The Renaissance was a period from the 14th to 17th century in European history where culture flourished. It started in Italy and spread across Europe.
The Tivoli, named after the Italian medieval town some 40km from Rome, could well signal the start of a renaissance for storied SsangYong.
It’s the oldest carmaker in South Korea, but it doesn’t have the global success of its rivals, Hyundai and Kia. It faced the prospect of bankruptcy until Indian carmaker Mahindra acquired a controlling stake in 2011. The Tivoli is the first new product after the acquisition and carries on its shoulders the future of the company.
But there is more to the name than the Italian town. SsangYong’s official marketing material says the name of the automobile spelt backwards is “I LOV IT”. Cute and catchy.
Visually, the Tivoli looks nothing like the current SsangYong SUVs, and it’s also smaller than them. Compared to, say, the MINI Countryman, it is a little longer (4195mm versus 4097mm), wider (1795mm versus 1789mm) and taller (1590mm versus 1561mm).
But it looks larger in real life because of its sharp design, which has hints of the Volkswagen Tiguan (grille and headlights) and Range Rover Evoque (sloping roof). With this stylish vehicle, SsangYong’s designers have banished for good the design cues of the awkward-looking Actyon and the plain-Jane Rexton.
This car is clearly targeted at younger drivers, who will be doubly impressed by features such as HID headlamps with LED daytime running lights, keyless entry and ignition, and a 7-inch touchscreen multimedia entertainment system with smooth Bluetooth pairing of mobile phones.
Inside, the vehicle feels uncharacteristically upmarket for a SsangYong, with its digital instrument cluster and dual-zone air-conditioning system. The steering wheel also comes with buttons for cruise control and stereo control.
The build quality of this car rivals that of Hyundai (Tucson, for example) and Kia (Sportage, for instance). The shutlines of the doors, tailgate and glovebox are uniformly consistent.
The Tivoli’s naturally aspirated 1.6-litre petrol engine, developed in-house by SsangYong, produces a respectable output of 128bhp and 160Nm, which qualifies it for Category A COE.
The engine is matched with a 6-speed automatic sourced from Japanese transmission specialist Aisin. The same proven gearbox also sees service in newer MINI and Citroen automobiles.
The test route around Rome and Tivoli covers nearly 140km, consisting of highways, streets and countryside lanes. The way the front-wheel-drive vehicle performs is surprising to me on several fronts.
Gearchanges are crisp and the driver’s seat is cossetting. And the damping of the suspension is just right – soft enough to reduce the discomfort of potholes in the local roads, yet firm enough to provide some measure of road feel when driving through twisting narrow lanes lined with farms and vineyards.
The ace up this car’s sleeve is the option of picking three different steering wheel settings: light, normal and heavy. My favourite setting is “heavy”, which provides the most feedback.
And given that the motor is not a scorcher, there is a “power” mode (activated by a button on the dashboard) to provide a surge of torque for overtaking. It allows me to merge confidently into 130km/h traffic on Italian highways.
Overall, the car is predictable and easy to drive, while the “power” mode and variable-weight steering allow for occasional spirited motoring.
Passengers will appreciate it, too. Rear legroom and headroom are more than ample for two adults, thanks to the nearly flat floor. Even so, three adults will be a bit of a squeeze.
Still, the cockpit is not without unusual bits. There is a manual override function for the transmission, but DIY shifts are not executed through tapping paddles or flicking a lever. Instead, manual gearchanges are made through a microSD card-sized button on the gearknob. It is unconventional, although you can also find a similar arrangement in certain Ford models.
Overall, the Tivoli ticks all the right boxes. The car is fresh and appealing, and it fits into a booming segment of urban crossovers that people can’t seem to get enough of.
SsangYong has pinned high hopes on it. Until the Hyundai Creta comes along, this car does not have a direct Korean rival. And there’ll be a 1.6-litre, 300Nm, turbo-diesel four-wheel-drive version. Also, the Tivoli’s chassis is set to be stretched for the next-generation Korando sports utility vehicle.
In Singapore, the biggest obstacle the Tivoli faces is low awareness of the SsangYong brand. But if potential buyers can look beyond this, they will see an entry-level “continental” crossover designed for the demanding European market.
Type Inline-4, 16-valves
Bore x stroke 76mm x 88mm
Compression ratio 10.5:1
Max power 128bhp at 6000rpm
Max torque 160Nm at 4600rpm
Power to weight 96.9bhp per tonne
Gearbox 6-speed automatic with manual select
Driven wheels Front
0-100km/h 12 seconds
Top Speed 175km/h
Consumption 13.9km/L (combined)
CO2 Emission 167g/km
Front MacPherson struts, coil springs
Rear Torsion beam, coil springs
Front / rear Ventilated discs / Discs
Type Nexen N’Priz AH8
Size 215/45 R18
Traction aids ABS, ESP
Kerb weight 1300kg
Turning circle 10.6m
Price incl. COE To be announced
Warranty To be announced