One of these contenders is the SsangYong Musso, the only pickup made in Korea.
It may have a strange-sounding name and a (subjectively) frumpy look, but it’s earned a solid reputation among devotees as an underrated achiever.
The version we’re driving here is the short-tub version in luxurious Ultimate trim guise. It’s a bit shorter than your average ute, and a little more car-like than many too, in terms of its driving performance and interior feel.
If you’re after a hardcore 4×4 with payload to burn and a wide range of aftermarket mods to play with, then steer clear.
But, if you want an affordable and refined light duty pickup that belies its humble origins, then you should keep reading.
The 4×4 dual-cab Musso kicks off at $33,990 drive-away for the base ELX, climbing to $40,290 on the road for the Ultimate driven here. At the time of writing you get $1000 off this as the company clears 2020-plated stock.
You can get the Musso in that aforementioned ‘XLV’ form in either spec grade with a 110mm longer wheelbase, 300mm longer tub, and superior payload for a further $1500.
This is available since the ‘normal’ Musso driven here is quite compact for a ute, at 5.1-metres long. That’s about a foot shorter than a Ranger or HiLux.
The 4×4 dual-cab Ford Ranger XLS costs $48,490 on the road at the time of writing, while a Toyota HiLux WorkMate 4×4 dual-cab costs $50,870. These are both stripped-out base utes by comparison.
As with all commercial vehicles, if you have an ABN then you should look into the government’s extended instant asset write-off policy.
The Musso ELX comes with a solid laundry list including 18-inch silver alloy wheels, parking sensors at each end, LED daytime running lights, fog lights, button start, a 7.0-inch trip computer, leather steering wheel, cruise control, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and reversing camera.
Over and above this the Ultimate grade brings black alloy wheels, a tyre-pressure monitoring system, a touch-sensing door handle for unlocking or locking, synthetic leather seat trim, front seats that are both heated and cooled, HID headlights, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and a 360-degree parking camera.
That’s a ton of features for under $40,000.
There are options and accessories to consider. You can get a sunroof for $1500, which is a rarity in this segment. There are also various tonneau covers, tub liners, sports bars and canopies.
There are two front airbags, front thorax airbags, and side head-protecting curtain airbags covering both seat rows.
There are also active safety features including AEB, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, front-vehicle start alert, automated high-beam, and audible lane-departure alert.
There’s no active-steering lane assist or adaptive radar-guided cruise control like you might find in some rivals, though.
Disappointingly, the Musso has not been crash-tested by ANCAP, so while it ticks most of the safety boxes, we can’t really say how it’d hold up on impact. That’s unfortunate since most rivals (bar the GWM which is also untested for now) carry reassuring five-star scores.
The cabin is quite sophisticated, with less obviously utilitarian trade-offs than many utes. The steering wheel and seat trims are good quality, and both have plenty of adjustment. Those ventilated seats are brilliant in summer.
The driver’s analogue gauges flank a large LCD screen that has various speedo designs, trip data, active safety controls, and even a compass. Again, it’s a little fancier than your average work ute.
There are padded surfaces on the console cover, door armrest and along the lower dash, to offset the hard but easily cleaned trims elsewhere. There are also faux carbon-fibre inlays, contrasting grey stitches, and knurled knobs and dials.
Storage space is also plentiful, notably the 2L-bottle-friendly door bins, rooftop sunglasses cubby, deep centre console, big glovebox, and cupholders below the fascia.
The centre screen is framed by dust-prone glossy black trim, but loads quite quickly and clearly apes Volvo’s interface, from the fonts to the colour palette. There aren’t many features, but phone mirroring allows you to bypass this, and the overhead-view camera resolution is unusually good.
Flaws? Digital climate control might be nice, as would the option of factory satellite-navigation. The rocker switches on the steering wheel spokes also feel a bit cheap and tacky. But gee, we’re splitting hairs here to be honest.
It’s at least the equal of any other rival in terms of perceived quality, and leaves the LDV and Mitsubishi’s cabins in its wake.
