SsangYong Rodius

You don't need to drive the SsangYong Rodius to know it's a disastrous piece of automotive design - just take a look at it, says Michael Booth

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Would suit Koreans;
Price From £19,000 to £22,000;
Maximum speed 104 mph;
0-60mph 13.5 seconds;
Combined fuel consumption 28.5mpg;
For more information 01252 775 428

To the BBC for drinks and nibbles. I have always wanted to open a piece like this but it seemed unlikely given the subject matter of this page. Then, would you believe it, the other week I received an invitation to Studio 3 at BBC Television Centre for the launch of the SsangYong Rodius, a new seven-seater people carrier from Korea.

Now, as I have written before (rather sanctimoniously, I grant you), I don't do car launches. They usually involve private charter flights to southern France, Spain or Italy - or in the case of the forthcoming blockbuster Mazda MX5 launch, Hawaii - a night or two in a five-star hotel and lashings of gifts. Evenings are spent carousing in the company of the manufacturers' PRs or schmoozing designers and chief executives. It's all very cosy and undeniably seductive but it is also a gravy train many (though I should stress, not all) car journalists and their editors are reluctant to derail with too many harsh truths. As with the relationship between fashion mags and the clothing and cosmetics industries, car magazines rely on amicable relations with manufacturers for the bulk of their advertising revenue and their all-important front-cover scoops. But a short ride at my own cost on the Central Line to White City with, perhaps, a canapé or two thrown in, hardly seemed like crossing to the dark side.

It wasn't Hawaii, that's for sure. As we sat on hard plastic chairs in the blacked-out, airless studio, two grey-haired men in suits talked at length about their new budget MPV, the Odious sorry, Rodius. It's an obvious joke, and I'm sure I'm not the first to make it, but this is one mother of an ugly car, with shopping trolley wheels, a rear end apparently cobbled together by a local firm of cowboy builders more versed in dodgy loft extensions, and grotesquely oversized front features. If Martin Clunes were a car this is how he would look.

After the speeches and some diplomatic questions - none of which was, " What on earth were you thinking of?" - from the assembled car journalists, we were invited to inspect the two Rodii on display. Within seconds the hacks were swarming over them like safari-park baboons, pulling and poking trim and panels as if their jobs depended on it (which, I suppose, they do). I joined in, loosening a piece of dashboard and removing a knob from the stereo, before being distracted by the buffet and champagne.

I make no apologies for not actually driving the Rodius, as you might reasonably expect me to do in a road test, but I already know that it will be a miserable experience for all involved. Not necessarily because it will be lacking in dynamic qualities - though probably that too, judging by the "performance" figures - but more on account of the humiliation that will rain down upon anyone seen at the wheel of one.

One of the grey-haired men was the car's designer, Ken Greenley, the former head of the automotive design course at the Royal College of Art (worrying that, isn't it?). In my press notes I see he claims that the Rodius comes "with a strong emotional component that will make it the focus of attention wherever it goes". Assuming the "strong emotional component" to be pity, and that the "attention" will come in the form of universal derision, he may be on to something.

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