What Car? says...
How do you stand out from the crowd? For the Ssangyong Tivoli and other small SUVs, it's getting tougher by the day as manufacturers launch new models to compete for buyers in this popular class.
Ssangyong is still a relatively unknown brand in the UK so it’s doubly difficult. To help its cause, the South Korean manufacturer has made the Tivoli cheaper than all its key rivals, with the exception of the Dacia Duster and MG ZS.
If you're on a tighter budget or are a bit overwhelmed by the range of small SUVs out there (and some of the prices being asked for them), the Tivoli’s low cost is a definite attention grabber.
So, other than the Duster and ZS, what other options are there? Well, you have the good-value Skoda Kamiq, the Renault Captur, the Nissan Juke and Volkswagen's T-Cross and larger T-Roc. Plus, there’s our 2020 Car of the Year, the Ford Puma.
They all aim to offer the look and feel of an off-roader, but with the sort of performance and running costs you'd expect with a small hatchback.
Some, such as the T-Roc, offer four-wheel drive, but most, including the Tivoli, are two-wheel-drive only. If you're interested in the larger Ssangyong family SUV that offers more boot space, we have a full separate Tivoli XLV review.
Sticking with the regular model, read on over the next few pages to find out what it's like to drive, how comfortable it is for passengers, how much it will cost to run and much more. We'll also let you know how it compares with the rivals we've mentioned and make recommendations for which trims and engines make the most sense.
If you do buy a small SUV – or indeed a car of any make and model – make sure you find the best price by using our free What Car? New Car Buying service. It makes easy work of shopping around, and there are some great Ssangyong Tivoli deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The Ssangyong Tivoli's entry-level 1.2-litre petrol engine pumps out around 126bhp and is turbocharged to help boost performance at low revs. Even so, it can't deliver a turn of speed to match the Tivoli's rivals – 0-62mph takes a leisurely 12.0sec with the six-speed manual gearbox.
The Ford Puma with a 1.0-litre Ecoboost (mHEV) 125 petrol will do the job in under 10sec and pulls much more vigorously all the way through the rev range. The Tivoli feels underwhelming and draining to drive in comparison – to get closer to Puma performance, you'll need the 1.5-litre petrol, which is only available with Ultimate level trim and above.
The third option is the 134bhp 1.6-litre diesel, which is a solid choice. It's no quicker in outright pace than the petrols, but with a healthier slug of low-down torque, it allows you to progress up to motorway speeds with less fuss.
Suspension and ride comfort
On the plus side, the Tivoli is quite soft riding. It's not as comfortable as a Dacia Duster or VW T-Roc but manages to take some of the sting out of the potholes and speed bumps you're likely to encounter around town.
The problem is that, as with the MG ZS, surface undulations show up the ride's lack of control. The Tivoli is always fidgeting and jiggling over little ridges, and it can get quite bouncy on dips and crests.
As a result, even firmer cars such as the Ford Puma are much more settled and provide greater comfort overall.
The suspension issues that affect the Tivoli's ride hurt the handling too. Like the ZS and Duster, there's plenty of body lean and nowhere near as much grip as you'll find in the Puma or the Seat Arona.
If you adopt even a remotely enthusiastic driving style around corners, the front tyres wash wide very easily. The stability control is poorly implemented, cutting the power abruptly, which is rather disconcerting.
The Tivoli’s steering is quite slow, requiring more turns to get around any given corner than quicker steering cars, like the Puma or Skoda Kamiq. It's also quite remote, and you don't feel directly connected to what the front tyres are up to. The turning circle is tight, though, and the steering is lightly weighted around town, with a button on the dashboard that adds a bit more heft when you want it (on faster roads, for example).
Noise and vibration
The 1.5-litre petrol engine is reasonably refined at low revs but becomes boomy beyond 3000rpm and decidedly coarse above 4000rpm. Although the diesel version is generally clattery, the fact that you don’t need to rev it as hard to make good progress means it's the better option.
