In 2011 I reviewed the Ssangyong Rodius. I accepted the challenge of finding something nice to say about this dog of a car – and trying to make it look nice in some late-aftrnoon sun…
The Ssangyong Rodius has the dubious distinction of the car most frequently mentioned as being the ugliest on UK roads. And it is very ugly indeed.
The proportions – from the snub nose – to the rear third, which seems to go on forever, are just awful to look at. The attempt to give the Rodius a more streamlined profile by trying to fool the eye with a curvy, coupe-like false line at the back is like putting a beauty spot on the face of Ian Dowie. The new Korando wears its understated-yet-smart Guigiaro looks well. But the Rodius, well, it’s a mess.
But I like a challenge. I don’t spend much time on taking pictures of cars – and don’t pretend these approach professional shots in terms of quality – but I like to try and take some nice shots of every new car I drive. It’s not always possible; it’s rarely easy, but I think a new image of a car really adds something to copy.
With that in mind I climbed into the Ssangyong knowing I had a real job on my hands. But the sun was low, there was a good spot by the road and a reasonably clean background with some nice clouds in the sky.
So, by my reckoning, this is as good as it’s possible to make the Ssangyong Rodius look. I’m prepared to consider alternative suggestions, but I doubt that many people have tried.
If I’m remembered for one thing in the motoring industry, let it be this. My attempt to make the Ssangyong Rodius beautiful. Judge for yourselves whether I’ve succeeded or not.
The Ssangyong Rodius doesn’t have much a reputation and, it’s probably fair to say, the reputation that it does have is not an enviable one.
Chiefly known for its fugly styling, the Rodius is a genre-bending car that’s pitched mid-way between van, MPV and SUV. Why van? Well, because it’s absolutely ginormous inside and actually has a gangway through the middle, running from the front seats to the rear bench. It’s pretty clattery and wobbly and unrefined too.
Why SUV? Because it can be specced with four-wheel drive (rear-wheel drive is standard) and a grunty turbodiesel engine that makes it pretty useful for towing.
Why MPV? You can carry seven in the unusual 2+2+3 seating layout; you can swivel the middle seats around so they’re facing inwards or backwards; and the binnacles, oh the binnacles… there are binnacles everywhere.
The Rodius is not a nice car, but it’s the most intriguing car I’ve ever driven. It feels like something from a generation ago in terms of refinement and quality. It looks like some enormous American station wagon inside; a vast people-swallower designed for long, straight highways.
It sounds like a lawnmower, equipped with a weirdly peaky, shrill turbodiesel lump with a
forgetful auto transmission that hangs onto gears so long you fear catastrophic engine failure.
Yet people buy it – and people are loyal to the Ssangyong brand. As the company slogan used to say, it works for them (they’ve since changed it to ‘what’s stopping you?’). There probably isn’t a cheaper way to transport seven people – plus a decent luggage space – in comfort.
Prices in the Rodius range start at £14,995, making it second only to the outgoing Vauxhall Zafira in the sector among such models as far as cost is concerned. You can scarcely get a cheaper seven-seater – and if you compare what else retails at around £15K it’s clear that the Rodius is an absolute bargain.
Sure, depreciation will ensure the big Ssangyong takes a hit, but I find it hard to believe that many Rodius buyers will be looking to sell up after three years. Consider the five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty too…
Dimensions and interior
The middle two seats swivel to face inwards, meaning your family can play a game of cards while high-revving to Dorset on holiday. That should make it attractive to taxi drivers and the like but there will also be sprawling families with big dogs that sit up and take note (the families, not the dogs).
You could probably sleep in your Rodius, so vast is the interior. All middle and rear-row seats sandwich down – the middle seats double up as tables. They also fold flat with the soft bits facing up, so you could – should the mood take you – get your head down in something approaching comfort.
With all the seats up there is 875 litres of boot space. That’s twice as big as most hatchbacks or crossovers pack in – and probably one of the largest storage spaces of any new car. What’s more the large tailgate may be ungainly, but it makes for very easy, low access to a flat storage space.
Remove the Ssangyong Rodius’ back bench and fold down the middle seats – though this is unlikely to be easy and the fact the middle two seats are not removable might make loading awkward – and you’re looking at over 3,000 litres of boot space; that’s storage space superior to many vans.
You don’t skimp on kit at lower specs either. You get leather seats on all but the base specification throughout. I’m unwilling to give a judgement on its durability or quality, I’m a journalist, not an upholsterer, but it looks OK. You get heated front seats on all but the cheapest spec.
There’s a choice of S, ES and EX models, with the latter getting the four-wheel transmission from the Rexton SUV. Standard kit is very generous and includes keyless entry, electric windows, headlight levelling, aircon, MP3 CD radio with iPod and Bluetooth connectivity and roof rails.
