ON TEST: SsangYong Musso Saracen

On Test, SsangYong

When we’ve previously been behind the wheel of the SsangYong Musso we’ve been mightily impressed by both how it performed and how it was priced. But, are our thoughts any different after climbing into the driver’s seat of this range-topping Saracen? SsangYong pride themselves on offering rugged vehicles at great value and whilst this high-spec variant costs a few quid more than the basic EX truck we drove back in the January issue, you do get more for your money.

The suave exterior created by the Atlantic Blue bodywork and black 18-inch alloys aren’t the only stylish elements of design. Inside, the black leather Feng Shuai is smart, mature and comfortable. But there’s a mix of hardy textiles and robust components, too – although a balance has been struck. Overall, the Saracen is a grand place to sit.

Adjusted four ways by inbuilt motors, the front seats are pleasant moorings and finetuning your driving position is a breeze. The leather-bound steering wheel is tactile and pleasant to use, whilst the controls located on it are clear and functional.

The driver display isn’t as engaging as most fitted elsewhere in the pick-up sector, but when you really think about it, that isn’t a bad thing. It is clear and concise, performing its duties without frills. That’s pretty much the story with everything in the interior. The centre console is tidy and toes the line between style and function – everything is well finished in black with the odd chromed accents, but most things are still manned by good old-fashioned buttons.

What isn’t controlled by traditional methods is the touchscreen. It’s responsive and not complicated to follow, so you can easily navigate its functions. We’ve learnt from other SsangYongs that their own sat-nav system isn’t the sharpest system out there, but luckily the Musso comes armed with smartphone mirroring abilities (both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto).

Truth be told there was only one thing about the interior that was frustrating. As is common in many trucks, the dash-mounted infotainment screen reflects into onto the rear windows of the cab and can be irritating when you check your rear mirror. However, as the Saracen comes fitted with the new halo Luxury hardtop, two more panes are added between your mirror and the world behind your truck-bed. What this means is, you have to contend with an amplified reflection that can also warp what you see to an extent. At times it’s hard to see past the reflections and, somehow, it seemingly raises the beams of the vehicle behind you in close traffic to cabin level. But, this is only really evident at night and, whilst it is annoying, it isn’t something that makes the truck dangerous.

With the same 178bhp and 310lbf.ft 2.2-litre diesel heart as all of its siblings, it has plenty of pull – enough so to enact both its 1,085kg payload and 3.5-tonne braked towing weight simultaneously. Fitted with the eight-speed Aisin automatic transmission the Musso gets about in a relaxed manner. It doesn’t struggle to get up to speed and nor does it snatch at you if you plant your foot.

Out and about on the road, the Musso rides rather nicely. It doesn’t crash over speedbumps or potholes, although impacts on the rear suspension can cause a few squeaks and rattles from the hardtop. This isn’t irritating and is easily drowned out by the radio.

In and about town, or even when avoiding blemishes in the asphalt, steering is light and effortless. It isn’t imprecise, either, and is a big part in the manner in which the truck drives – which, at times, isn’t like a truck. This is where sharing underpinnings with a flagship SUV takes effect. It isn’t as supple as the Rexton, not by a long shot, but those beginnings have certainly done it no harm.

Kitted out with a reversing camera, parking is nowhere near as tricky as it could be, and again the light steering means that whilst driving the Musso, things like busy supermarket carparks don’t strike as much fear into your heart as you’d expect. It’s here that the fact that it isn’t the biggest truck on the market also helps. But the bed is big enough for a Euro pallet and the addition of the Luxury hardtop does add more security and practicality to proceedings.

Both of the side windows pop out for aeration, as does the additional pane behind that at the rear of the cab. The truck bed still possesses a 12-volt plug and the canopy adds a small LED lighting strip to illuminate the bed, although it doesn’t exactly flood the bay. The canopy also has roof rails on the top and can function as a split tailgate.

A high-spec version of a truck that chiefly trades off value is a risky business. It’s easy to add things to a truck and pad out a spec sheet, but to do so without doubling the price and also lining your own pockets is tricky. However, the Musso reaches an amicable compromise.

You get a wad of toys and several cows were sacrificed for your comfort, but aspects that have less sway aren’t as plush as they could be. And this is alright.

Think back over previous vehicles you’ve driven or owned – which feature from all of them stands out the most? I guarantee nobody has just recalled a set of floor mats. That’s why in the Musso they’re rubberised with an agricultural pattern for grip. To be entirely honest, I didn’t notice that they were like that until I reached back in to grab something I’d dropped.

A parallel logic goes for the switchgear – it isn’t cheap, scratchy plastic, but nor is it a glossy piano black finish, because that would’ve added a few quid onto the list price.

Now, this truck costs £27,245 before tax or accessories. So, full on the road pricing would be £36,056, plus fitting costs for the tow bar and hardtop. That seems a lot, especially given that you can get into a Musso for a little over £20,000 without tax, but the Saracen is SsangYong’s answer to the luxury trucks that wear list prices in and around fifty-grand.

It doesn’t go to the same extents as those trucks, but it can hold its own and is genuinely a lovely place to be. Like the trucks in the upper echelons of the sector, the Saracen could put a shift in if it was asked to. But the big difference is in the Musso, you wouldn’t mind doing so. You still get all of your leather and gizmos, but it still doesn’t get ideas above its stations. At heart is it a light commercial vehicle, and it melds luxury and utility together into a compromise that deserves caps to be doth’d.