There aren't many comfy 4x4 station wagons you can get for under R200 000, and only two with diesel power. One of them is the SsangYong Korando K290 TDI - and it's a great choice.
The other, by the way, is the Indian Mahindra 2.6 Scorpio, with far fewer frills than the Korean-built product, and much less power.
The Korando is a good-looking vehicle, in a quirky sort of way, and it's also built tough, with a rugged separate chassis, long-travel suspension and sophisticated "shift on-the-fly" selectable 4WD control.
In fact it's used by the South Korean Army with only minor modifications.
The Korando was designed by Professor Ken Greenley of the Royal College of Art in London, using the WW2 Willys Jeep as his basic theme.
Well, that might have been the original plan, and there's still some Jeep in the flared-out front wheelarches and the close-together headlights.
However, since SsangYong was acquired by SAIC in China the grille has been changed considerably to give it a softer, more modern look.
The Korando retains its long bonnet and short rear end, though, and I still find it as attractive as I did when it was first launched quite a few years ago.
It's also got its spare wheel where you can easily get to it - attached to the big side-opening rear door.
In comparison terms, the Korando has a longer wheelbase than the Land Rover Defender 90 County and it is also wider, though it doesn't look it.
Inside there's comfortable seating with leather trim and the high riding position gives an excellent forward view.
Despite its highly competitive price it has lots of extras, including remote central locking and electrically operated windows, as well as power steering, a radio/CD combination, air-conditioning and electrically operated side mirrors.
Getting in is easier for those in front than in the back, thanks to the three-door configuration, but once in rear seat passengers will find more rear seat legroom and breathing space than first looks would indicate.
It offers uncharacteristically good luggage space plus five-seat accommodation - a rarity among short- wheelbase off-roaders.
It also has a split/fold rear seat back and fold away rear seat base to increase luggage capacity.
The SsangYong Korando's four-wheel drive system is part time, which means drive is usually to the rear wheels only, with a limited slip differential to assist grip and handling.
This means that under normal operation there's less power loss from mechanical drag than a vehicle with permanent four-wheel drive, which in turn equates to better performance and fuel economy.
However, when you want four-wheel drive high range - for instance, when you get onto a smooth and fast dirt road - this can be selected while driving up to 70 km/h at the turn of a switch mounted to the left of the steering column.
But you need to stop to select low range - for when the going gets tough.
Safety features include integrated front and rear crumple zones, a driver's air bag, collapsible steering column and steel intrusion bars in the doors.
There's also a remote release for the fuel filler, a wiper on the rear window, tinted windows all round and one-touch window operation for the driver. Plus lots of cupholders!
Under the skin
Its 2.9-litre intercooled turbo diesel providies a technical advantage in power, torque, amazing economy coupled with a 72 litre tank for great range, smoothness, quietness and reliability.
It also has an awesome towing capacity of no less than 2.8 tons.
The 5-cylinder motor produces 88 kW at 4 000 r/min with 258 Nm of torque at 2 250 r/min.
Like everything else on the Korando, the suspension is more sophisticated than expected, and its rear suspension uses a coil-spring axle with five links for accurate location, good off-road articulation and reduced body roll.
Front and rear anti-roll bars also contribute to taut handling and minimise cornering lean.
Its overall length is 4 330 mm, height 1 840 mm, width 1 841 mm, and wheelbase 2 480 mm.
Front and rear tracks are quite wide at 1 510 mm (front) and 1 520 mm (rear) which, like the long wheelbase, also aids stability and handling.
There are 15 inch 77JJ alloy wheels as standard, shod with 235/75 R15 tyres.
Once behind the neat steering wheel it's easy to get a good driving position thanks to the tilt-adjustable steering column and easily adjusted driver's seat.
The controls are remarkably light for such a substantial vehicle, and parking is easy thanks to the 10.4 metre turning circle and the 3.1 turns lock to lock steering.
However, you have to be careful at times as the sweeping front wings are invisible from the driver's seat and are only too easy to catch on a tree or gatepost.
The 5-cylinder engine is powerful and torquey, meaning you don't have to change gears a lot, and it's fairly quiet unless you're pushing the vehicle hard.
Wind noise isn't a strong point, but then again, that's a regular problem with tall vehicles.
The Korando's conventional 5-speed manual transmission, supplied by Borg Warner, is light and positive, and has sweet ratios.
The Korando proved quick, predictable and enjoyable to drive on-road, and surprisingly able off-road.
Ground clearance of 195 mm is, however, generally somewhat limited and there appear to be bits that are likely to get damaged easily, such as the "running boards".
The longish wheelbase helps eliminate the choppy ride which afflicts many 4x4s, while the long-travel torsion bar independent front suspension also benefits ride and handling.
For a vehicle weighing in at 2 1/2 tons it is fairly economical, returning an overall average for urban and motorway on-road driving of 11.4 litres/100 km, this rising to 14.4 litres/100 km when off-roading is added.
Unlike many 4x4s the Korando has excellent stopping ability thanks to ABS, big ventilated front discs, and solid rear discs
For the 4x4 pundits it has a departure angle of 35 degrees, approach angle of 28.5 degrees, and a rollover (slant) angle of 44 degrees. Incline gradient is 40.4 degrees and wading depth 410 mm.
The Korando won't be to everyone's taste. It's unusual looking, certainly, but it's distinctive and well proportioned, and the design holds together well as a package, viewed from any angle.
Its size, performance, proven reliability and economy offer great appeal and the lure of the highly refined Mercedes engine has to be strong for anyone.
Unlike many of the soft-roaders in and around its price range it is a true off-roader with amazing four-wheel drive ability
It's a great value-for-money proposition, improved further by the 3 year/100 000 km warranty and 3 year/60 000 km maintenance plan and 24 hour roadside and medical assistance.
2.9 Turbor Diesel Engine
Rear seat access
- Source from Wheel24 (Oct 25, 2005) -