The petrol engine's sensitive accelerator pedal makes it easy to over-rev the engine as you start off, and the snatchy brakes mean it's tricky to drive smoothly in traffic (the Kamiq is much better here). The six-speed manual gearbox has a positive gate and a slick action, though, hampered only by a slightly long throw. The six-speed automatic is reasonably smooth through the gears, but sends the engine racing from time to time.
There’s plenty of suspension noise over larger bumps and sharp ridges, and once you reach around 60mph, you'll hear much more wind and road noise than you will in the hushed VW T-Roc.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The Tivoli's driving position is unusually high-set, even with the seat height adjustment in its lowest setting. You only get a height-adjustable driver’s seat on the higher Ventura and Ultimate trims. That's a little disappointing when many rivals get such a basic feature by default.
Some rivals, including the Ford Puma, VW T-Roc and T-Cross, also include lumbar adjustment, which isn't available on the Tivoli. The seat doesn't hold you very firmly through corners, but it is comfortable for a long trip.
The Tivoli’s steering wheel moves up and down as standard, but again you have to move up to Ventura trim for the facility to move it in-and-out. Still, despite the compromises, drivers of most shapes and sizes should be able to find a reasonably comfortable driving position. In general, the switches and buttons are within easy reach and clearly marked, making them easy to use at a glance.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
If one of your motivations for buying an SUV is to gain a lofty driving position, the Tivoli will be a little disappointing. Despite the high-set seat, you don't feel as high up as you would in a Dacia Duster or VW T-Roc. There's a relatively unobstructed view of the road ahead, though, thanks to the narrow front pillars.
It’s a little less open at the rear. The shallow rear window and thick rear pillars hinder the view of what’s behind and over your shoulders – the Skoda Kamiq has a much more open glass area to see out of when you're reversing. That's not so much of an issue if you go for the upper Ventura and Ultimate trims, as both come with a rear-view camera and rear parking sensors.
Sat nav and infotainment
The entry-level EX models get a fairly low-tech FM radio with six speakers, although it does come with Bluetooth. You’ll also have to make do with a small LCD screen instead of a touchscreen, and it can be fiddly to use. Audio controls mounted on the steering wheel are fitted as standard, and cover the basic functions.
If you move up a grade to Ventura trim, you get an 8.0in colour touchscreen. Ultimate Nav spec increases the size of the colour touchscreen to 9.0in and adds TomTom sat-nav. It’s a reasonable system to use – far better than the Dacia Duster's – with timely responses to prompts and sensible menus. Then again, it lacks the features and screen quality of the best ones in the class, notably those in the T-Roc, T-Cross and Seat Arona.
It’s clear Ssangyong has made an effort with the quality of the Tivoli’s interior. It's not bad for the price, and has some plusher materials than in a Duster. It still lags behind other rivals, and not just the pricier ones – the MG ZS feels sturdier and better finished.
So what's wrong with the Tivoli's interior? Cast your eyes around and, apart from the soft-touch finish on portions of the upper dashboard and gloss-black elements, the plastics look low-rent and feel a long way from the more tactile and robust-looking materials you’ll find in a Skoda Kamiq or Nissan Juke.
Many of the buttons also look to have been plucked from the depths of the bargain basement, and, when pressed, do nothing to dissuade you otherwise.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Getting in and out of the Ssangyong Tivoli is easy as it has wide-opening doors and, once inside, you’ll find that space is good. Both front seats offer plenty of room for taller people, with generous leg room and lots of head room.
Storage provision is also decent. Each front door pocket is shaped to hold a 1.5-litre bottle of water at its leading edge, but the section behind is narrow – suitable for a map or small umbrella.
The centre console comes with a tray for a smartphone in front of the gearlever, and just behind it there are two cupholders. Extra storage is available with a cubby under the front armrest and a decent-sized glovebox.
With the Tivoli's front seats slid back, six-footers in the rear will be fine. Even a third passenger won’t feel too cramped because of the generous width of the rear bench. The central floor hump is low so there's plenty of foot space.
All three seats have adjustable headrests, there’s a folding armrest in the middle seat and the two outer seats can accept a child seat with Isofix mounting points. The pockets moulded into each rear door will fit a 1.5-litre bottle of water, and on the back of each front seat there’s elasticated webbing to retain maps and papers.
