BUYERS GUIDE - UTES & CAB CHASSIS MEDIUM
Sharing its underpinnings with the even less popular Rexton SUV, the Musso’s body-on-frame construction, coil springs all around and part time four-wheel-drive system continued the Musso’s traditional good ride and handling characteristics.
In January 2019 SsangYong announced a 110mm-longer-wheelbase, leaf-rear-spring version, with a payload of 1020kg, compared with the coil-spring model’s 790kg payload. This model had a different grille design (pic above).
Designed to carry passengers in comfort, the Mussos combined a five-seat, crew-cab body style with load tubs that were claimed able to take a full-sized Euro pallet.
The 2019 Musso models were powered by the Rexton’s e-XDi220 common-rail turbo-intercooled diesel engine, delivering claimed maximum power of 133kW at 4000 rpm and peak torque of 400Nm from 1400. The long-wheelbase model got a torque increase, to 420Nm.
Transmission choices were a six-speed manual or six-speed Aisin automatic and the transfer case had low-range gearing.
With overall lengths of 5095mm and 5400mm the Mussos had among the largest cabin interiors in this class and claimed towing capacities of 3500kg.
The tubs came fitted with liners, 12V/120W power outlets and rotating tie-down hooks.
Six airbags and Bluetooth connectivity featured across the range, while the ELX and Ultimate models featured a 203mm screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There was also an option of leather seats.
Every model in the SsangYong range had autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and forward collision warning (FCW).
Other standard features include an adjustable tilt and telescoping steering wheel, electric windows, cruise control, central locking and air-conditioning with fine dust filters.
ELX added reversing camera, Blind Spot Detection (BSD), Lane Change Assist (LCA) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), while the Ultimate comes with 360° cameras, sunroof, leather seats with the front pair being heated and cooled and steering wheel rim heating.
Like every model in the SsangYong Australia range, the Mussos came with a comprehensive seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, seven years’ roadside assistance and seven years’ service price menu.
Pricing for the coil-sprung-rear-axle models at launch ranged from $30,490 to $39,990. Pricing for the long-wheelbase, leaf-sprung-rear-axle model was $43,990.
On and off road
Our test vehicle was an Ultimate model, complete with 20-inch chromed aluminium wheels, shod with 50-profile street rubber.
The tyres, in combination with limited ground clearance, severely limited our off-road testing. That was great shame, because the Musso had powerful traction control, adequate wheel travel and deep-reduction low-range gearing. Shod with higher-profile rubber it should have been reasonably bush-capable.
The Musso’s ride and handling testing must have been carried out on smooth surfaces, because the suspension damping was way too soft to cope with bumps.
On lumpy bitumen the Musso leapt from bump to bump and severe corrugations sent it almost out of control. More capable dampers are needed urgently and that’s not so simple, because the front end is a strut type, so the after-market would have to develop one and Musso sales numbers may not justify the investment.
The previous model Actyon suffered from the same problem, so SsangYong’s engineers haven’t learnt from experience.
The poor bump control spoilt this test for us, because on smooth surfaces the Musso was a delight to drive, with ample grunt from the turbo-diesel and superb shift control in manual mode in the six-speed auto box. Economy worked out at 9L/100km unloaded and 11L/100km with 250kg in the tub.
Ergonomics were first class, seating was comfortable and supportive, and rear seat passengers loved the leg room.
The Ultimate’s reversing and 360-degree camera gave a superb rear and around-vehicle view.
Previous Actyon models
Korean-based SsangYong seemed to have had more starts than Phar Lap, but the company’s future was assured, following a late-2010 takeover by wealthy Indian auto maker Mahindra.
This long-term relationship promised a much better future than the previous failed marriage with Daewoo that was based on shaky financial ground.
The injection of Indian capital enabled SsangYong’s engineers to incorporate some important changes to the Actyon Ute and our testing of the post-2010 machines showed that they deserved to be checked out by anyone looking for a 2WD or 4WD crew-cab ute.
The Actyon heritage went back to the Musso Sports ute, which used a Mercedes-Benz-derived powerplant and the Actyon continued that DNA, but not with the ancient and asthmatic five-cylinder, 2.9-litre diesel. The Actyon engine was a state of the art, third-generation, common-rail-injected four that displaces two litres and is pressurised by a variable-geometry turbocharger.
The 2007 diesel four had figures of 104kW at 4000rpm, with peak torque of 310Nm at 1800rpm, but the 2012 model scored 114kW, with peak torque of 360Nm in the 1500-2800rpm band. Oil drains were at 15,000km, which as considerably more generous than most diesel ute service schedules.
