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[Test drive] Tivoli still impressive at a good price

Corners may be cut, but SUV continues to perform competitively
July 02,2019
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The newly revamped Tivoli tested on the roads of Chuncheon, Gangwon, last month. [SSANGYONG MOTOR]
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CHUNCHEON, Gangwon - When SsangYong Motor first introduced the Tivoli in 2015, it took the local market by storm, popularizing affordable compact sport utility vehicles (SUVs) over sedans and dominating the segment.

Four years later, SsangYong is looking to repeat its earlier success in an increasingly competitive market with a revamped Tivoli.

During an 80-kilometer (50-mile) drive from eastern Seoul to Chuncheon on June 19, the updated model still proved itself as a worthy contender for the top spot in the entry-level compact SUV segment, beating expectations in all fronts.

On the road, the vehicle impressed by packing a surprising punch despite its small size, accelerating responsively without difficulty.

When slamming the pedal on the open highway, the vehicle reached speeds of up to 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour) with ease. The Tivoli is powered by a 1.5-liter turbo engine rated at 163 horsepower with 26.5 kilogram-meters (191.7 pound-feet) of torque.

The extra torque gave a boost to the compact vehicle, while the six-speed automatic transmission smoothly changed gears.

At such high speeds, the vehicle blocked out noise remarkably well, better than conventional mid-sized sedans, while wind noise gradually became apparent at higher speeds.

Braking was responsive. Steering felt a little light on sharp corners.

Considering its entry-level price tag, the vehicle also surprised with a lot of smart safety features that kicked in when intervention was required.

The lane-keep assist gently adjusted the steering whenever the vehicle started to veer into the other lane, while the forward collision warning alerted the driver during instances when the vehicle ahead was too close.

The Tivoli has features usually found in premium vehicles, such as alert signs on the side mirrors that flicker when it is dangerous to change lanes.

The safety system alerts the driver with beeps akin to sound effects of 8-bit computer games.

Considering that the vehicle targets first-time drivers, its performance is responsive enough to inspire confidence, while the safety features will serve to assure beginners.

In terms of the interior, the Tivoli includes all the features expected in a modern vehicle.

It comes standard with a six-inch display that supports smart mirroring for Android Auto and Apple Car Play and a rear-obstacle detecting system. An optional 10.25-inch digital display cluster is available. It can switch to a driving mode that displays the vehicle’s speed in the center with a red accent design reminiscent of the cluster in a BMW.

The vehicle maintains functionality as the second-row seats are foldable, and the vehicle even has separate knobs for climate control for the driver’s seat and the front passenger seat.

Cost-cutting does mean some compromises in detail.

The flimsy SD card flap and plastic used for the sunglasses holder, the excessively rigid hand brake, and the scratchy plastic and hard rubber-like material all around the interior remind the driver that they are in a relatively cheap vehicle.

And that’s perfectly fine because the Tivoli exceeds entry-level expectations.

The automaker crammed in all the features it could, albeit with a lack of finesse, without compromising the vehicle’s performance and, most importantly, price.

And SsangYong did for good reason.

Hyundai Motor’s Kona overtook Tivoli as the best-selling model in the segment last year, and the automaker is upping its game by introducing its even smaller Venue SUV to the market later this year.

Kia Motors is releasing another compact offering - the Seltos - in addition to its Stonic SUV.

Considering that the Tivoli impresses only when accounting for its affordable price point, it could face difficulties with the competition’s diversification in the segment and expanding consumer preferences.

For traditionalists who value just the bare-bone basics, a manual transmission model starts at just 16.8 million won ($14,400).

Those who prefer smart safety technology and other amenities, the highest-trim gasoline model Tivoli will cost from 23.6 million won.

Comparable high-trim model compact SUVs in the market break 27 million won.

SsangYong promises up to 11.6 kilometers per liter (27.3 miles per gallon) for its front-wheel automatic transmission model.

The highest trim model used during the test drive, which was mainly on highways, achieved a fuel efficiency of 10.8 kilometers per liter from the short course.

BY CHAE YUN-HWAN [chae.yunhwan@joongang.co.kr]