Seat folding and flexibility
There’s no height adjustment for the front passenger’s seat, even as an option, and adjustable lumbar support doesn’t appear anywhere in the spec list either.
The rear bench can’t be slid forwards to extend boot space (it can in the VW T-Cross) and there's no ski hatch, which you can have in the T-Roc. Like most of its rivals, the backrest folds in a 60/40 split.
Need a big boot? The Tivoli isn't bad, with enough space to fit a child’s buggy or a set of golf clubs. It’s a good square shape too, with a wide aperture that gives easy access.
The bad news is that it's smaller than most rivals' boots, from the Dacia Duster's and MG ZS's, to more expensive cars including the VW T-Roc and Ford Puma. Oddly, you don't get a load bay cover until you move up to the Ventura trim.
Dropping the rear seats leaves a hefty step in the load bay, and because there's no height-adjustable boot floor to level that out, it's awkward sliding long, heavy loads on board.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
If you compare the Tivoli against the Skoda Kamiq and Ford Puma, its list prices top out roughly where their ranges start. The MG ZS is better aligned with the Tivoli's prices, but the Dacia Duster undercuts both massively, and really is the king of the value brigade.
The Duster is also predicted to hold on to much more of its value against depreciation after three years, so it's better value at both ends of the ownership spectrum. The ZS's resale values aren't as good as the Duster's, but better the Tivoli's. Resale values tend to affect PCP finance rates, too, so if you're buying on finance don't assume rivals with higher list prices will cost you more per month.
As the Tivoli’s official economy and CO2 figures show, the 1.5-litre turbocharged engine will be relatively costly to run. Its combined 40.1 mpg (WLTP) and 161g/km of CO2 are beaten by the quicker Ford Puma 1.0 Ecoboost (mHEV) 125.
The Puma officially returns 50.4mpg and emits 127g/km of CO2, making it cheaper to run whether you're a private buyer or company car user. That's another reason why we favour the Tivoli diesel – it's not efficient relative to other small SUV diesels but it's better than the petrol.
Equipment, options and extras
The Tivoli’s list of equipment is a little brief on the base EX model. Cruise control, 16in steel wheels, air conditioning, electrically operated and heated door mirrors, and electric windows are about your lot. Upgrading to Ventura trim adds heated front seats and some cosmetic touches, such as 16in alloy wheels and leather-look seats.
We’d recommend going for the better equipped Ultimate trim. It adds 18in alloys, dual-zone climate control, power-folding door mirrors, an automatically dimming rear-view mirror, automatic lights and wipers, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, plus the 8.0in colour touchscreen infotainment system, rear-view camera and driving position upgrades.
The range-topping Ultimate Nav spec remains similar to the Ultimate spec, only adding the 9.0in HD touchscreen and TomTom navigation. If you’re using the smartphone mirroring, you won't need those additions.
Ssangyong as a brand didn’t feature in our 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey. The Tivoli does come with an impressive seven-year, 150,000-mile warranty, though – Kia is the only brand that can come close to that, also offering seven years, but even its cover stops at 100,000 miles.
Safety and security
The Tivoli comes with a generous amount of safety equipment as standard, getting seven airbags, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking (AEB). You have to go for the top-spec Ultimate trim to get add-ons such as lane departure warning and traffic sign recognition, though. Theft protection is covered by a standard alarm and engine immobiliser.
Euro NCAP rated the Tivoli four stars out of five for crash protection, but that was in 2016. It wouldn't get as high a mark in today's tougher tests, and even back then it was criticised for having poor areas relating to adult, child and pedestrian protection.
To be fair, the Duster and ZS aren't very good in that respect, either, and this is an area where the extra money goes when you buy cars that NCAP deems much safer, such as the T-Roc and Kamiq.
|RRP price range||£20,245 - £23,995|
|Number of trims (see all)||2|
|Number of engines (see all)||1|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||37 - 41|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||5 years / 100000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£1,368 / £1,695|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£2,736 / £3,389|