The upgraded diesel coupled to a new six-speed manual transmission, replacing the previous Borg Warner T10-based five-speed. The Drive Train Systems International auto box option also had Borg Warner heritage and, although it was launched in 2007 as a five-speed, this auto became a six-speed. On 4WD models a two-speed (2.48:1 and 1:1) transfer case was standard equipment
The 2012 Actyon retained the same ladder-frame chassis and running gear as its 2007 predecessor, along with most body panels. Suspension was 4WD wagon-style, with double-wishbones and coil springs up front and coil-sprung, five-link-located live rear axle. In exchange for wagon-like ride and handling there was a payload penalty in comparison with leaf-sprung rear end utes: 800+kg compared with most crew-cab utes’ claimed one-tonne plus. Towing capacity was also comparatively low, at 2300kg.
However, the Actyon Sports was said to meet the Australian Tax Office’s formula for freedom from FBT.
The 2012 Actyon Sports Ute retained most of the 2007 model’s bodywork, but where changes were made, they were all improvements; with the most noticeable being revised frontal appearance. Gone was the quirky Bruce the Shark nose that was reminiscent of a 1937 Willys or a 1940 Ford: replaced by more conventional split-upper and lower grille styling.
There was one body style in the Actyon Sports Ute range: a dual-cab pickup, but with three equipment levels buyers could choose from.
Exterior and interior build quality looked first class, with regular panel gaps and quality finish throughout. SsangYong Australia’s ‘blind’ market research back in 2007 reportedly indicated that most people didn’t believe the Actyon was Korean-made and acceptance of Korean products has increased markedly since then.
The base-model Actyon 2WD six-speed manual retailed for $25,282 and 4WD was a reasonable $3000 option. (Compared with the price difference between most 2WD and 4WD utes.) The six-speed auto box was an additional $2500.
In the ‘base’ Tradie model the buyer got: five steel 16-inch wheels; disc/drum brakes; Bluetooth with audio streaming; tilt-adjustable steering column; steering wheel controls for Bluetooth functions and upshift and downshift buttons for the auto box; dual SRS airbags; AM/FM CD audio with MP3 and USB jacks; power widows and heated mirrors; LED instrument lighting; trip computer; manual air conditioning; lumbar adjustable driver’s seat; alarm/immobiliser; front fog lamps; seat belt pretensioners and three child seat anchorages. A plastic tray liner and front fog lamps were also standard.
The SX 2WD and 4WD versions picked up: cruise control on auto models; aluminium 16-inch wheels; four disc brakes; leather-bound steering wheel; four-channel ABS brakes; electronic stability control (ESC) with hill start assist (HAS), traction control, active roll-over program, EBS and BAS. The RRP range was $29,282 to $36,732.
The top of the range SPR was 4WD auto only and came with: 18-inch aluminium wheels; leather seat covers; climate control air conditioning; rear parking sensors; auto headlights and wipers; headlight levelling; auto-dimming rear vision mirror; power-adjustable and heated front seats and power-folding mirrors. RRP is $39,809.
On and off road
We drove our test ute Sydney-Melbourne-Sydney three-up, as well as doing metro and bush-road testing. Pre-trip checks were easy enough and the engine bay was well laid out and finished. Service items were easy to identify. The lined ute tub was high-sided and fitted with tie-down loops.
Getting comfortable behind the wheel was easy, thanks to the height-adjustable driver’s seat and steering column: even easier in the SPR with its power-adjustable front seats. The driving position was very good, with all controls in easy reach and excellent forward and rearward vision.
The diesel started quickly and idled without very much diesel ‘crack’. Once under way it was indistinguishable from a petrol engine, except that low speed torque was much better. The previous Actyon diesel suffered from lag when the accelerator was floored, but the variable geometry turbo on the latest engine removed that almost entirely.
Anyone who drove the Actyon diesel and didn’t know the engine was a relatively small capacity two-litre wouldn’t feel that performance was inadequate. The six-speed automatic shifted smoothly and had a downshift program when in cruise control, to help control hill descent speed.
Economy was excellent for a ute, but our testing on highway and around town couldn’t match SsangYong’s claim of a combined cycle figure of 7.9L/100km. We managed 8.8L/100km at half-rated gross vehicle mass.
With some load on board the Actyon Sports Ute’s steering and handling were exemplary and it felt more car-like than any 4WD ute we’ve evaluated to date. Coils all around outperformed any torsion bar/leaf or coil/leaf setup. However, without a load in the tray the suspension reacted harshly to rough bitumen and dirt roads. The Koreans aren’t famous for damper design and we suspected that’s where the problem lay.
Our off road testing was limited to some site work and smooth slippery trails, where the vehicle’s low range gearing and powerful traction control system did excellent work. The Actyon Sport’s nemesis was car-like ground clearance that limited its bush ability.
We reckoned there was ample scope in the Actyon Sports Ute for further suspension refinement and ground clearance development that would make it a much better bush machine.