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SsangYong Kyron M200XDi/M270XDi

words - Joe Kenwright
A civilised and affordable offroader marred by truck-like ride

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Local Launch
Southern NSW

What we liked
>> Frugal, powerful 2.7-litre diesel engine
>> Tough separate chassis, dual range 4X4
>> Highway rear drive with 2300kg towing capacity

Not so much
>> Too heavy for 2.0-litre diesel
>> Hefty sticker for 2.7 auto
>> Ride crash-through/bump steer

Overall rating: 2.5/5.0
>> Engine, drivetrain and chassis: 2.5/5.0
>> Packaging and practicality: 4.0/5.0
>> Safety: 2.5/5.0
>> Behind the wheel: 2.0/5.0
>> X-factor: 2.5/5.0

About our ratings

Anyone who attended the first local SsangYong Musso launch in 1996 could only come away from this month's Kyron launch shaking their heads and wondering what SsangYong has been doing over the last 11 years. It's not often that a new 2007 model represents a backward step over what was offered more than a decade earlier.

The 1996 Musso was an outstanding debut effort for a Korean manufacturer -- good enough for Mercedes-Benz to sell it through its own network until the M-Class came on stream. Not surprisingly, the Musso generated a strong and loyal band of local owners who now rightfully expect the Kyron to have moved the bar.

Based on what the Musso achieved, the Kyron should be a more interesting alternative to mainstream Japanese models. Alas despite this major facelift (the model was launched Down Under in March 2006), the Kyron remains another Korean 'also ran'.

It is disappointing when the SsangYong Australia team is one of the most customer-oriented in the business. The blame has to go straight back to Korea where SsangYong does not seem capable of reading or implementing market requirements without external guidance and discipline.

Australians have seen it all before. Holden had to constantly keep Isuzu engineers focused on local requirements for the Jackaroo, except back in the 1980s there wasn't much choice and the competition wasn't much better.

In today's cut-throat market, no manufacturer can afford to be off the pace in any single area including price, equipment, styling, engineering and drivetrain. This year's new Actyon SUV (which shares the same wheelbase as the Kyron) arrived at least 50 per cent off the pace in styling and 10 per cent off target in price which ensured that its extra toughness, neat packaging and outstanding diesel counted for little. Thus sales stalled.

Not surprisingly, the price has since been cut. But even if you can now come to terms with it as a new vehicle, who is going to buy it later? And what does this do for the credibility of the Kyron?

The 2006 Kyron was well off the pace in chassis tune, about 20 per cent off in styling and 10 per cent off target in pricing.

Although billed as a Euro IV update, the Kyron gets new headlight and tail light clusters, a new bonnet, a new grille design, larger front air intake with mesh grille, cleaner rear styling including deeper rear liftback glass and revised rear spoiler. The chunkier alloy wheels are a better match with what the vehicle represents.

Indeed, the 2007 facelift has done wonders for the styling and packaging even if the tweaks seem relatively minor. Where the previous Kyron crossed the line into the SsangYong 'world of weird', the new one stops just short of it.

At entry level, it is now priced on the money following a $2000 price cut with some important safety options but at equal cost in credibility. The 2007 facelift has also seen the $43,990 3.2i V6 petrol engine model dropped. By limiting the range to two diesel levels both starting under $40,000, Ssangyong is generating a clear all-diesel focus for the line-up that is unique in this price range.

Against the increasingly urban Japanese and Korean SUV wagons in this price range, the 'tough as nails' Kyron should now be ready to blitz the entry recreational market with its tough separate chassis construction, dual-range part-time heavy-duty 4x4 system, 2300kg towing capacity, willing diesels, sweet autos, and fresh looks. Alas all SsangYong has done to the Kyron's suspension -- its standout Achilles Heel -- is changed the dampers, which in everyday usage has probably made it worse.

The $32,990 entry price for the 2.0-litre diesel manual Kyron might look tempting at $2000 less than the previous model but $300 premium demanded for the auto is unusually high -- a reflection of the difference in quality between the transmissions. The bigger 2.7-litre diesel commands a fat $4000 premium partially offset by extra standard equipment for a manual price of $36,990 and a steep $39,990 for the auto. Cruise control is standard only on the auto models and not available on the manuals.

Kyron M200XDi: Both auto and manual feature part-time dual-range four-wheel drive with 'on the fly' electronic engagement and rear limited slip differential. A 2300kg braked towing capacity is exceptional for this type of vehicle but if the vehicle is loaded, the 2.0-litre diesel will struggle.

