ON TEST: SsangYong Musso EX

Driven, On Test, SsangYong

Launched in the middle of 2018, the SsangYong Musso is a benchmark for value in the pick-up market. The Korean double-cab starts at £19,690 plus VAT and comes as standard with a 7-year, 150,000-mile warranty – and however you look at it, that’s a lot of truck for your money.

We’ve previously tested the Musso in range-topping Saracen form, but the version you see here is the one you get for the aforementioned £19,690 plus VAT. On the road at £23,933, the EX is an entry-level motor with a more modest kit list and, in particular, no option of having an automatic gearbox.

Without giving you a blow by blow account of the vehicle’s spec sheet, the equipment you get includes air-con, DAB, Bluetooth, 17” alloys, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlights and hill descent control. You need to move higher up the range to add things like cruise, leather, sat-nav, CarPlay and heated/cooled seats, but it’s not a bad set of toys to be going on with.

On a less tangible level, the Musso is based on the latest Rexton, which is our reigning 4×4 of the Year champion in our sister publication 4×4. This means it’s perhaps the most SUV-like of all pick-ups inside – the Rexton is an excellent vehicle at a sensational price, and its qualities haven’t been lost in the transformation into a commercial vehicle. That said, while it manages to create a genuinely premium image in SUV form, the pick-up doesn’t quite feel as effortlessly classy as the best of its rivals.

Nonetheless, it’s a monumental step forward from the previous-generation Musso. The new model projects SsangYong firmly into the one-tonne mainstream – it’s still perceived as a budget brand by most people in the UK, and having such a clunky name doesn’t help, but the Musso absolutely deserves to be considered as a credible alternative to the likes of the Isuzu D-Max and Toyota Hilux.

The question here is whether the EX stacks up successfully against the entry-level versions of its peers. Most double-cab customers are after tax-busting lifestyle models with all the toys, but the likes of the Hilux Active, D-Max Utility and Mitsubishi L200 4Life provide stern opposition. Beat them on more than just price, and the Musso will be flying.

 

Cabin and practicality

The first thing to note about the Musso is that never, in our entire experience of doing this job, have so many people climbed into a vehicle we’ve been testing and immediately remarked on how comfortable its seats were. That’s not the be-all and end-all, because in our experience the more comfortable a seat feels for the first hour, the less comfortable it is for the rest of the journey, however we had no complaints at all in this area.

Some pick-ups, even top-spec ones, do themselves no favours with the leather they use, and with its budget background you’d expect SsangYong to be the worst culprit here. But instead, the Rexton’s surprisingly classy materials come into play – and this is one of the reasons why the Musso feels so SUV-like. The EX, meanwhile, is the only model in the range with cloth trim – yet it, too, feels in no way cheap. The fabric is tough and stout, it feels nice to the touch and the seats themselves are both firm and soft, providing plenty of support both for those riding in the front and the back.

Legroom for those in the rear seats is limited if you find yourself riding behind a tall driver, which isn’t great as the seat-back ahead of you is hard and bluff without any sculpting for your knees. Loading up with a full crew of hefty six-footers requires a bit of compromise as a result, but no-one will need to sit with their knees round their ears – and headroom in the back is way better than average.

Up front, you’re seated in a good driving position with an excellent view all-round – including over your shoulder, which is just as well as the EX’s spec list doesn’t include any kind of reversing aid. There’s plenty of leg, head and elbow room, and something that’s very apparent is the quality with which the cabin is put together. The dash is pretty much completely creak-free, and the controls are well laid out and pleasing to operate.

Material quality is generally very good, though the steering wheel feels rather plasticky. Again, it’s a carry-over from the Musso’s Rexton underpinnings – as a consequence of which, we can say with some confidence that this is the only entry-level pick-up you’ll find that has a leather feature panel running the whole width of the dashboard.

You might actually consider that a bad thing if all you want is a pig-shifter with a wipe-clean interior. But either way, you’ll appreciate the big, usable glovebox, cubby and door pockets that make it easy to stow your odds and ends. The rear seat doesn’t have any clever folding tricks to play, but the pick-up bed is easily accessed and well-shaped, if a touch shorter than some of its rivals’.