Step up to ES trim, however, and you get leather heated seats, privacy glass and alloy wheels. A digital radio, satnav, metallic paint, towbar and rear parking sensors are the only options – the latter is a necessity on a car as unwieldy as the Rodius.
The Rodius also comes with stability control, essential in a family car in this day and age, as standard; alongside ABS, speed-sensing door locks and rollover protection. But there are only two front airbags, which is woeful for such a car in 2011.
Our Rodius ES Auto retails at £16,495 but had £2,000 worth of features with metallic paint and satnav.
Driving the Rodius
Climb inside and there’s a very high seating position and good visibility, though A-pillars are pretty tick and can obscure vision when turning. Behind the steering row is a peculiar horizontal strip showing gears and idiot lights.
Odometer, speedo, rev counter and the usual displays you’d expect to see behind the wheel are situated atop a centre column. It’s all quite simple and logical, but it doesn’t look good. Materials look built to last, rather than impress.
Just above the centre stack on our ES test model was a satnav that we couldn’t get to work. It’s the same unit as seen in the rest of the range, which is easy to use and understand via a touchscreen interface, if not the largest screen.
Start up the engine and there’s an enormous clatter as the engine gets going – that noise only grows when accelerating, but it’s reasonably quiet when cruising, when the Rodius feels most happy.
Steering is very light, which will be good in the city, but the Rodius doesn’t do cornering well, swaying on its chassis around corners. Given that the Rodius might be asked to carry another tonne in weight when laden its ride seems very firm with just the driver in.
The sheer bulk of the Rodius means that it’s really not at its best around city roads or twisty B-roads, while what seems like low gearing means its easy to jerk off the line, meaning frantic steering inputs. Driving it in tight car-parks must be a nightmare.
Rodius engine and performance
The 165bhp 2.7-litre turbodiesel engine from Mercedes is old-school and very noisy on start-up and when accelerating. It may look underpowered on paper, but it boasts 340Nm of torque between 1800-3250rpm so the Rodius never feels short of puff.
The five-speed T-Tronic autobox that came with our Rodius – also from Mercedes – was a curious beast though, delivering an unexpected surge of power and then hanging onto gears far longer that you would expect, the end result being that getting up through the gears to cruising speed is a singularly unrelaxing experience.
You can choose to change gear in semi-automatic tiptronic fashion – or you could plump for a manual, which will offer lower emissions. Our test model – the ES autobox with two-wheel drive, returns a decent 29.1mpg combined and emits 247g/km of carbon dioxide – so fuel costs and road tax won’t be especially good.
Manuals reduce consumption and emissions to a slightly better 32.1mpg and 223g/km. That may not sound impressive, but considering the size of the Rodius it’s really not bad.
Power is sent to the rear wheels, which is a curious quirk, and there is torque-on-demand four-wheel drive with low ratio at higher specs. There’s also a winter button on some models that engages second gear to pull away in, meaning extra grip and lower revs in difficult conditions – a clever touch. As a result the Rodius can tow up to 2.85 tonnes, a massive payload on top of seven people plus luggage.
Should I buy a Ssangyong Rodius?
Let me retiterate at this point: the Rodius is an extremely ugly car and it’s a very basic car. However, with that in mind, the Rodius has few genuine contenders. For reasons that may not necessarily be viewed as positive, admittedly.
There’s really only the genuine behemoths in this sector to rival the Rodius for interior space – the Kia Sedona and Chrysler Grand Voyager are the only two competitors still standing. None of these cars are anywhere near the likes of the Ford Galaxy or Volkswagen Sharan in terms of quality – it’s like comparing a Nokia 3210 to an iPhone.
The Rodius is, in the truest sense of the word, incredible. It is the economy burger of cars. It is the Ryanair of cars. It is the pound shop of cars. And, if that’s your lot and you can overlook the economies, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
It is very cheap and it is very big and it has four-wheel drive and it has mighty towing ability. It has a versatile and practical interior. It is all of these things. Yet it is a very ugly and fairly basic car. What’s stopping you? Loads, probably.
It’s very easy to sneer at cars like the Rodius. Its shortcomings are many and are obvious. But its strong points might just mean you don’t care.
Ssangyong Rodius 270 ES Auto
Price: £18,495 (includes first-year road tax)
Engine: 2.7-litre turbodiesel, 165bhp, 340Nm; 108mph top speed
Economy and emissions:29.1mpg; 247g/km; Road Tax Band L
Towing: 2500kg (braked)
Luggage space: 875 litres (3000 litres)
For: Cheap, incredible specification levels, massive interior space and versatility, seven seats, massive towing ability
Against: Terrible looks, poor quality inside, low safety kit levels, poor running costs, weak ride and driveability