The basic specification includes four-wheel disc brakes, 18-inch alloys, remote entry and alarm, front fog lights, reverse parking sensors with tow bar compatibility, roof rails, electric windows, power mirrors with heating and fold back function, cloth trim, driver's seat height adjustment, tilt-adjustable leather steering wheel with remote controls for the six speaker sound system, air-conditioning, 60:40 split-folding rear seat, dual front reading lights, twin 12v outlets and reasonable in-cabin storage. There is a heater element in the front screen to stop the wiper blades from freezing to the glass and new covers over the mirrors behind the sunvisors.

The silly remote keypad where you had to keep track of how many times you pressed a single button has gone and is replaced with separate lock and unlock buttons.

Kyron M270XDi: The 2.7-litre diesel engine transforms the character of the Kyron but the loss of the rear LSD reduces traction in both 4X2 and 4X4 modes when it needs it more with the extra grunt. That aside, the main specification change over the M200XDi is the inclusion of curtain airbags and retractable luggage cover and load barrier net -- all of which can be ordered as options in the M200XDi.

The omission of a driver's left footrest is more significant than most with the Kyron's extra offroad emphasis. Local attempts to rectify this have so far been stymied by an add-on footrest's potential to interfere with the vehicle's crash performance.

It is increasingly unusual for this size and style of vehicle to still use a full chassis. In the case of the Kyron, it is a triple-layer steel ladder frame.

While it uses a double-wishbone coil-spring front suspension, the Kyron features a five-link live rear axle with coil springs. This is a system that is generally stronger and more consistent in heavy load and offroad situations.

Add rack and pinion steering and upgraded gas dampers to the equation and the Kyron's on-paper specs generate expectations of sophistication and toughness. The turning circle is a reasonable 11.2m for this size and type of vehicle with a driven front axle. The only drawback is the weight which is close enough to 2000kg for all models.

The M200XDi's diesel is from the latest SsangYong diesel family based on a 2.0-litre Mercedes-Benz four-cylinder block shared with the Actyon. It is a common-rail design running 1600bar injection pressure with a variable geometry turbocharger and delivers a healthy 104kW/4000rpm and 310Nm/1800rpm. It generates combined fuel figures of 8.1 and 8.8lt/100km for the manual and auto versions respectively. However, it must be said that not too many engines of this size are expected to haul 2000kg before you load it up.

The M270XDi is basically the same engine with an extra cylinder and a slight increase in stroke to deliver 121kW and 340Nm at the same engine speeds. Fuel consumption rises to 8.7lt/100km for the manual; 9.0 for the auto. These modest increases reflect how much easier the larger engine copes with the weight.

Both engines feature a water-cooled EGR system for more efficient burning of exhaust gases.

The standard five-speed manual transmission is a Korean-built version of the old Borg-Warner T5 seen locally on older Commodores and Falcons. The automatic transmission meanwhile is an effective variation of a five-speed Mercedes-Benz auto called T-tronic and is the preferred choice when it offers two manual modes of operation. The central transmission selector has a switch on the side closest to the driver which can operate the manual mode by pushing it forward for upshifts, back for downshifts.

When this switch appears to be different for the sake of being different, it is just as well that it is supplemented by more logical steering wheel buttons.

The platform chassis feels and looks strong with cross members protecting vulnerable parts but skid plates would be needed for serious offroading. It has a proper Borg-Warner heavy-duty part-time four-wheel-drive system with high and low range operated by a dash-mounted rotary switch. It can only be engaged manually when the surface is slippery.

On firm and dry surfaces, Kyron is rear drive only for extra efficiency and extra traction while towing compared to a front-drive based SUV.

The loss of the rear limited slip differential in the more powerful M270DXi could matter if you are towing a caravan across wet ground or hauling a boat out of the water. It will force drivers to engage 4X4 earlier than normal.

It will also cause the M270DXi to come to a stop in 4X4 mode if wheels from both front and rear axles leave the ground. We understand that the LSD used in the 2.0-litre model is not hefty enough for the high torque output of the larger engine.

The fitment of disc brakes all round and ABS on all levels is welcome. There are no ESP, hill descent or traction control functions, however.

The standard 18-inch alloy wheels with 255/60 tyres are an unusual size for this type of vehicle but they contribute to a generous 206mm ground clearance, 27 degree approach angle and almost 25 degree departure angle, qualifying it as a genuine offroader.

