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January 18, 2021

Review: 2021 Ssangyong Korando 1.6 Diesel Premium

You can’t be blamed for forgetting that the Ssangyong Korando exists. Thanks to the almost non-stop deluge of compact SUVs from China, the segment where it’s competing in has become one of the most cut-throat, most densely packed in the market. And with a limited dealer footprint—just two are in Luzon (the four others are in Visayas and Mindanao)—it hasn’t really stuck as a top-of-mind choice. But now that you realize that this isn’t the automotive equivalent of Mr. Snuffleupagus, can it strike a chord?

In terms of looks, the Korando certainly passes muster. Ssangyong tended to have weird or eccentric designs before, but they seem they’ve put that all behind them. Now, it’s actually pleasing to the eye—whether you’re a casual motorist or a die-hard enthusiast. The angular motif does well in giving it come credence, while its decision to go against the current trend of having a large, garish grille make it quite refreshing. On this top-trim Premium model, the decision to fit LED headlights and front fog lamps, and Y-spoke 18-inch wheels do well to give it a great sense of style.

Tug the handle, and the door is surprisingly hefty—a reminder that Ssangyong’s been in the business of making SUVs since 1963. Hop aboard and that feeling of solidity continues. This demo unit has clocked over 11,000 kilometers, and yet everything feels showroom fresh. There’s nary a scruff or scratch in here, a testament that they’ve been using the toughest materials around.

Sadly, the Korando’s solidity doesn’t equate to luxury. While the look is generally alright, there’s nary any soft or plush-feeling material in here. Knock on any surface and it’s almost always hard. Thankfully, the designers did put a large piece of high-gloss black plastic (and some metal looking bits) to serve as a distraction. Moreover, Ssangyong’s penchant to get all weird is still evident in minor controls like how toggle switches are used to adjust the lights and wipers.

Little quirks aside, there’s nothing to complain about the Korando’s ergonomics. There’s a good range of adjustment to the driving position, and the resulting one’s comfy enough even for long stints in traffic. The fully digital 10.25-inch instrument cluster feels a bit gimmicky at first, but it gives all the necessary information in an easily digestible manner. The display is sharp, and there’s even a lovely minimalist mode that displays just the speed—perfect for those who want to do a bit of screen time detox on their daily commute. 

It’s also worth mentioning that while the Korando’s managed to avoid the entire “floating screen” craze, the 8-inch infotainment system is mounted high enough so you don’t have to take your eyes too far from the road to use it. The OS is run-of-the-mill—neither slick nor crisp, but at least with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto built-in, it’s easy enough to avoid it altogether.

In terms of space, there’s plenty of room all around to fit adults easily. It’s especially true at the back, where three adults can actually sit side-by-side with little difficulty. The same goes for storage, with the Korando living up to its practicality billing thanks to its deep storage area under the front armrest and cavernous glovebox. However, it doesn’t offer any reasonable storage for mobile phones. With the USB plug located just in front of the shifter, larger phones and/or the charging cable are guaranteed to get in the way of the shifter.

Despite its pleasant design and usable interior, the Korando’s biggest selling point remains its engine. The 1.6-liter diesel makes 136 horsepower and 324 Nm of torque—pretty good numbers especially when combined with the (as tested) fuel economy of close to 12 km/L. As is typical of a diesel, it feels punchy and pulls strongly. That strong sense of urgency wears off quickly though, falling off the performance cliff almost as quickly as the initial boost came rushing in. Oh, but at least the engine is smooth and free from any intrusive vibrations.

The Korando’s suspension is fully independent, and together with a body that’s made largely of high-strength steel, it offers poise and control through corners. It’s still ways off from delivering the kind of driver enjoyment that’ll make you grin from ear-to-ear, but it feels much more confident and composed than any other Chinese compact SUV. Plus, the steering is also responsive and accurate. The brakes though, can use some work as the bite comes in late in the pedal travel.

Ride-wise, the Korando is uneven. It doesn’t really impress at low speeds, feeling lumpy and crashy, especially on patchy roads. However, as the speeds pick up, the damping smoothens out becoming more confident and supple. There’s good stability baked in as well.

If there’s one area where the Korando gets a failing grade, it’s in safety. Considering that it’s priced at P 1.77 million, you’d expect it to get the whole shebang. In reality, it only gets dual SRS airbags. Heck, even the middle passenger in the rear seat doesn’t even get a three-point seatbelt (it uses a two-point lap belt)! It’s a shame because the rest of the package is decent: ABS with EBD, stability control, and even front and rear parking sensors with a reverse camera.

And there’s the rub. If you look at the Korando in isolation, it’s pretty hard to fault it. It has all the makings of an excellent compact SUV with the qualities that buyers look for: smartly styled, well-equipped, and frugal. It even showcases how much Ssangyong has come, especially in terms of its driving experience.

However, because the Ssangyong name can’t be muttered in the same breath as a Toyota or even a Kia, this Korean model is forced to be lumped together with the new challengers from China. And once you factor that in, you’ll find that the price tag is the single biggest hinderance to its success.

2021 Ssangyong 1.6 Diesel Premium

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Ownership 2021 Ssangyong 1.6 Diesel Premium AT
Year Introduced 2019
Vehicle Classification Compact SUV
Warranty 3 years / 100,000 kilometers
The Basic
Body Type 5-door SUV
Seating 5
Engine / Drive F/F
Under the Hood
Displacement (liters) 1.6
Aspiration Turbocharged
Fuel Delivery Common Rail Direct Injection
Layout / # of Cylinders I4
BHP @ rpm 136 @ 4,000
Nm @ rpm 324 @ 1,500-2,500
Fuel / Min. Octane Diesel
Transmission 6AT
Cruise Control Yes
Fuel Economy @ Ave. Speed 11.76 km/L @ 16 km/h
Dimensions and Weights
Length (mm) 4,450
Width (mm) 1,870
Height (mm) 1,620
Wheelbase (mm) 2,675
Curb Weight (kg) 1,638
Suspension and Tires
Front Suspension Independent, MacPherson Strut
Rear Suspension Independent, Multi-Link
Front Brakes Vented Disc
Rear Brakes Disc
Tires Hankook Ventus Prime 3 235/55 R 18 H (f & r)
Wheels Alloy
Safety Features
Airbags 2
Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) Yes, with EBD
Traction / Stability Control Yes
Parking Sensors Yes, Front & Rear, w/ Camera
Front Seatbelts 3-pt ELR with pre-tensioner x 2
Rear Seatbelts 3-pt ELR x 2,
2-pt Lap Belt x 1
ISOFIX Child Seat Anchor Yes
Other Safety Features No
Exterior Features
Headlights LED
Fog Lamps Yes, LED (front), Rear
Auto Lights No
Rain-sensing Wipers Yes
Interior Features
Steering Wheel Adjust Tilt/Telescopic
Steering Wheel Material Leather
Seating Adjustment (driver) Electric, 8-way
Seating Adjustment (front passenger) Electric, 8-way
Seating Surface Leather
Folding Rear Seat Yes, 60/40
On-Board Computer Yes
Convenience Features
Power Steering Yes
Power Door Locks Yes
Power Windows Yes
Power Mirrors Yes, w/ Fold
Proximity Key Yes
Climate Control Yes, Dual Zone
Audio System Stereo
Apple CarPlay
Android Auto
# of Speakers 6
Steering Controls Yes

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