Ssangyong Actyon A200 4X4

The latest addition to SsangYong’s range is the Actyon – its name being a combination of “action” and “youth”, and it’s a wholly appropriate description for a vehicle that represents SsangYong’s first foray into the soft-roader marketplace

SsangYong has revitalised its model lineup in the last couple of years, while retaining its eye-catching styling in a new generation of products.

With the new Actyon it is competing in arguably the most important growth segment in the world, which has seen a raft of new – and very talented – products in recent months, and in the near future there will also be Honda’s new CRV and the Freelander 2.

But rather than banging heads with anyone in particular, SsangYong still uses the price card as its core strength, and while it undercuts Japanese rivals significantly, it is also ultimately the cheapest of the Korean brands. At five rand less than a quarter-of-a-million, no other product offers a cheaper “in” to the world of turbodiesel recreational 4x4ing.

Features and equipment
★ ★ ★ ★

The styling of a SsangYong is something it is hard to be ambivalent about, and the Actyon is a case in point. It looks striking from many angles, and the actual body shape is pretty racy, with a steeply angled windscreen and fastback rear that could do a passable imitation of a sports coupé if the ride height was dropped by a few inches.

But with the high body it does have a slightly spidery look from front and rear, with a relatively narrow track accentuating this. The profile is appealing though, with the dark-tinted privacy glass having the effect of lowering the roofline.

SsangYong has gone the functional route by opting for practical, black plastic bumpers. The tyres inside the flared wheelarches measure 225/75/16 and are mounted on attractive alloys.

A SsangYong trademark is the widemouthed grille with its three horizontal chromed bars. The grille almost leans backwards at its base – and along with the hawkish headlights gives the Actyon a surprising amount of overtaking presence.

★ ★ ★

The Actyon gets similar cabin treatment to the Kyron. The dashboard architecture catches one’s eye immediately, and a conscious effort seems to have been made to ensure there isn’t a vertical or horizontal line in sight.

Depending on one’s sense of order, this lack of symmetry can be appealing, or disconcerting. What isn’t very attractive is the number of blank spaces where buttons are no doubt found on more generously equipped versions, and the amount of hard, hollow-sounding plastics.

There are all the comfort and convenience items that one would expect, though, with air-conditioning, tuner/CD (with wheel-mounted satellite controls), heated and electrically adjusted mirrors, and electric windows with a one-touch down function for the driver’s door. A roof-mounted console includes sunglasses case and a pair of mapreading lights.

Seats are upholstered in an attractive breathable mesh cloth, with blue piping. The consensus was that the front seats are very comfortable and supportive in the right places, and the driver gets a lumbar support adjuster. The steering wheel angle and height can be adjusted, though the increments between the settings are too large, with the result that not all drivers will enjoy a perfect view of the instrument cluster.

Rear occupants enjoy decent legroom and comfortable seating, with the curve of the roof unlikely to present a problem for all but the exceptionally tall.

But the body shape does affect luggage space, with that sloping glass limiting the total volume. A press of the circular SsangYong badge in the centre of the tailgate unlatches it, and once opened (an action that requires considerable effort), the inconvenient height of the boot floor becomes apparent. Lifting the carpet reveals a compact spare wheel and some additional stash space.

The other major practical issue is the limited vertical space between the floor itself and the retractable luggage cover. The 60/40 rear seats fold reasonably flat, but those looking for a generous all-condition hold-all will ultimately be disappointed by the unimpressive carrying capacity.

★ ★ ★

The tall gear lever – topped by an unusual, almost triangular knob – has a long and slightly languid action, which tends to slow things down. In fact, unhurried is the word to best describe the performance overall, because trying to push the Actyon along reveals its major shortcoming: turbo lag so bad that it blights the entire driving experience.

Fortunately, with a manual transmission the characteristic can be disguised away from the line with careful manipulation of the throttle and clutch, but our performance testing soon showed the masses of lag between second and third gear. In fact, the earlier and more casually the shifts are executed, followed by a gentle reapplication of throttle, the better a more progressive flow of torque to the wheels is ensured.

The lag also affects overtaking ability, though in both our 60 to 100km/h and 80 to 120km/h tests, the engine was already close enough to its 1800 r/min torque to soon start boosting, so what you get on paper is not necessarily a true reflection of the real world shortcomings.

Where the sluggishness of the engine’s responses is more apparent is in stop/start suburban driving, where a delay followed by a sudden rush of torque as the engine wakes up makes for unpredictable progress.

The engine does come into its own in the higher gears on the open road where the 104 kW and 310 Nm can be more usefully employed. These driving conditions also give the driver a chance to appreciate the engine’s better personality traits: it is smooth and refined all the way to the 4500 r/min red line. Gear ratios are generally well chosen, and there is seldom need to change down when cruising at the legal limit, which translates into just over 3000 r/min.

However, we would say that 9,1 litres per 100km is merely acceptable for a 2,0-litre turbodiesel driving just one of its axles.

Ride and handling
★ ★

The underpinnings of the Actyon are more or less identical to those of the Kyron. The front is suspended on double wishbones, and the rear positioned by a live axle located by five links. Coils supply the springing medium all round, and everything is attached to a ladder frame chassis.

There’s a marked tendency to understeer, but road manners are otherwise acceptable as long as the surface is smooth. But when it deteriorates the Actyon can become decidedly skittish: there’s minimal body control, with a tendency to hop around and be knocked off course over bumps, with the suspension battling to cope with relatively minor surface changes at moderate speeds.

A saving grace is the rack and pinion steering, which does at least feel direct enough to help the driver keep everything pointing more or less in the right direction.

All-wheel-drive is engaged by a quick twist of a dash button, and this can be done “on the fly”, so a sudden change of off-road conditions shouldn’t catch anyone out. Off-roading can be tackled with reasonable confidence thanks to decent ground clearance, though the approach angle is limited by the deep front spoiler. In addition, local Actyons don’t come fitted with the hill descent control offered in some markets.

★ ★ ★

The Actyon represents decent value for money, but unfortunately – as with other SsangYongs we’ve tested – a lack of development makes it hard to live with. The main issue is the turbo lag, which, along with the jittery ride, results in a sometimes frustrating, sometimes tiring drive anywhere other than on a freshly resurfaced highway.

As the teacher also pointed out on the Kyron’s report card some issues back: “must try harder”.