David Motton

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Keen pricing and a strong engine give the new SsangYong Musso kudos over its predecessor, but what tow car talent does it have? Motty gets behind the wheel

It's fair to say that SsangYong is having a very good year. Sales are up 43% compared with 2015. The Tivoli crossover is leading the charge, but SsangYong reports that all its models are selling in healthy numbers.

Except one. The Korando Sports pick-up is the only vehicle to have underperformed. SsangYong has decided that the name is part of the problem – it's not based on the Korando SUV, and it's certainly not sporty.

So, say goodbye to the SsangYong Korando Sports, and hello to the SsangYong Musso. If the name seems familiar it should do – it belonged to a SsangYong 4x4 from the 1990s. You still see them towing caravans from time-to-time.

However, there's more to the Musso than resurrecting a name from SsangYong's past. A styling refresh and mechanical changes aim to make the pick-up more practical and better to drive. It's well timed, too, with pick-ups growing in popularity in the UK, as we've discussed.

Double-cab pick-ups like the Musso tend to be bought by those who need a commercial vehicle in the week which can be used as a family car at the weekend. As a workhorse, the Korando Sports was held back by a modest payload, but the Musso can cope with a tonne in the back and its load bay is big enough for a 2.04 sq m Euro pallet.

To help pull that one-tonne load, the Musso has a 2.2-litre diesel engine with 178PS (176bhp) and 295lb ft of torque. Unladen, that's enough for quite lively performance. It's rather flat below 1400rpm, but from there on it takes off. Engine noise isn't too intrusive by pick-up standards, certainly if you don't push it too hard.

All versions have switchable four-wheel drive. Leave the Musso in two-wheel-drive mode in the dry for the sake of fuel efficiency, but twist a knob on the dash to switch to four-wheel drive in the wet. There's also a low-ratio 4x4 mode for more serious off-roading.

Musso buyers have a choice of six-speed manual or automatic gearboxes. Manual versions achieve 40mpg on the combined cycle and emit 186g/km of carbon dioxide. Automatic versions achieve 37mpg and emit 202g/km. The auto costs a reasonable £1000 more than the manual, and it changes gear smoothly, making the Musso more pleasant to drive than the rather stiff-shifting manual.

The engine and new auto are definite improvements, but in other ways the Musso lags behind behind the standards set by the Mitsubishi L200 Series 5 and the Nissan Navara. The steering is featherlight, very vague and slow to self-centre, and sharp bumps send a shudder through the body.

When the Korando Sports launched in 2012, its coil-sprung rear suspension gave it a more supple, car-like ride than its leaf-sprung rivals, but against newer designs the Musso feels bouncy and short of control. Although with a decent load in the back, the SsangYong should ride more calmly.

Does the Musso's lacklustre ride and handling matter? Given the SsangYong's price advantage over its rivals, it probably won't to some buyers. The range starts at just £15,995 excluding VAT for the SE manual model (the Musso will mostly be sold to small businesses who can reclaim the VAT element of the purchase price). If you're a private buyer you'll pay £19,197. Compare that with the L200 Series 5, which starts from £17,995 excluding VAT.

The entry-level car comes with artificial leather seats, 18-inch alloys, remote central locking, all-round electric windows, cruise control, manual air-conditioning, and a CD player with iPod and Bluetooth connectivity.

Stepping up to the EX model gives a choice of manual or automatic gearboxes. The manual costs £17,995/£21,537 and the automatic £18,995/£22,737 depending on whether you're entitled to reclaim the VAT or not.

The EX cars have black alloy wheels, roof rails, real leather seats, heated front seats, a seven-inch touchscreen, rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera, which should prove very handy when hitching up to a caravan. EX models also have LED running lights, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers and cruise control.

Inside, both the SE and EX have an upgraded cabin. There's no more space than before, so rear legroom is tight for adults, but the steering wheel now features buttons for the stereo, touchscreen and phone. Some silver-grey trim makes the dashboard look less dour, and the EX's heated seats now have more than one setting. The steering wheel adjusts for height but not reach, however we were able to find a comfortable driving position with a good view out in all directions.

As with the Korando Sports, the Musso is a heavy vehicle. Manual versions have a kerbweight of 2099kg, while autos weigh 2112kg. That gives an 85% match figure of 1784-1795kg, well within the 3000kg legal towing limit. However, judging by the VIN plates on both our test cars that drops to 2300kg if the car is fully loaded. The maximum download on the towball is 117kg.

It's also worth remembering that some caravan handbooks preclude the use of commercial vehicles for towing, so do check before you buy a Musso to pull your tourer.

All told, this is a worthwhile update – and much more than just a change of name. The Musso still has a few rough edges, but as you'd expect of SsangYong, it's very keenly priced.

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