This extra full chassis toughness along with the long wheelbase and short rear overhang ensure its 2300kg braked towing capacity is realistic. 

There is a charm about the Kyron especially now that the awkward styling touches and restrictive rear vision have been addressed (although the thick D-pillars can still restrict vision). The upgraded parking sensors are local fit items so they still function when you fit a tow bar.

Built on the Actyon SUV's 2740mm wheelbase with a width of 1880mm and front and rear tracks of 1560mm, the Kyron is not a default baby 4x4 choice. It is slightly larger than the ever popular 1991 Mitsubishi NH Pajero LWB in wheelbase and length and within 10-20kg in weight. Because it is over 100mm wider, it works much better as a five-seater for growing offspring but does not offer a seven-seat option.

Instead, the rear luggage area is quite substantial starting at 1222 litres and expands to 2322 when the split rear seat is folded. The spare is a space saver, a real annoyance if you are stuck offroad. Nonetheless, compared to the loss of luggage space or an external spare on vertical rear doors for a full-size spare, it is a fair compromise for this segment.

The long wheelbase also allows for a more generous rear seat area than usual with an effective rear seat recline function.

Inside, the quality of the interior is higher than expected with the improved instrument cluster readout and lighting and more soft feel surfaces than in more expensive rivals. The new darker colours and new check weave black cloth trim inserts feel robust and look classy.

The only jarring note is the central digital clock readout that is split vertically and so heavily recessed that it can't always be seen from the driver's seat. The overall impression is a big advance over past efforts.

Passenger-carrying 4X4 wagons with a separate chassis like the Kyron are becoming increasingly rare. They may be tougher in the bump and grind of city car parks and the bush but don't usually fare as well in crash testing. It is noteworthy that SsangYong is not making any big claims in this area.

For the M200XDi, SsangYong does offer twin front airbags, four-channel ABS, lap-sash seatbelts for all seating positions, door impact beams, seatbelt pre-tensioners with load limiters, and front seat belt height adjustment as standard. 

The M270XDi adds side curtain airbags for front and rear passengers attached to the A, B and C pillars for optimum protection and standard luggage net. At least, they are an option on the M200XDi.

It is curious why the more family-oriented and expensive Kyron doesn't pick up the top Actyon SUV's ESP (Electronic Stability Program), Active Rollover Protection (ARP), Brake Assist System (BAS), Hill Descent Control (HDC) and Traction Control (TCS), at the very least as options. 

This segment has suddenly become much more crowded, including: an upgraded 2007 Holden Captiva in diesel and petrol; an entry two-wheel drive Kluger; a bigger and much better Honda CR-V; a new Nissan X-TRAIL due shortly, and a wild new range of Jeep and Dodge models in diesel and petrol. The new Hyundai Santa Fe diesel has also raised the Korean bar by a substantial margin with an engine that carves a centre line between the two Kyrons, but it is no longer a price choice.

While the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester and Nissan X-TRAIL are the segment stalwarts, you would now need to add a successful new Mitsubishi Outlander, a more price competitive Mazda Tribute/Ford Escape, cheaper Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage and a more civilised Suzuki Grand Vitara Wagon.

The Toyota RAV4 is the pricey and bulky mainstream city all-rounder with a modicum of offroad ability; the CR-V is now half family carry-all, half SUV; the Subaru Forester is the highway king with its concealed spare and low centre of gravity, and the Mitsubishi Outlander while quite robust and spacious, leans towards the highway.

The Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute twins come closest with their more rugged construction and better clearance. The Suzuki Grand Vitara is a more sophisticated onroad/offroad compromise these days but not as rugged as the Kyron. All can look like chubby family wagons compared to the extra size of the Kyron, which has a similar presence to the Captiva on the road. However, keen pricing for the entry Territory makes a nonsense of them all if you are looking for a big, all-road family carry-all.

If you place extra priority on the Kyron's separate chassis, dual-range part-time 4X4 and choice of diesel-only powerplants, big towing capacity, highway rear drive, extra luggage space with one-handed lift-up rear access, the field narrows considerably.

For family getaway purposes, the Holden Captiva SX diesel has the game sewn up but it won't match the Kyron when the going gets really tough.

