SsangYong Korando: Special delivery
Ssangyong has had a torrid time of it - bled dry by a short-term Chinese owner, followed by 2008's statutory management with rioting employees and six deaths outside barred gates. Then came the sale to Indian giant Mahindra as its elite export brand and a consequent rebirth, a promising one judging by its new NZ distributor and the Korando compact SUV spearheading its sales.
Great Lakes Motor Distributors is fronted by hard-headed father-and-son team Rick and Deon Cooper. They have no illusions the future could be a challenge, but one to keep a sparkle in the eye if coming cars are as good as this Korando.
Yes, its predecessor masked solidly built internals and Mercedes-licenced engines with a face only its mother could love, but this new-gen car was penned by Italdesign founder Giogetto Giugiaro.
So there's a handsome new skin, smart cabin, careful attention to in-car sound and vibration, and a 2.0-litre, 129kW/360Nm SsangYong turbo-diesel engine developed from its Mercedes-derived predecessors. It's fitted with an emissions-busting particle filter and mated to a six-speed manual or auto transmission.
There's also plenty of attention to detail, from the "welcome home" lights, to rear seats that fold flat via a single lever and a decent suite of safety aids.
The company line
Rick and Deon started with a clean sheet, signing only committed dealers and starting a lease company to serve smaller clients and guarantee a stream of secondhand cars to sell.
The first 11 dealers span the country and will soon rise to 17. "We'll add to their bottom line," Rick says. "If [other] manufacturers think dealers shouldn't multi-franchise they're buggered. They'll go broke."
What we say
First impressions are good. Both 2WD and 4WD variants handle competently, the diesel engines won't break speed records but suit real-world conditions. Though close examination reveals confused finishes and cheap plastics, the overall effect and features are better than the price suggests.
On the road
These are quiet cars, with tyre hum only noticed because there's no wind or engine noise to speak of. Performance and handling are par for the light-SUV course.
Our pick: a 4WD for its slightly more assured handling and better sound deadening.
Why you'll buy one
Korando's smart persona is reminiscent of Nissan's Qashqai. Though fit and finish don't match logical competitors, at $34,990 for the entry 2WD up to $47,990 for the top-spec 4WD auto SPR with heated leather seats, a sunroof, 18in wheels and factory tint glass plus a two-ton tow rating, Korando is a value winner.
Why you won't
Korando may overdeliver for the price - but you'd rather spend extra for a more familiar badge.