Published on Monday 9 December 2013 16:00
Ten Second Review
Close your eyes until you get inside the SsangYong Rodius and you'd have it down as an outrageous bargain. This is a huge MPV with masses of interior space, an economical diesel engine and decent driving dynamics. The engine is a little agricultural and the ride somewhat over-firm but you can't grumble for this price. If only it wasn't so unusually styled.
If you want to make a fashion statement, then the purchase of a large MPV People Carrier isn't usually the way to do it. Unless of course, the car in question is SsangYong's Rodius, the most unusually styled car of its type. It's also, incidentally, one of the largest and easily the best value.
The man behind the Rodius' unorthodox styling is none other than Ken Greenley, former head of the automotive design course at the Royal College of Art in London. This is a gentleman whose CV includes cars such as the Bentley Continental R, Bentley Azure and the Aston Martin Virage. Quite what happens when Ken receives a commission from SsangYong is open to conjecture, but he also penned the Musso, another of their back catalogue with love it or hate it lines. One design touch that is undoubtedly rather deft is the way that the lights and some of the other detailing have been supersized to disguise the bulk of the Rodius. At 5125mm long and 1915mm wide, this is a car that comprehensively dwarfs a Range Rover.
Naturally, you'll need a fair amount of muscle to haul a vehicle this big about and at first glance, 155PS doesn't seem a whole hill of beans. You can buy a Renault Clio with more grunt than that. What hope does 155PS have of moving this mountain of metal? In truth, it does a pretty reasonable job. That power output is generated by a common-rail 2.0L diesel engine that replaces the old 2.7-litre Mercedes unit and generates 360Nm of torque which is a good deal more than a 3.0 BMW X5. Thus equipped, the Rodius will get to 60mph in around 14 seconds and run out of go at 105mph.
The Rodius drives surprisingly well. You'd certainly think that its weight and size would count against it more than they ultimately do. The ride is slightly firm and although there are large MPVs that are markedly more rewarding to get about in, the Rodius doesn't disgrace itself. There's even a 4WD version at the top of the range.
Design and Build
Look beyond the unconventional lines and there's a utility vehicle that's virtually unbeatable. To give some idea of the amount of space inside a Rodius, in some markets it's sold in an 11-seat guise! Given that us Brits are some of the largest people on earth, our Rodii are configured in a seven seat format, with two seats up front, a pair of pews in the middle and a triple bench seat at the back. As would be expected, there's actually a fair amount of legroom even in the back. Fold the rear bench down and although it doesn't fold flat into the floor like a Vauxhall Zafira, you probably won't mind as there looks to be more luggage space than in the cargo hold of a Hercules. The middle seats can be spun round to face the rearmost seats for a more sociable set up but it's very easy to bunch the carpet up and make a real pig's ear of things. One for experienced users only. Even with seven passengers, there's 875-litres of carriage space, a figure that rises to 2,271-litres with the rear row of seats removed.
Let's put this politely: not everyone will like the styling. The side profile is especially challenging, with the wheels lost in acres of sheet metal. The last time I felt so dwarfed by this much panel work I was standing next to the QE2 in dry dock. The sloping roofline would look pretty rakish were it not for the fact that there's an unusual section of glasshouse tacked on top of it, looking almost like a stylistic afterthought when the manufacturers mentioned to the stylist that there wasn't adequate luggage space.
Market and Model
There are four Rodius models on offer in either 2WD or 4WD - all with a 2.0 litre turbo diesel engine and with automatic transmission as an option. The entry-level Rodius at around £16,000 easily undercuts just about every other really large MPV on the market in terms of metal for your money. That's the most screaming deal since Andre Poisson thought he'd bought the Eiffel Tower from 'Count' Victor Lustig.
There are S and ES trim levels and an EX range-topper with 4WD. All variants come with ABS, remote keyless entry, speed-sensing door locks, climate control and a Kenwood audio system. They are all also hugely practical with multiple seat variations and useful extras such as two 12v DC power outlets. Go for the ES model and you can expect to find reverse parking sensors, auto headlights, electric folding mirrors, privacy glass, alloy wheels, ESP and leather upholstery. I think I'd stay with the S and feel smug about the value proposition.
Cost of Ownership
Fuel consumption is relatively good for such a sizeable vehicle, the 38.7mpg combined figure being better than you'd expect had you invested your money in one of the mainstream large MPV offerings with comparable power. One figure that's somewhat less than stellar is the 223g/km of carbon dioxide emitted per kilometre, something that may affect the buying decision of companies looking for some major league airport shuttles.
The styling is obviously going to be a major impediment to most right-thinking people. There's no getting away from the fact that the Rodius is quite shockingly ugly. If you can forgive the jarring lines, there's a very creditable MPV vehicle lurking beneath. Drive a Rodius and you'll soon find yourself chuckling at the reactions of other drivers and pedestrians. You could be at the wheel of a Lamborghini and attract less attention. Life's rarely dull with a Rodius.
If you're seeking affordable transport for a large family, it dosen't come much more affordable or large than with this SsangYong. The improved 2.0-litre diesel engine is still a little gruff and the ride firm but it drives well and doesn't cost the earth to run. The interior is suitably cavernous and you get plenty of equipment for the price. From the inside, it looks like a stonewall bargain. From the outside, well, we'll let everyone else worry about that.