When the Ssangyong Tivoli arrived here in June we tried the two-wheel-drive versions with the 1.6-litre petrol and diesel engines. Although they didn’t present themselves as the best small SUVs to drive, the fact they were roomy, well equipped and very competitively priced helped make up for their so-so dynamics.
Now we have this four-wheel-drive variant that gives the baby Ssangyong a niche advantage in this segment. Unlike its two-wheel-drive rivals such as the Renault Captur and Kia Soul, the option of four-wheel drive means the Tivoli can claim to have limited, but nevertheless genuine, mud-plugging ability.
It has locking differentials - which usually come fitted only to ‘proper’ off-roaders - for added traction in really slippery conditions, and can also tow a trailer or caravan of up to 1.5 tonnes.
The 4WD option is offered only on the diesel and from mid-level EX trim and above. You can have either a six-speed manual, or if you go for top ELX trim, a six-speed automatic gearbox, and the premium over the two-wheel drive equivalent is £1250.
This means you still get lots for you money. The EX trim costs £17,100 for the manual version and includes a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system, Bluetooth, leather seats, dual-zone climate control and seven airbags.
Meanwhile the top ELX trim complete with an automatic ’box is £19,500, and adds features such as sat-nav, privacy glass, keyless start and power-folding door mirrors.
What is the 2015 Ssangyong Tivoili 1.6 4x4 like to drive?
It feels very similar to the standard diesel we’ve driven previously. On paper the 4WD mollifies the acceleration, but not by much and you hardly notice this on the road. The engine still pulls strongly from just 1500rpm, and although progress is steady rather than brisk, there’s always enough shove in the engine’s mid-range to build speed when you need to.
Our car came with the automatic gearbox, and although it hesitates occasionally and is a little over zealous on kick-down, sending the revs higher than expected, it is pretty smooth through the gears most of the time.
There are no steering wheel-mounted paddles to change gears yourself. Instead you get a fiddly rocker switch on the gear lever, so it’s best to leave it in drive and let the car change gear for you.
Refinement is still a weak point on the Tivoli, especially in comparison with the Captur. At a cruise the engine’s noise is audible but reasonably restrained; however, under acceleration it’s quite rattly compared to most modern diesels, and if you take it beyond 3000rpm it really starts to grate.
You also hear the suspension working away beneath you over rough roads, and even at speeds of around 60mph the Tivoli starts to generate a noticeable amount of wind and road noise.
The 4WD models come with a new, more complex rear suspension setup, and we were hoping this would improve the Tivoli’s ride. Sadly this isn’t the case; it still fidgets constantly over rippled surfaces, feels overly firm over speed bumps, and has a tendency to thud over deep potholes. It’s tolerable, but there’s no doubting the Captur has a far smoother ride.
We like the steering set up though. It’s pretty quick, making the Tivoli feel reasonably wieldy in town and to some extent on faster B-roads, too. There’s a button to vary the steering’s weight, but it’s best left in the Comfort setting. This gives it just enough resistance, without feeling unnaturally heavy as it does in the Sport mode.
If you drive at a relatively sedate pace the handling is composed, but you’d never describe the Tivoli as fun to drive; and even with the 4WD fitted it’s nowhere near as composed as a Soul. In the bends it runs out of front grip sooner and the body leans more heavily than the Kia's.
That said, we don’t doubt that in the depths of winter, on a snowy back road, the Tivoli’s 4WD system would show its hand and almost certainly prove a worthy ally.
What’s the 2015 Ssangyong Tivoli 1.6 4x4 like inside?
As with the models we’ve tested before, there’s little to complain about in terms of space. Up front, the cabin is roomy for anyone over six feet tall, with comfortable seats and a decent driving position in spite of the steering wheel's lack of reach adjustment.
Forward visibility is good, and although the view out the back is hampered slightly by the thick rear pillars, a rear-view camera is standard. When it’s not being used as a reversing aid, the infotainment system is pretty simple to use. It responds quickly to inputs, and entering an address into the sat-nav (where fitted) or pairing your phone are easily done.
The Tivoli’s rear seats are just as spacious as the fronts, with enough room available to keep two tall adults - or three kids - perfectly content for an extended trip.
The boot is bigger than a Soul’s and not far off the Captur’s, so you can squeeze in a pushchair or a few large shopping bags when needed. There’s a tray beneath the false floor to store loose or delicate items, and if you need more room just drop the 60:40 split-folding rear seatbacks for a completely flat load deck.
There's plenty of room for improvement, though. For example, some of the smaller switches on the centre console can be fiddly to use and none of the switchgear feels particularly robust.
It’s not just the switches that feel a bit low rent, either. Cast your eyes around the cabin and apart from the soft-touch finish on the upper dashboard, the rest of the plastics look cheap and feel a long way from the more tactile and robust-looking materials you’ll find in a Kia Soul.
Should I buy one?
The Tivoli still has a number of weaknesses relating to refinement, ride quality and interior finish. It’s not that efficient, either, so if running costs are important to you the Renault Captur will be cheaper day-to-day.
If you can live with these shortcomings then the Tivoli’s strengths of upfront value and cabin space, not to mention a decent five-year, unlimited-mile warranty, make it worth thinking about next to the more mainstream alternatives.
We’d still save the money and stick with the 2WD model, which most people will find perfectly adequate. At £19,500 for this top ELX version with an auto 'box, the 4WD is dangerously close in price to some of those accomplished rivals and its USP of value starts to wane.
However, the 4WD does offer something different in this sector. If you live out of town and worry about getting your kids to school or yourself to work when winter’s at its most devilish, then at £17,100 the 4WD EX manual makes more than just financial sense, and in our eyes is a worthy three-star car.
What Car? says...
Ssangyong Tivoli 1.6d ELX 4x4 Auto
Engine size 1.6-litre diesel
Price from £19,500
Torque 221lb ft
0-62mph 12.3 seconds (provisional)
Top speed 107mph
Fuel economy 47.9mpg