoli is that it actually fought against my steering inputs by trying to steer to the left when I turned the wheel clockwise. Perhaps it was the electric power steering system acting to try and provide some steering resistance, but it did give the overall feel that steering in the 2020 Ssangyong Tivoli is more an exercise in guesstimation than it is responding to driver input.
The throttle of the Tivoli follows in quite a similar fashion. Oddly enough, the car seems to lag for a good one second in between you prodding the throttle and the car actually accelerating forward.
Furthermore, there were a few occasions over my course of testing the 2020 Ssangyong Tivoli when the car continued to hold the revs and accelerate forward for about half a second after I let off the throttle.
Aside from these "buffering issues", however, the Tivoli's 1.5-litre turbocharged powerplant, mated to an Aisin-sourced six-speed automatic, is actually properly impressive! With 161hp and 260nm of torque on tap, the 2020 Ssangyong Tivoli is actually quite a peppy machine and never feels underpowered, even when you're on the highway.
Ssangyong used to buy older-generation Mercedes engines to put into their own cars, so I was genuinely impressed that their self-developed 1.5-litre turbocharged unit could be so peppy and responsive, yet quiet and refined at the same time. Regardless of what speed you're at, you'll be pinned to your seat with generous waves of torque once you step on the throttle (but only after you wait for the throttle lag to pass).
I have no idea why Ssangyong chose to omit the Tivoli's 0-100km/h timing, but given that this is a COE CAT B car, I was extremely curious as to what the figure was. Some backyard testing revealed that the Tivoli is capable of a century sprint in the range of just 9.0 to 9.2 seconds, which squarely puts it faster than most of its competitors, which require in excess of 10 seconds to do the same run.
Apart from that, the Tivoli also has surprisingly excellent all-round ventilated disc brakes that are easy to modulate, have a good bite, and provide surprising stopping power.
So peppy was the Tivoli's engine that I actually tried to do some spirited driving with it. However, the suspension, despite being well-damped, is more suitable for floating over humps at 50km/h than it is for tackling corners.
When given a high-speed corner, the Tivoli pitched about more than necessary and began to slide into a predictable understeer.
Honestly, I do think that given the Tivoli's powertrain, a good set of sports tyres and coilover suspensions could actually make it a surprising performer. The Tivoli didn't actually feel like it had bad driving characteristics, merely that it has too floaty a suspension set-up for spirited driving. But I'm probably getting ahead of myself. This is, after all, a practical family SUV.
That's the thing with the 2020 Ssangyong Tivoli isn't it? If you're shopping for a practical family SUV, you'd probably not have the same concerns as me about the Tivoli's imprecise electric power steering, or its laggy throttle response.
What you'd care about is that this is a very spacious and practical car that is genuinely very well-designed inside and out. Yes, there are kinks that Ssangyong still needs to work out, such as their choice of plastics in the interior, or the very questionable auto-down only window switch. But on the whole, the Tivoli is actually a very attractive package.
It is a handsome car, with a generous interior, and also packs enough of a punch to make city and highway driving an absolute breeze.
Is the 2020 Ssangyong Tivoli good enough to be a K-Pop star? Not quite, but it's more like that quirky Korean exchange student who's attractive in a foreign sort of way.
Ssangyong still has some points to improve on its 2020 Tivoli, but I can conclusively say that it is now a brand that can be considered an interesting alternative to the established Japanese and Korean brands, rather than some niche manufacturer that most should just skip over.
Engine: 1,497cc Turbocharged 4-Cylinder Inline
Power: 161hp @ 6,300rpm
Torque: 260Nm @ 4,500rpm
Fuel Consumption: 14.7km/l
0-100km/h: 9.2 seconds (as tested)
Top Speed: 175km/h
Drivetrain: Six-Speed Automatic; Front-Wheel Drive
Brakes: All-Round Ventilated Disc Brakes
Dimensions (LxWxH): 4,225mm x 1,810mm x 1,621mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 50l
Boot Capacity: 427l
Digital Gauge Cluster
Apple CarPlay & Android Auto
Photos in this article by: @jabariphotos
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