The Tivoli is SsangYong's entry into the phenomenally successful compact crossover market.
Like all cars of its type it’s more ‘hatchback on stilts’ than full-on SUV, but it offers a useful step up in space compared to a regular supermini, not to mention a higher driving position and a degree of off-road ability.
The Tivoli comes with the choice of two 1.6-litre engines - a 115bhp diesel and a 128bhp petrol. Only the diesel engine is offered on four-wheel drive models, although both are available with a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmission.
Despite what the power figures would suggest, it’s the diesel that feels the stronger of the two, with much greater urge at low speeds. Returning a claimed 65.7mpg to the petrol’s 44.1mpg (in two-wheel drive manual form) it should be usefully cheaper to run too, although both are laboratory figures that should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Thanks to its reduced CO2 output (113g/km plays 149g/km) the diesel sits no less than three road tax brackets further down – saving as much as £115 for the first year at 2016 rates
Ride and handling
On the road, the Tivoli acquits itself reasonably well. True, the steering is a bit numb and there’s not quite the same feeling of agility as you get in best small crossovers, but it’s safe and predictable.
The ride is less impressive. There’s nothing drastically amiss, but the Tivoli has a tendency to jiggle over bumps and ridges, which leaves it feeling a little unsettled. The multi-link rear suspension system used on the four-wheel drive models improves matters slightly, but not enough to trouble its more established rivals.
Where the Tivoli does score well – at least in four-wheel drive form – is off-road. Only a tiny fraction of owners will actually use its capabilities (the rest are probably better off with the cheaper, more economical two-wheel drive model) but it performs remarkably well for what’s essentially a high-riding hatchback.
Lockable four-wheel drive and SsangYong's intelligent Torque-on-Demand system make it extremely easy to drive on loose or slippery surfaces.
For a company more used to churning out no-thrills SUVs and pickups, the interior is a good effort. There are enough curves and creases to amuse the eye, while the fit and finish is pretty good for a car that starts at under £13,000.
The Tivoli’s seating position is, as you’d expect, noticeably higher than a regular hatchback, but not as lofty as a traditional SUV. The seats are firmly padded but deceptively comfortable, although the lack of reach adjustment on the steering wheel makes it harder than it should be to find a good driving position.
Considering the Tivoli’s compact dimensions, there’s a commendable amount of space inside. Rear seat passengers, in particular, get a better deal than they would in a conventional hatchback.
At 423 litres, the boot is a decent size too – easily trumping the likes of the Vauxhall Mokka (356 litres) and the Nissan Juke (354 litres). For reasons that aren’t entirely clear – perhaps the sloping roofline – the load space doesn’t compare quite so favourably once you fold the seats, but it’s still competitive in class at 1,115 litres.
What to know before you buy
There are basically three trim specs to choose from. Even the entry-level SE grade (only available in two-wheel drive form) comes with alloy wheels, air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity.
The next step up, EX, is arguably the sweet spot in the range. Priced at £14,600 in petrol form, it adds heated leather seats, dual zone climate control and a 7-inch touchscreen display for the stereo. Although somewhat flimsy in feel, the touchscreen works well and also provides a reversing camera function, which addresses the Tivoli’s slightly limited rear visibility.
Top-spec ELX trim gets a variety of styling tweaks, plus front and rear parking sensors, rain sensing wipers, automatic headlights and TomTom navigation. Prices for new range from £16,000 for the petrol manual to £19,500 for the four-wheel drive diesel auto.
Although there are no Euro NCAP crash test results for the Tivoli, it’s a brand new design, which should perform reasonably well. All models come with seven airbags, stability control and SsangYong’s Active Roll-Over Protection system as standard.
For peace of mind, there’s also a comprehensive five-year unlimited mileage warranty, which even covers the clutch and brake pads for the first 12 months. This also contributes to surprisingly buoyant resale values; despite the unfamiliar badge, automotive analyst CAP predicts the Tivoli’s depreciation to be around the same as its better known rivals.
Realistically, the Tivoli’s strengths lie more towards the rugged end of the compact crossover spectrum. That puts it up against cars like the Dacia Duster, which represents an even more affordable route into four-wheel drive.
At 475 litres (expanding to a cavernous 1,636 litres with the rear seats down) the Duster trumps the Tivoli’s boot space. It’s every bit as capable off-road too, but it’s a back-to-basics machine that can’t match the SsangYong’s comfort or equipment levels.
The Suzuki Vitara is perhaps the Tivoli’s most direct rival. It offers a comparably civilised blend of comfort and all-terrain ability, with better on-road dynamics, but it can’t match the Tivoli for price or practicality.
SsangYong has done a good job on its first compact crossover. The driving experience isn’t quite as polished as some of its rivals and it may not have the style or the brand recognition required to win over the more fashion-conscious consumer.
It gets a lot closer than many would have predicted, though; close enough, perhaps, to tempt people with its ample space, generous equipment and impressive value for money.