SsangYong's fresh start as Tivoli joins race for buyers of compact crossovers
First Drive: SsangYong Tivoli in Rome
IT is as well to say it bluntly at the outset. SsangYong have a hill to climb to restore faith in the brand here.
A lot of people suffered when it went a few years back. It isn't, and won't be, easy to restore their confidence.
But it has been plugging away for some time to regain a foothold with the backing of new global ownership (Mahindra) and Irish distributor.
Now it takes its biggest step to date in the process of re-building by bringing in a compact crossover/SUV called the Tivoli.
There is an acute awareness of the challenges ahead by SsangYong executives but like every new journey they have to start somewhere.
And, I suppose, it might as well be with the Tivoli. Of course they have other, larger, existing models, but the Tivoli, is not just new it also aims for a much different sort of buyer.
It is targeted at those in the 25-35 year age bracket and especially women but - again to be blunt - faces huge competition from the likes of the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur, Mazda CX-3 etc.
However, there are factors helping it, among them the wind at the back of the relentless surge in demand for motors like this - and a five-year unlimited mileage warranty.
SsangYong execs revealed in Rome that there will also be a longer wheelbase version (seven-seater) in the relatively near future.
And as the company pushes to bring a new model to market every year you can expect a mini-MPV within the next 12 months or so too.
Anyway, off to Rome I went to drive the Tivoli - to Tivoli appropriately enough. It also got its first Irish showing at Carton House yesterday. Prices start at €19,995 for the 1.6-litre petrol (125PS) while the 1.6-litre diesel (115PS) will cost €21,495.
While the petrol is due from July, the manual diesel is a mid August arrival (auto in September) so it will be hard to gauge how it will be received until January I'd say.
The diesel is the one to consider, though. There's no doubt about that - with road tax of €190 (the petrol starts at €390). Stop/start will be standard on cars with manual transmission. All-wheel drive versions of petrol and diesel arrive from December
So what is it like? It's a chunky, upright sturdy number (it reminds me a bit of the KIA Soul) with more room at the rear than some rivals, and head room, especially, all over the cabin (and a 423 litre boot - rear seats fold for more room).
I was glad to see it more angular than muscular and more low-slung than some competitors.
I'm not mad about the front/grille/design though; I think there's too much metal and not enough grille but I suppose it is different and strong in its own way. It looks much better from the back with high hips and sharp lines.
There is a good set-up for the driver with the dials and instruments all aimed and angled at you. I liked that. There's a flat-bottomed steering wheel, a well-packed central console with a set-in screen for the infotainment system and good visibility out front and side.
The rear corner pillars affected visibility a bit but I didn't find it a major problem.
It felt a strong car on the road and over bad chunks of Italian tarmac (and I don't know what else) we felt the suspension and tyres dealt well with undulations and edges. It was a more than decent drive with good absorption of noise too.
The electric steering has three modes (Normal, Comfort and Sport)
The semi-bucket seats have won an award apparently, but I thought they were a bit small.
The 6spd petrol wasn't the liveliest, quickly running out of puff and pull in fifth and sixth. I hope, and expect, the diesel to be much better.
The 4.2 metre long Tivoli is built on a new platform developed by owner Mahindra. Connectivity options, through a 7ins colour touchscreen, includes an HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) socket so you can play smart-phone video content.
Several multimedia files can be played through the six-speaker system, including MP3, WAV, WMA, FLAC and APE.
The TomTom 7ins sat nav is linked to the rear-view camera. It let us down badly a few times. Not a fan at all at all.
Among standard items are cruise control, air con, seven airbags, Active Rollover Protection, Brake Assist, Hill Start Assist and ESS (Emergency Stop Signal).
Pricing is there or thereabouts with competitors. I half expected they'd cut price to win sales and get some cars on the road - always critical so that people notice them.
The thing is, you see, if it had another emblem on it - say a Toyota or Nissan - it would be regarded as a fine new entrant.
But because it is a SsangYong, it is a different matter. This has to be better than good.
It's going to take time but the Tivoli is not a bad start at all.