Review and road test of the SsangYong Musso (1995 - 1999)
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
When it comes to badge equity, you've either got it or you haven't. Whilst Mercedes and BMW drivers pay a big premium for the guaranteed residual values and snob appeal of their smart badges, there are other marques that have to forge an existence on the strength of their hardware. Take SsangYong for example. If you're asking yourself 'Who?', that illustrates the point exactly. The Musso 4x4 was launched in the UK in 1995 and failed to create much of an impression for four years, largely due to the fact that we like our premium badges on big 4x4s. The ironic thing is that if you pop the bonnet, you'll see a premium lump of Mercedes-Benz iron staring back at you but most never bothered to investigate that far. As a used buy, the Musso makes an excellent value family 4x4. Before you sign up for an MPV, give one a look.
5dr 4x4, 2.3, 3.2 petrol, 2.9 diesel, 2.9 turbodiesel
Things get a little complex here. The Musso was originally badged a SsangYong in the UK and remained that way until 1999 when SsangYong were subsumed by the Daewoo empire. This bit of Korean politicking escaped most buyers who steadfastly continued to ignore the Daewoo Musso. Sales petered out by 2002 but the SsangYong marque has subsequently made a welcome return to the UK with the Musso's successor, the beefy Rexton.
Ssangyong models first arrived in May 1995, with the 2.9 diesel model in standard, SE and GSE trim levels. June 1996 saw this 94bhp engine uprated to 99bhp. In January 1997, the unusual GX220 model was launched. This boasted a 3.2 litre Mercedes sourced petrol engine, and with 217bhp available was notably quick off the mark. The 2.3-litre engine made its debut in August 1997 in 2.3 GLS guise, whilst in January 1998 2.9TD GL and GLS trim levels were announced.
What You Get
The Musso is one of the first 4x4 vehicles to look remotely sleek. The angle of the windscreen is raked back to give a purposeful, sporty image, at odds with the barn-door design of many of its rivals. Parked next to a Nissan Patrol or Land Rover Discovery, the Musso looks a classier, more expensive piece of equipment, possibly even in the Range Rover or Toyota Land Cruiser bracket to the uninitiated.
In practical terms, the Musso also makes sense as long as you don't need space for seven. That's impossible due to the fact that, unlike many competitors, you don't get occasional seats in the luggage compartment. Still, there is ample head and legroom for five people. Another point worth making is that, at only 67.7 inches high, it's still able to scrape aboard `Le Shuttle` (unlike some other 4x4s), should you wish to venture across the Channel.
Another unusual feature is that the rear seat is set higher than those at the front. This novelty, copied from Korean executive cars unseen in Europe, was adopted to give rear passengers a better view. Other useful features include an intrusion-free 1120-litre, luggage compartment and split/folding rear seat.
What to Look For
The engines and gearboxes are proven items, and the ladder-framed chassis boasts good ground clearance, so the Musso won't cause any great concern in these areas. As with any vehicle that purports to offer serious off road capabilities, check the underbody for signs of damage. Concentrate on the suspension, exhaust and chassis, and make sure the steering and differential are still serviceable.
Inspect the wheelarch liners for rust-inducing punctures and ensure that the four-wheel drive selector works properly, as these 'shift on the fly' mechanisms are prone to accidental damage. Otherwise, the usual reminder to obtain a service history applies.
(Estimated prices, based on a 2.3). A new starter motor for a Musso will relieve you of approximately £578. A new alternator will demand the sum of £390. A radiator is more reasonably priced at around £145, and a clutch assembly will be in the region of £165. Things begin to go a trifle pear-shaped with a £450 exhaust system and a £735 catalyst, whilst front brake pads won't give you any change from £100.
On the Road
The Musso comes as standard with the high driving position and bulletproof feel that all good 4x4s engender. Despite being based on a proper off-road ladder chassis, the on-road ride is good. Coil sprung rear suspension gives a relatively composed ride, and stability feels good. There's none of the tilting, toppling and swaying that some 4x4 owners have become used to, that feeling that when the steering wheel is turned the upper and lower halves of the vehicle are going in opposite directions.
Reassuring anti-lock brakes are fitted as standard, and the front suspension resists dive quite well. The four-wheel drive selector takes the form of a simple dash-mounted button rather than an awkward lever, and this can be operated at speed of up to 43mph. Once off-road, the Musso is not as agile as its sister car, the Korando, as sheer bulk mitigates against its ultimate capability and ground clearance is not the greatest.
Just because you've got a growing family and the outgoings to match doesn't necessarily mean you should cave in to mediocrity and buy an ageing MPV. A SsangYong Musso has a whole lot more about it and offers the opportunity for weekend off roading fun. The Musso is big, tough and is unlikely to depreciate a whole lot further. If a premium badge doesn't concern you, the Musso could make an interesting bet. It's worth it just to be able to confuse people who think they know about cars.
SsangYong Musso (1995 - 1999) review by ANDY ENRIGHT