David Motton

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The newest addition to the compact crossover market, the SsangYong Tivoli looks set to give established players a fright – David Motton drives the diesel

SsangYong has developed a small but growing following among caravanners over recent years, but it's the new Tivoli crossover which is really going to push the brand into the mainstream. It has the space, practicality and equipment to compete head-on with the Nissan Juke, Peugeot 2008 and Renault Captur, at prices which will have better-known names feeling nervous.

We drove the Tivoli petrol earlier this summer and now we've had the chance to get behind the wheel of the diesel. As you'd expect, the diesel has more encouraging stats for towing duties. Kerbweights start from 1430kg for the two-wheel drive manual, with the automatic version weighing 1465kg. Four-wheel-drive models will arrive in November, with the manual weighing 1530kg and the automatic weighing 1555kg. That gives an 85% match figure of between 1216kg and 1322kg. The petrol weighs from 1345kg. We've included 75kg for the driver in our figures.

Just as importantly, the legal towing limit jumps up if you choose diesel power. Instead of a modest 1000kg maximum, the diesel can legally tow 1500kg. Like both major caravanning clubs, we wouldn't recommend towing more than the car's kerbweight, even if the driver is experienced. But sticking to this guideline still makes the Tivoli diesel a suitable match for a variety of lightweight caravans. It's also worth noting that the noseweight limit increases from 60kg to 80kg for diesel versions.

Another advantage of choosing the diesel is that torque almost doubles to 221lb ft. That should prove more than enough muscle to tow a suitably matched caravan. On our solo test drive the engine proved flexible and willing, and reasonably quiet, too. It works well with either the six-speed manual or the six-speed automatic (which adds £1000 to the price).

Official combined economy of 65.7mpg for the two-wheel-drive manual isn't class-leading but it is competitive. With an automatic gearbox economy worsens to 51.4mpg 

At motorway speeds there's some wind and road noise, but nothing excessive. Turn off major routes onto more interesting roads and the Tivoli is competent enough, although it falls well short of the new Mazda CX-3 for driver appeal. It doesn't rival the Mazda's agility or composure when the road starts to twist and turn.

The driver can choose between normal, comfort and sport modes for the steering, but there's not a vast difference between the level of power assistance offered. After a few miles of swapping between them we found the normal setting to be about right most of the time.

Although it handles well enough, the SsangYong's biggest weakness is the ride quality, which is simply too firm, whether riding on the 16-inch alloys fitted to entry-level SE models or the 18-inch wheels of the EX and ELX.

Otherwise it's much harder to find fault with the Tivoli than with some of SsangYong's line up. The whole range is good value for money, but sometimes the price has to outweigh a few failings. With the Tivoli, other than the stiff ride, there's very little to complain about.

As usual with SsangYong, you get a lot of car for your money, both in terms of equipment and space. Entry-level SE diesels are priced from £14,200 (which is £1250 more than the petrol), and come with all-round electric windows, cruise control, manual air conditioning, a six-speaker stereo, Bluetooth connectivity and 16-inch alloy wheels. 

The EX costs another £1400, but in our book the spec upgrades easily justify the extra spend. Leather upholstery, a leather-covered steering wheel and gear knob, heated front seats, a luggage cover, dual-zone climate control, a seven-inch touchscreen, a rear-view camera and 18-inch alloy wheels are all standard.

Stepping up to ELX spec adds a further £1400, with privacy glass fitted to the tailgate and the rear doors, power-folding door mirrors, satellite navigation and a choice of alloy wheel finishes.

Safety-wise, all versions have front, side and curtain airbags, as well as a driver's knee airbag, stability control and ISOFIX child seat fittings.

Inside, the Tivoli looks modern and reasonably well finished, with chunky buttons and easy-to-use controls. There's nothing especially innovative about the design, but more importantly this doesn't look or feel like a bargain-basement cabin.

That's true whichever seat you occupy. There's plenty of space up front (although reach as well as height adjustment for the steering wheel would be welcome), but it's the Tivoli's rear-seat space which really impresses. There's enough room for a 6ft 3in passenger to sit behind a 6ft 3in driver without their knees touching the front seat. That's very impressive indeed and makes rivals like the Mazda CX-3 and Nissan Juke seem very cramped.

There's a decent amount of boot space, too, with 423 litres to fill. Fold the back seats forward and there's a step to the floor unless you order the optional storage box, which raises the boot floor and provides underfloor storage.

It all goes to make the Tivoli the best SsangYong yet. Some small crossovers may be better to drive, but few are so roomy or such good value for money.

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