In a market segment where the American “truck” look is becoming dominant, the Sport – the name given to SsangYong’s Actyon double cab – also plots its own course with a rather unique interpretation of what a leisure bakkie should look like
Ssangyong’s claim to fame is making some of the most outrageously styled four-wheelers, which are often greeted with a degree of incredulity normally reserved for a first encounter with Martians.
The Actyon is no exception, though the hilarity also associated with the hearse-like Stavic doesn’t apply, and in many ways the Actyon hangs together quite well in the looks department – accepting the fact that it is futuristic, and deliberately daring.
In effect, SsangYong has taken the front end of the wagon and added a “bak” to it, dropping 320mm into the wheelbase at the same time. It now measures just shy of five metres and has a 3060mm wheelbase.
With its striking countenance, deep flanks and stylish rear (there’s a fashionable single release for the tailgate, hidden under a garish strip), it certainly attracted many glances. Not all of them were admiring, but hardly a soul didn’t at least take a gander.
A good percentage of those canvassed really liked the fact that it was so unusual, and so sleek. The name, incidentally, is a combination of “action” and “youth”, and it is wholly appropriate: there isn’t another four-door bakkie that looks anything like it. It is striking from many angles. A steeply raked windscreen and low-slung front valance with circular fog lights are key features, as are sharp-edged light clusters and a deep-set grille.
Mirrors and door handles are colour-coded, and the overall impression is of a leisure vehicle rather than a utilitarian one – apart from the practical, black plastic bumpers.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★ ★
The Sport shares its entire drivetrain with the wagon. This means a 2,0 litre, intercooled turbodiesel with an impressive 104 kW, and an equally outstanding 310 Nm of torque – but at a highish 2400 r/min.
Chassis underpinnings are the same, too: the front is suspended on coil springs and wishbones, the rear a coil-sprung live axle.
The similarity continues right down to the tyres: relatively modest 225/75s on 16-inch alloys.
Being based on a passenger vehicle, the Sport also boasts all-wheel-discs, dual front airbags and height-adjustable seatbelts. Other stand-out features are a heated rear window, exterior mirrors that are both electrically adjustable and heated, and central locking incorporating the tailgate.
The four-wheel-drive system is pretty much standard fare, except that the transition from 2H to 4H and on to 4L is managed electronically, via a dashboard rotary switch (which proved rather slow to confirm the driver’s choice) and not an auxiliary gear lever. And we hunted high and low for a differential lock button, eventually reaching the conclusion that there isn’t one.
★ ★ ★
With a long wheelbase and a stubby load box (1466mm – some 250mm shy of the class average) there’s the promise of good cabin space. And the front is especially roomy, with space to stretch out in all planes. The driving seat should suit a large variety of human forms. There’s an adjuster for the front and rear of the cushion, and a control to alter the amount of lumbar support.
Passengers also have a lot to be pleased about, and getting in and out of the roomy rear is easy. While legroom doesn’t quite match that of the Hilux and Navara, it comfortably outshines the likes of Hardbody, Drifter/Ranger and even KB. The seating position is semi-reclined, and comfortable.
Headroom isn’t quite so impressive, but there’s still more than enough for six-footers. An armrest can be folded down to separate the outer occupants, who get retractable three-point belts, unlike the person in the middle.
While there are electric windows all round, the generously proportioned rear glass doesn’t slide open and the rear seat doesn’t flip up to provide additional utility space if there are fewer than three occupants.
Elasticised, netted storage compartments are fitted to the back of both front seats, with a tiny third compartment in the rear face of the centre console.
Storage in front is a bit of a mixed bag: there’s a decent hold-all between the seats, but the moulded cup-holders in a lidded compartment aft of the gear lever are more useful as coin holders. A recess in the dash, below the integrated tuner/CD, is useful for a cellphone or wallet. A slot for a credit card in the driver’s visor, a tensioned plastic clip against the windscreen for displaying a parking card and a sunglasses case in the roof are all worth having. The same applies to the 12V outlet in the passenger’s footwell.
Comprehensive satellite controls for the sound system are laid in two arcs on the height-adjustable steering wheel. The three dials for the climate control – which proved to be only moderately effective – are big and well marked. A battery of knobs stacked vertically on the hangdown centre section reveal themselves to be dummy switches, with the exception of the aforementioned transfer case control.
First impression of the dashboard is of a layout that is rather haphazard (the geometry may well have been penned by an admirer of the leaning tower of Pisa), but in reality it works well enough, with the exception of those ugly blank switches.
A solidly built tailgate opens to reveal a very deep, very wide load box, offering some compensation for the short loading length. Measures of 1590mm in width and 540mm in depth are impressive, and it’ll be ideal for a load of compost, less so for the timber you might buy to construct a treehouse….
Both the “bak” and the inner tailgate are lined with a reasonably tough-looking black plastic moulding. Four sturdy retaining hooks are positioned close to floor level, but there aren’t any tie-downs along the flanks.
★ ★ ★
The high torque peak is ultimately a telling factor in how the engine performs, and the Actyon (which also weighs in at a hefty 1970kg with the 75-litre tank brimmed) can be hard work to drive.
Those frustrating and tiring times are when you’re in stop/start traffic on a 33- degree Gauteng day trying to stay in the meat of the rather narrow powerband.
Being caught in the wrong gear is easy, but SsangYong’s efforts to reduce the turbo lag of this engine do show in the reasonable overtaking acceleration.
The story is better on the open road, and the Sport is a confident cruiser, turning about 3250 r/min at a true 120 km/h (130 indicated), at which speed the engine is unobtrusive.
We thought its 104 kW would help it on to more than a 155km/h top speed, but its gearing is ultimately the limiting factor, with 4200 r/min on the tachometer (and 162 km/h on the speedo), flat out.
Fuel consumption at 120 km/h worked out to 9,7 per 100km (which, interestingly and understandably) was about half-a-litre per 100 thirstier than the more aerodynamic five-door.
The Actyon Sport is unique in the segment in that it has allwheel disc brakes, and it shows. Stopping ability is excellent despite relatively narrow tyres, and we like the amount of feel through the pedal, too.
Ride and handling
★ ★ ★
The use of coil springs for the rear suspension should theoretically provide an advantage in the ride, handling, and roadholding departments, and in some situations this is indeed the case.
Over suburban speed humps the rear is quite plush, and the Actyon also feels soothing on smooth tarmac, where there is little in the way of tyre noise. Rough stuff can make it feel jittery though, setting up a high frequency vertical movement which will cause the rear to move off line.
Less pockmarked roads can be tackled quite enthusiastically thanks to the rack-and-pinion steering, which provides good feel and feedback for this class of vehicle.
And so to the off-road track… oh dear, the Actyon’s plastic extremities under the nose and tail are early casualties, and the lack of diff lock means that when a front and rear wheel are both airborne, there’s no traction through the open differentials. At least there seems to be reasonable axle articulation, so fairly extreme axle twisters are needed before forward progress ends.
There’s also a very poor breakover angle, and the Actyon rubs its belly up against the terrain with little provocation. When the surface is loose or slippery, those tar-biased tyres – part of the reason it stops so well – will be sliding sideways across the obstacle.
★ ★ ★ ★
The Actyon Sport is a far better performer than the five-door version we tested two issues ago, and despite being tested in slightly higher temperatures, didn’t suffer as much from the turbo lag that besmirched the driving experience of its stable-mate.
Nevertheless, it is far from perfect, and anyone planning on towing with it in high altitude, high ambient conditions should simulate the worst case scenario before committing to purchase.