This much improved Ssangyong Tivoli takes the fight to small SUVs like the Nissan Juke and the Renault Captur with budget pricing, a gutsy rejuvenated range of engines and build quality the like of which you wouldn't credit at this price point. It's proving to be Ssangyong's breakthrough model.
The Tivoli was the car that launched Ssangyong into the mainstream. Introduced in 2015, this small SUV sold over 50,000 units globally over the next five years and did a fine job in putting its Korean maker on the map. But the compact crossover market has changed dramatically in recent times and going forward, the Tivoli needed to be able to offer more than just high equipment and a low price. The future second generation version of this car will doubtless do that but for the time being, Ssangyong needed to breath some life into the existing model - and has done so here with two fresh petrol engines and a light exterior restyle.
The original version of this car was a likeable package in its own way, but it was somewhat let down by its rather unremarkable 1.6-litre petrol engine. So it's good news that this unit has in recent years been superceded by a couple of far more up-to-date powerplants. The range now kicks off with a three cylinder 1.2 Gdi-T turbo unit with 128PS, which sits below a four cylinder 1.5 T-Gdi powerplant offering 163PS. The 1.5 petrol unit can be had with the option of auto transmission if you don't want the standard 6-speed manual. But the UK importers continue to ignore the 4WD version of this model that's available in other markets and would, if priced correctly, give the car a rather unique selling point here. This still isn't one of the more dynamically adept cars in its segment but through the corners, body control is decent and the steering consistent, if a little light. You can weight it up by playing with the 'Smart steering' system that SsangYong has decided all models should have, a set-up delivering three self-explanatory modes - 'Normal', 'Comfort' and 'Sport'. The six-speed automatic gearbox is the same Aisin unit used by MINI, albeit with a bit less sportiness built into the shift logic. This auto gearbox is obviously well suited for the city - and smoother than the rather jerky belt-driven CVT auto set-up you'd find in, say, an automatic Nissan Juke. Move through its cogs though and you'll find long ratios chosen for economy rather than speed.
The changes made in recent times to the Tivoli are very minor indeed, with updates around the grille and the front corner cut-outs. As before, this is one of those cars that the longer you look at it, the more design influences you can see. There's something of the Kia Soul in its overall proportioning, with a Nissan Juke-like rear haunch, a front end that's modern Renault in a good way, some DS3 about the rear three quarter and an interior that's glitzy in an upper-model Vauxhall way. There's nothing about this car that says Ssangyong and, to many, that will be a good thing. Perhaps the Koreans need to work a bit at developing their own family look. It's not there yet, but the Tivoli is by no stretch of the imagination a bad looking car. Nor indeed is it a cheap looking one. The detailing such as the floating effect roof, the satin roof rails and the materials quality of the interior are at least as good as, if not better than, many of its mainstream rivals. In addition, there's a centre dash dominated by an informative 7-inch colour touchscreen via which you access the usual stereo, 'phone and informational functions. The cabin certainly feels as if it's been the recipient of better quality dash panels and seats than, say, an MG ZS or a Dacia Duster. Take a seat in the back and you'll find there's certainly a lot more room than you'd expect from a car less than 4.2m long and under 1.6m high. No model in this class is especially appropriate for three rear-seated folk but if you had to take a trio of adults on the back seat in a car of this type, then this is the model you'd want to have chosen for the task. The boot measures 423-litres to the parcel shelf, which is perfectly adequate in this class.
Prices start at around £18,000 for the 'Ventura' version with the three cylinder 1.2-litre engine, similar to what you'd pay for a comparable Nissan Juke - and a Tivoli is far much better equipped. Do remember though, if you're making that comparison that you're not really comparing like with like, the Nissan getting a 115PS engine, 13PS down on the SsangYong's base petrol powerplant. Suddenly you begin to see why Ssangyong are so bullish about making huge gains in sales. The alternative petrol engine is a four cylinder 1.5-litre unit, offered either with 'Ultimate' spec (from around £21,000) or top 'Ultimate Nav' trim (at just under £22,000). Either way, you can add automatic transmission for around £1,500 more. All Tivoli models get cruise control, electric windows, remote central locking, smart steering, a DAB Radio with iPod & Bluetooth connectivity, manual air conditioning, 6 airbags and electronic safety features including Front Collision Warning (FCW), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Automatic Emergency Breaking (AEB), Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR), Front Vehicle Start Alert (FVSA), Driver Attention Alert (DAA), Emergency Stop System (ESS), Safety Distance Alert (SDA). Base 'Ventura' trim includes 16-inch alloy wheels, black faux leather upholstery, front seat heaters, a 7-inch integral touchscreen with rear camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a heated leather steering wheel, a leather gear knob, a seventh airbag, floor mats, a mini spare, a luggage cover, LED front fogs, roof rails, keyless start, auto lights, wipers, front and rear parking sensors. 'Ultimate' trim meanwhile, gets you 18-inch diamond cut alloy wheels, full-leather seats, dual zone air conditioning, a 10.25-inch smart LED cluster and powered folding mirrors.
The running cost returns of this car are better than you might expect. As you'd expect, both the 1.2-litre and 1.5-litre GDi-T petrol engines both substantially improve on the fuel and CO2 figures of the previous 1.6-litre petrol unit. The 1.2-litre engine manages a combined cycle fuel reading of 40.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 158g/km. For the 1.5-litre model, the figures are 39.2mpg and 164g/km for the manual and 36.7mpg and 175g/km for the automatic. As before, it's all wrapped up with a comprehensive and market-leading 7-year/ 150,000-mile warranty. Not that you're likely to need this kind over extended cover. SsangYong has subjected this Tivoli to as stringent a development programme as any of its bigger, tougher SUVs would have to undergo. That's seen it tested from temperatures as low as minus 42-degrees in winter to desert heat at over 50-degrees, with brake testing in mountain altitudes of up to 4,000-metres. It's hard to imagine many other small, fashionable Crossovers surviving a regime like that for too long.
Do you love it? The 'Tivoli' name, in case you hadn't realised, spells 'I lov it' backwards. Or, if you prefer, connects his car into the elegance of the Roman hilltop town that was home to the Emperor Hadrian. Either way, it's a badge appropriate for the kind of fashionable little Juke-genre Crossover this car is trying to be. Does this over-stuffed market sector really need yet another option? If it's inexpensive, better equipped and more spacious than the norm, then we'd say yes. There may be more dynamic, more efficient choices in this segment but can they really offer enough to justify their higher pricing? Are the products in question really that much better than this one? Try a Tivoli and you may well decide not.