Ssangyong Korando EX

Strong, cheap and sleek. But is Korea's new kid any good?

Price: £16,995
Engine capacity: 2.0 litre diesel
Top speed (mph): 112
0-62 mph (seconds): 9.9
Fuel economy (mpg): 43.5
CO2 emissions (g/km): 169

The first question I was asked by everyone when I told them that car I was using to bus presents and family around over the Christmas holidays was "A what?"

Indeed, SsangYong is a long way from being a household name in the UK but in October it relaunched with three new models including the new Korando. Despite being one the the bigger brand names below the 38th parallel, SsangYong – which specialises in utility vehicles – has struggled to cement a foothold in the UK in the way in which compatriots Kia and Hyundai have.

A turbulent corporate history hasn't helped, either. After numerous owners and financial problems, a takeover of SsangYong by Indian conglomerate Mahindra and a refunding of the firm that imports the car to Britain have allowed for a much-delayed relaunch.

Indeed, Mahindra has high hopes for the line, hoping to export SUVs built cheaply in India to emerging economies such as Brazil, Chile and Russia. So even if the name SsangYong still gets blank looks from my relatives next Christmas, it's likely to be water off metallic paint.

To the car itself then... the Korando is designed by car design hall-of-famer Giorgetto Giugiaro, who's responsible for some of the most memorable cars in history, from the the Fiat Panda and the DeLorean.

And although the new Korando is infinitely sleeker than its predecessor (I spotted one in Warrington last week and it looks like a cardboard box on wheels), it's still fairly indistinct.

But the neat exterior is matched by neat innards. Leather seats come as standard (heated in the EX model) and the dashboard is, while plasticky, sleek enough. Annoyingly, while the seats were comfy, I struggled to find a driving position that allowed me (an average 5ft 11in) properly to see the speedometer past the steering wheel.

One other oddity was the positioning of the roomy back seats. The default setting for which was a bizarrely obtuse angle which made passengers look like they were ascending the first drop of The Big One at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Of course they were easy to adjust to the right position, but once moved, there was a weird gap between them and the fixed bar where the parcel shelf join would normally be.

The two-litre engine that comes with both the ES and EX models of the car won't attract turned heads on your local high street, obviously, but it's got a decent pull and, if you were looking for an affordable SUV that gave you a decent bit of power to pull a caravan or a trailer, it would do a good job and leave you with money left for a natty awning... or something.

The six-speed manual gearbox has moments of clunkiness and the handling, especially on zippy country roads, felt loose at times but only when pushing at speed. Its emissions – something I'd consider keenly before buying an SUV, if buying one at all – are about average. The EX model I drove put out 169g/km, 20g more than its rival, the Hyundai iEX35.

Also worth noting is a generous five-year unlimited-mileage warranty (though Korean rivals Kia offer a seven). The Korando isn't glamorous by any means, but looks and feels like a big step forward for the new SsangYong.

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