ROAD TEST: Ssangyong Musso is bargain ute from left field
DOES it make sense that many one-tonner buyers are willing to spend up to $80,000 for a vehicle that, in the automotive ecosystem, is still the technological equivalent of a very dumb animal? Of course not.
However there are plenty of farmers, tradies, couriers and other people for whom a ute is just another cost on a delicately balanced business account. They want something that can do the job comfortably and reliably, at a reasonable price. So do grey nomads on a limited budget.
Ssangyong's new Musso one-tonner is that sort of ute.
Ssangyong is a South Korean subsidiary of Tata, the same Indian maker that also owns Land Rover and Jaguar.
Powered by an in-house engineered 2.2-litre turbo diesel four and with part-time 4WD that includes a dual-range transfer case, the Musso dual-cab range opens with the six-speed manual EX, priced at $30,490 drive-away. A six-speed auto adds $2000.
So it plays in the bargain basement end of the market, where Chinese makers dominate. Rock bottom money for a dual cab, turbo diesel, 4WD one tonner is $24,990 drive-away for the Great Wall Steed. LDV's T60 Pro is $28,990 drive-away and Foton's Tunland is $29,990 drive-away.
A no-frills proposition, the Musso includes cruise control, 17-inch steel wheels (with full-size spare) and Bluetooth. You wind the windows by hand. There's also a liner, 12V outlet and load lugs in the tub, which at 1300mm is about 200mm shorter than most one-tonners.
Going up in spec, the ELX automatic at $35,990 adds 18-inch alloys, tyre pressure monitor, power windows, parking sensors, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, more sophisticated instruments and heated/cooled front seats.
We're testing the Ultimate, at $39,990. It's a blingmobile, with highly polished 20-inch alloys (that look all wrong), a slab of decorative plastic behind the cabin, sunroof, leather, power adjustable front seats and heated rear seats.
Ssangyong backs the Musso with a market leading seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, plus roadside assist if you use dealer servicing.
Despite its five-link, coil-spring rear suspension, Musso Ultimate's ride is old-school one-tonner - lumpy and rugged, though the chassis is respectably rigid so the body doesn't shake excessively. The ELX's 18-inch wheels and taller tyres would absorb impacts more effectively.
Reach adjustment for the wheel is a feature found in few one-tonners - including the $80K Mercedes X350d - so tall drivers don't have to endure a cramped seating position.
The firm, high rear bench is a little tight for legroom and quite narrow, so three will be a squeeze. You wouldn't carry a middle passenger anyway, because the seat belt is lap-only.
The Musso has more driver assist safety tech than most one-tonners. Autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning are standard. You get neither in a Toyota HiLux.
The ELX adds blind spot monitoring - lacking in the Mercedes - plus rear cross traffic alert and tyre pressure monitoring. The Ultimate adds 360-degree camera coverage, still missing from Ford's Ranger.
ANCAP hasn't crash tested the Musso but with that lap-only belt in the rear it would not score five stars.
Peak torque of 400Nm kicks in at 1400rpm, so after a moment's lag the 2.2 pulls willingly, smoothly and quietly. Its best work is done by 3000rpm.
Eco, Winter (for second gear starts) and Power modes for the occasionally indecisive six-speed automatic seem to make little difference and Power isn't. Even. Close.
Expect 6L-7L/100km on the highway and 10L-12L/100km in town, which is about average.
Claimed maximum towing weight is 3500kg; at gross vehicle mass (2880kg, including 790kg payload) it's 3100kg.
A long-wheelbase Musso, with an extended tub, leaf spring rear suspension and 1020kg payload, goes on sale in May.
Non-stick Nexen tyres are the main limitation on handling, which is as competent as some more expensive rivals. Hard suspension minimises body roll and the relatively compact Musso doesn't feel barge-like or top-heavy in corners.
The coil spring rear is well-controlled so roadholding is secure and on corrugations the back end doesn't try to swap places with the front. Light and vague on centre, the steering becomes heavy when you turn the wheel.
Most rivals have rear drum brakes; the Musso has discs all round.
Fit decent all-terrain tyres and it has some off-road ability, with low-range gearing selected via a dial on the centre console.
Standard are limited-slip rear diff, hill descent control and hill start assist. Axle articulation is limited, as is clearance (215mm); it's also missing a locking rear diff.
I don't need my manhood confirmed by the purchase of an overpriced, tizzed-up toy truck - I just want an honest ute.
Given that these cheap, circa $30K one-tonners can do exactly the same job as the $60K ones, where is the argument for spending twice as much money?
FOTON TUNLAND from $29,990 drive-away
Runs a 2.8-litre Cummins turbo diesel/five-speed Getrag manual/Borg Warner dual-range transfer case and Dana axle/diff assemblies.
So it's got quality hardware but only three ANCAP stars.
MITSUBISHI TRITON from $32,990 drive-away
Recently superseded, a 2018 Triton is great value, with a 2.4-litre turbo diesel/six-speed manual/dual-range 4WD. On the road it's a class above the other cheap one-tonners. Five stars from ANCAP.
A Musso Ultimate doesn't compute at $40K but cheaper models are good buying. As a load lugger, the short tub and coil-spring rear are problems. The long-wheelbase version will be the solution.
PRICE From $30,490 drive-away
WARRANTY/SERVICING 7 years, unlimited km; $2675 for 7 years
ENGINE 2.2-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 133kW/400Nm
SAFETY Not yet tested., 6 airbags, AEB, lane departure warning; lap only rear centre belt
SPARE Full size
TOWING Claimed 3500kg