 

Driving

The EX comes with a manual gearbox, which works well enough without setting any new standards. The clutch takes a bit of getting used to, though, as it’s pretty fierce – even after ten days with the Musso, we found that barely a journey went by without us stalling.

One concern we have here is that the vehicle has a push-button start, and it’s disabled unless you’ve got your foot on the brake. So if you stall while pulling out at a junction, you can’t hurry things along by firing it back up with the vehicle still rolling – you’ve got to bring it to a complete halt first. It refused to let us bump-start it after a stall, too.

Another reason to choose a version of the Musso with an automatic gearbox is that it allows you to tow 3,500kg. The manual will still haul 3,200kg, however, which is enough for most people – and it has a very slightly higher payload, at 1,095kg (as opposed to 1,085kg for the auto).

As tested, at any rate, the 2.2-litre engine pulls strongly throughout the whole of its rev range. It’s seldom noisy, only making its presence felt a little if you hang on to a gear for too long under heavy acceleration – at which point it becomes somewhat gruff and unhappy. There’s an obvious answer to that, anyway.

It calms right down once you’re up to speed, too, fading into the background – to be replaced by a constant background road tumble coupled with wind noise from around the door mirrors and A-pillars. This is hard to ignore if the stereo’s off, though at the same time it’s not so loud that you can’t drown it out with a few well chosen tunes at a volume that doesn’t need to hurt.

We mentioned in a previous issue that SsangYong is looking at amending the Musso’s suspension settings, and the development work behind this is still ongoing. For now, the vehicle we tested had a partial load of builder’s sand distributed fairly evenly throughout its bed, which helped draw the sting from the impacts.

As it is, based on previous experiences of the Musso we don’t think there’s anything wrong with the way it rides, even unladen. You feel the bumps from behind you, but they’re well controlled and distant enough not to be upsetting, and the truck steers and handles with as much agility as you’ve a right to expect from any one-tonner.

It does wander a little on the motorway, however, with constant adjustments being required to keep it on line. This, coupled with the aforementioned wind noise, means it’s not the most relaxing of cruisers, and ride quality doesn’t completely settle down here either, however it’s by no means bad – just not as good as the best in the sector.

 

Off-Road

The Musso is very agile over rough ground, and its 235/70R17 tyres are well suited to finding traction where there’s not a lot of it about. Their higher profile makes this the best model in the range for off-road work, though all have low-box as standard – plus the hill descent control we mentioned earlier, should you somehow consider this necessary in a vehicle that already has the equipment to let it be driven properly.

A feature of the Musso, whose rear axle is coil-sprung as standard, is that it articulates very well over really uneven ground. This means it maintains contact for as long as possible – which is good because unlike most of its rivals, it’s not available with a locking rear diff. We can’t put our hands on our hearts and say we found a situation we couldn’t tackle without a locker, however – bearing in mind that we were sticking to suitable terrain for the Musso’s road-biased standard tyres, it did everything we asked of it with no more than the gentlest chirrup of wheelspin here and there.

If you do come up against serious hills, from what we’ve found the Musso will crawl down them the way a proper truck should. That is, without any electronics coming along to stick their oar in. It climbs well, too – the engine maintains a good, steady delivery of torque and power in low box, dragging itself back up on to the cam if you let its revs drop and, happily, no longer seeming interested in stalling.

 

Verdict

The Musso doesn’t quite drop a grenade into the pick-up pond the same way the Rexton did last year in its own part of the market. But it’s an absolutely credible contender that belongs firmly in the heart of the one-tonne market – and banishes memories of the bad old model firmly into the past.
At last, SsangYong is offering something that’s not just a cheap truck. The Musso is still cheaper than its rivals, but now it leads with quality rather than price. Top-of-the-range versions give you a whole stack of equipment for your money, but even this entry-level EX model is very SUV-like – as well as being an absolutely rock-solid workhorse. With a monumental warranty behind it, this is a huge amount of truck for your money – but more to the point, it’s just a huge amount of truck.