The Dodge Nitro is the cowboy dude in this company with style, a strong diesel and demand outstripping supply but like the Captiva it is geared more towards the SUV recreational. Ditto for the Jeep Compass although the Jeep Wrangler four door hardtop is an interesting compromise if the offroad component is a priority. Jeep can also offer the Cherokee at the top level of Kyron pricing (and has an all-new model on the way).

The Kyron's lure of its affordable diesels needs to be assessed in the context of its extra weight.

While both Kyron diesels deliver good fuel efficiency, their overall economy around town will struggle to better a much lighter allroader with a petrol engine, when the Kyron's extra offroad toughness is generating a weight penalty of up to 500kg. Even if both do a good job given that they are shifting 2000kg and feel indestructible, you may not need the big towing capacity, extra offroad capability and the extra weight that comes with it.

This tester has developed a respect for SsangYong vehicles when the company doesn't cut corners in toughness or longevity. Their Mercedes-Benz-derived powertrains deliver refinement levels that were a long time coming in this segment.

The previous Kyron could only generate a provisional tick when its looks threatened to polarise used buyers. Even if this is no longer an issue with the new one, there are still fundamental problems with the suspension tuning that cannot be ignored.

As for the Actyon, the Kyron's diesel engines are smooth and refined and work even better with the M-B five-speed auto. The 2.7-litre diesel is the pick and is willing and easy-going. The manual wasn't driven on the launch but assume that it will be as vague and sloppy as the Actyon's until proven otherwise.

Refinement on the freeway is outstanding with little engine noise and a firm, reassuring road feel. Seat comfort and cabin ambience are relatively good and with plenty of driver's seat adjustments, the lack of reach adjustment in the steering column was not a big concern. The back seat seemed particularly comfortable with its recline function and road noise was not an issue.

That's the good news.

Alas, from the moment you cross a gutter or hit even a minor ripple around town, you know that this vehicle's suspension is not right. When our readers complain about the rides of current Japanese passenger cars like the Mazda3 and Nissan Tiida which behave like hovercraft compared to the Kyron, the Kyron's dreadful suspension performance cannot be dismissed when family getaway and urban taxi duties are its primary focus.

It makes anything less than billiard table smooth road a real chore.

The previous Kyron was slightly jittery and harsh at low speeds then suffered from lack of damper control at highway speeds on secondary roads and tended to bounce when the going got tough. Basically it floated when it shouldn't have while providing a harsh low-speed ride: the worst of both worlds.

In this update SsangYong's engineers left the springs and everything else alone and cranked up the damping force. Now, the suspension jiggles over the slightest imperfection at anything above walking speed. While suspension control in the really rough stuff is better, it is abrupt -- a function of stiff dampers pulling up soft springs.

It creates the impression that the tyres are solid rubber -- enough to prompt my specialist 4X4 co-driver to investigate if the tyre pressures had been inadvertently left too high.

More worryingly, even minor bumps and ruts on dirt roads can throw the vehicle offline and it felt like the wheels were losing contact. At first, this was mildly disconcerting but as the drive progressed, it became obvious that full attention needed to be devoted to reading the road surface. In the end, it all became too hard and speed had to be dropped down to a level that would annoy other drivers and would have the kids rioting. For a vehicle whose natural habitat should be rural areas, this is a real drawback.

The Kyron is also not a vehicle for those where the journey is as important as the destination. When I spend so much time on all roads in my own twin-cab diesel ute, it is not as if I am hard to please in this area but the Kyron makes it feel like a luxury car by comparison.

Given the Kyron's well-located coil spring rear axle and double wishbone coil spring front end, the hardware is not the problem. It now appears to be more than a dodgy damper spec. In other words, buying a Kyron and trusting in a Koni, Bilstein or Monroe damper upgrade might only deliver disappointment. I suspect that suspension bushes, coil spring rates and a whole sequence of issues may need to be addressed from scratch.

The first Range Rover delivered a magic carpet ride and unprecedented grip on rough roads with a live axle at each end 37 years ago. It is therefore not unreasonable to expect a 2007 model with a greater onroad emphasis to at least be halfway there. Hyundai Santa Fe and Holden Captiva have now achieved it, so 'Made in Korea' is no longer an excuse.

I approached the Kyron with some optimism when it had all the on-paper specifications to interest anyone who is tiring of the pretenders and oversized prams in this price segment.

As a frugal and affordable early Pajero replacement, Kyron should have a strong future but not with suspension like this.


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Published : Tuesday, 2 October 2007

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