IN ANY serious consideration of the ugliest cars ever made, the original Ssangyong Rodius — the name apparently comes, believe it or not, from the combination of the words Road and Zeus — sits comfortably at the top table.
Rarely, indeed, has any car received such unanimous condemnation from both critics and the buying public alike.
The commendable UK motoring publication, Car Magazine, described the original iteration of this large MPV with admirable brevity: “Odious with an ‘R’,”. Intended originally by designer Ken Greenley to capture the essence of a luxury yacht, the Rodius instead looked like it had been put together by the three blind mice.
Indeed, one Australian publication was so outraged by the car’s appearance that it legendarily described it has having “a face like a burnt thong” and summed up its review of the design by stating that the overall look of the Korean machine was akin to that of “a collapsing bus shelter”.
Ssangyong eventually took the hint and, having produced it — with very limited sales success — from 2004 to 2011 they eventually canned it. However, at last year’s Geneva Motor Show the company decided to unveil a new version of the Rodius, in the process toning down some of the original’s more outrageous styling cues.
Gone was the awful pot-bellied front grille and, perhaps more importantly, the ‘flying bridge’ style rear end — where that luxury yacht guff came from — which actually made the car look like a composite of a garden shed and a greenhouse. With the new version Ssangyong had indeed toned things down a lot and have instead produced a large MPV with moderately appealing lines.
It must be said that the original car found a deal of favour in several quarters, mainly for its practicality rather than its looks.
Taxi drivers liked it because they could get six punters inside and people with large families (and few aesthetic concerns) found that it could swallow almost any amount of children and luggage you threw at it. With its Mercedes-sourced diesel engine, it was also fairly reliable and reasonably economic.
On the road, however, some of those luxury yacht comparisons once again haunted it because — in Irish conditions anyway — it wallowed around like a gin palace in a force seven gale. Its dislike for corners was palpable and its ride and handling poor enough to induce sea-sickness among passengers. Cheap as chips and well specified, it nevertheless found a few willing owners and Ssangyong are now hopeful that with a similarly conceived second generation Rodius — seven seats, plenty of kit and affordable pricing — along with serious revisions to the suspension and the exterior look, they might entices a few more punters.
The MPV market has evolved, though, and in a segment that was once dominated by the long lamented Toyota Previa, there are now several truly worthy contenders. The Ford S-Max and Galaxy spring to mind, as do the excellent Seat Alhambra (and its sister car, the more expensive VW Sharan) and the Renault Grand Scenic, with the forthcoming Citroen C4 Grand Picasso soon to join the club.
Even against such worthy competition the Ssangyong isn’t bad. I can tell you that it is decent to drive — having subjected it to several days in West Cork, it proved itself to be a reasonable road-holder and shorn of previously well-documented handing deficiencies; the flexible seven seat layout is immensely practical and there is even a deal of cargo space with all the seats in place — something not always available in this genre.
On top of that, the Rodius has a raft of standard kit, and when you add the totality of the package and marry that to the asking price and you’ll find a car that will certainly curry favour with a lot of potential buyers.
It is also worth mentioning the engine. Ssangyong has ditched the old Mercedes-sourced 2.7 litre turbodiesel with its own in-house two litre oil burner.
This is a surprisingly strong engine which belies its size with admirable pulling power and reasonable consumption levels considering the amount of metal it has to haul around the place. A link with Mercedes is preserved via the five-speed TipTronic automatic gearbox.
It has some 114 kW (156 bhp) available between 3,400 and 4,000rpm and an impressive 36 Nm of torque between 1,500 and 2,800rpm. This in turn translates into a top speed of 180kph which is not bad, although it is worth noting that the car’s 0-100kph is not listed anywhere in the company’s technical data, which suggests truck-like abilities in this department.
But, even if you’re going to be disappointed by its potential to shred the tyres when getting away from a set of traffic lights, once you get her up and going things are not bad at all.
This car is very much a big improvement on what preceded it — not least in the looks department. Ssangyong themselves claim the new design “represents a huge leap forward for the model”. They’re not joking.
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