SUV styling usually comes at a premium, but not always. Here we have two high-riding, vaguely off-road-looking, VW Golf-sized hatchbacks that can be yours for less than £16,000.
We’re not talking about basic versions with weedy petrol engines, either. That £16k gets you a punchy diesel motor and plenty of standard luxuries, including alloy wheels, air-conditioning, a DAB radio and, in the case on one of our contenders, heated leather seats.
The question is, which of these big-on-space and even bigger-on-value Korean-made rivals should you consider spending money on?
Kia Soul 1.6 CRDi 134 Connect
Kia's funky-looking Soul is cheap to buy, well equipped and remarkably spacious
Ssangyong Tivoli 1.6 D EX
The Korean brand's best effort yet is astonishingly cheap and packed with standard kit
What are they like to drive?
Make no mistake, neither car delivers the sort of acceleration that’s going to get your pulse racing. However, both will hit 60mph in around 11 seconds, which is enough oomph to keep pace with fast-moving traffic and even perform the odd high-speed overtake without your heart venturing too close to your mouth.
However, while there’s little to split these two for outright performance, the fact the Ssangyong’s engine pulls more willingly from low revs makes it more relaxing to drive swiftly, and means you need to change gear less frequently. It’s just a shame that when you do need to use the
Ssangyong’s gearbox you’ll find it a bit stiff and notchy; the Kia’s is much lighter and slicker. In fact, the Kia is altogether the more refined choice. Its engine is smoother and quieter, and less wind and road noise finds its way into the cabin at a motorway cruise. You can hear the suspension working away in both cars, particularly around town, but again the Ssangyong is marginally the less effective at suppressing this annoying noise.
Neither of these SUVs handles as well as the best family hatchbacks, but the Kia certainly doesn’t disgrace itself. There’s plenty of grip and the Soul always feels stable and secure, even though its high-sided body sways about a little through tight twists and turns. Its somewhat vague steering doesn’t inspire much confidence through faster corners, although it is light enough to making parking a doddle.
The Ssangyong’s steering is heavier, no matter which of the variable weight settings you choose (by pressing a button on the dashboard). However, there still isn’t much in the way of feedback, which is a bit of an issue given that the Ssangyong’s front tyres don’t grip the road particularly well – especially in the wet.
Ride comfort will understandably be of more concern to many buyers and again the Kia has a clear edge. It never becomes too firm or unsettled, even over potholes, although you’ll notice your head tossing from side to side along scruffy town roads. The Ssangyong, meanwhile, is less effective at smoothing out battered surfaces; its larger-diameter wheels and lower-profile tyres are no doubt partly to blame.
What are they like inside?
You’re unlikely to have much trouble finding a comfortable driving position in either of these cars. Both have steering wheels that adjust for height and reach, and they also have height-adjustable driver’s seats and decent all-round visibility – particularly in the Kia thanks to its slimmer rear pillars. The Kia also has the more comfortable front seats, although a shortage of lower back support in both cars puts a dampener on long-distance comfort.
You won’t have many issues with the dashboard layout in either, although the Kia’s is that bit more user-friendly, thanks to its bigger, squarer and more clearly labelled buttons and dials. Everything you touch feels sturdier and more classily finished. Mind you, the Ssangyong’s interior doesn’t feel at all low-rent, despite the use of harder and less-appealing plastics throughout.
Both of these SUVs are remarkably practical family cars. Their high-sided, boxy shapes give them huge amounts of head room, not only in the front but also in the back. Rear leg room is equally impressive in both cars, and the Kia’s broader cabin makes it better for those occasions when you need to carry three in the back.
Tall, square and wide-opening doors make both cars easy to get into and out of, even though the Ssangyong’s rear wheelarches jut in to the door opening slightly more than we’d like. However, it’s rather worrying that the Ssangyong’s rear head restraints don’t rise up high enough to be of any use for taller people.
Outright boot space is similar in both. The Kia’s load bay isn’t quite as wide as the Ssangyong’s, but it’s that bit longer and taller. Annoyingly, though, while top-of-the-range Kias come with a height-adjustable boot floor that helps negate the big lip at the boot entrance – and the hefty step in the floor when the rear seats are folded down – you can’t add this feature to Connect models, even as an option.
What will they cost?
A bit of haggling with your Kia dealer will soon slice £1775 from the price of the Soul, whereas our Target Price shoppers were unable to find any Ssangyong dealers prepared to barter. The upshot of that is that the Tivoli will cost you £1025 more to buy at the outset.
However, consider the cost of ownership over a three-year period and there’s less to split them. The Ssangyong is still the pricier option, but the fact it’s predicted to shed its value at a slightly slower rate, qualifies for a cheaper band of road tax and is more economical in real-world driving narrows that gap to just £883.
The Kia makes more financial sense if you’re buying on finance, too. Put down £5000 up front on a three-year PCP agreement and you’ll pay £153 a month, compared with £166 for the Ssangyong. Both deals have an annual mileage limit of 12,000 miles and require you to pay a hefty final ‘balloon’ payment at the end of the term if you want to own the car outright, although at this point most people will simply sign up to a new agreement.
If you’re looking at either of these as a potential company car then forget the Kia. Its high CO2 emissions make it a seriously pricey option – a £22,000 Nissan Qashqai 1.5 dCi 110 Acenta will cost you less each month in salary sacrifices. The Ssangyong’s lower emissions and cheaper list price make it more attractive to company car drivers, although anyone planning to lease may be put off by its higher contract hire rates.
Both cars come surprisingly well equipped considering their reasonable price tags. Alloy wheels, air-conditioning, cruise control, four electric windows, a USB socket, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and a reversing camera are standard on both, while the Ssangyong even gets climate control and heated leather front seats. White is the only no-cost paint colour available on either car, although several metallic finishes are available if you’re prepared to pay extra.
Like all Kias, the Soul comes with a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty as standard, compared with the five-year unlimited mileage cover that’s provided as standard by Ssangyong.
Ssangyong has always been a fairly niche player in the UK car market, and with good reason – its models have been temptingly cheap, but mediocre in other respects. However, the Tivoli is a big step forward and deserves consideration if you’re looking for as much space and equipment as you can get for as little outlay as possible. That said, the Soul is an altogether better car, and will actually cost you less in the long run – no matter if you’re paying cash or buying on finance.
Kia Soul 1.6 CRDi 134 Connect
For Spacious interior; well priced; plenty of kit; decent to drive
Against High CO2 emissions; lifeless steering
Verdict A fine all-rounder and extremely good value for money
Ssangyong Tivoli 1.6 D EX
For Seriously cheap; loads of kit; spacious interior; lower CO2 output
Against So-so ride and handling; noisier engine; higher PCP costs
Verdict Worth a look - particularly if you're a company car driver