The back seats are good in terms of headroom and shoulder space, big enough for two 190cm adults. There are door bins, plus a pull-down armrest with cupholders, and rear air vents mounted behind the console (a Ranger doesn’t have that). There are also helpful grab handles in the roof and on the B-pillar.
Knee- and shin-space is about 10 per cent lower than rivals. It’s adequate rather than good for burly blokes in this regard. The design of the back doors is also unusual, in that the door directly finishes next to the tub’s attachment point.
There’s also storage space under this rear bench, and the seatbacks fold down via levers to reveal top-tether points (complementing the ISOFIX anchors on each outboard seat base), plus your tyre-change tools and jack.
The only egregious issue is the lack of a three-point centre seatbelt. The use of a lap belt in the middle seat is an archaic throwback that’s simply not good enough.
That stocky tub is 1570mm wide between the arches, 570mm deep, and only 1300mm long. It comes with a covered 12V socket, and ours was fitted with a sturdy drop-in tub-liner.
|Musso Ultimate||Musso Ultimate XLV|
A 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder making 133kW peak power at 4000rpm and 400Nm of torque at a claimed 1400rpm – uprated to 420Nm if you get the XLV.
These outputs are superior to either the GWM (120kW/400Nm) or LDV (120kW/375Nm), but is 17kW/100Nm less than a HiLux. I managed a respectable 10.2-second 0-100km/h dash nevertheless.
The Ultimate comes standard with a six-speed automatic transmission sourced from Aisin, selectable 4×4 with low-range, and a limited-slip rear diff with an automatic locking mode. This is not the same as a switchable locking rear diff.
SsangYong claims an equal-class-leading 3.5-tonne braked towing capacity, though not at payload. The combined-cycle fuel economy is a middling 8.6 litres per 100km, and the tank stores 75L of diesel.
The engine is actually pretty good, especially in terms of refinement. It makes a lot of other utes sound agricultural at idle by contrast.
I always pressed the button near the shifter to put it in Power Mode, which sharpens the throttle response. Expect to chirp the rear tyres on quick getaways.
The six-speed automatic has a strange gate design and the manual mode uses a fiddly rocker switch. But it was generally unobtrusive. I found the 7AT used in SsangYong’s Rexton lacked predictably by contrast.
The SWB Musso’s suspension comprises double wishbones up front, and rear coil springs in place of the conventional leafs. If you want the latter, the base ELX in stretched XLV form does use leaf springs, ands so its payload climbs to 1025kg.
Compared to some utes, the Musso feels quite car-like, especially when unladen. The speed-sensitive power steering is very light, the short length makes it a little more wieldy, and while the tub still skips a little bit over uneven surfaces, it feels more supple than many hardcore load-carriers do.
While its 3100mm wheelbase is 100mm longer than a Triton’s, its 11.8-metre turning circle is equal to the nimble Mitsubishi’s.
The downside is the weak 790kg payload, and even at 500kg there’s some sag. This SWB Ultimate is better thought of as a light-duty load carrier, or even a SUV with a tub.
There are four suspension upgrade kits on SsangYong’s site that bring revised spring rates and up to 40mm of lift.
Commendably, the Musso also has disc brakes front and rear instead of rear drums like we see on several top-selling work utes. The stability control tune is a little over-eager on gravel, but it doesn’t kill torque delivery.
Off-road, the 215mm clearance means you might clip a rock or something that juts out, and the Kumho highway tyres aren’t the grippiest. The force-activated auto locker on the rear axle sounds and feels a little clunky, but did a decent job.
We also noted some road-bump-force transfer through the steering rack, but found the off-road ride and downhill throttle control pretty good. A Musso XLV tester clambered up a pretty challenging rutted track without fuss, and the SWB here has a shorter rear overhang to improve the departure angle.
If you’re really into your 4×4 modifications, there are obviously fewer bespoke options in the aftermarket for a Musso than a HiLux, Ranger, or any of the others. But for moderate-difficulty bush-bashing it felt competent.
|Front suspension||Double-wishbone, coils, stabiliser|
|Rear suspension||Five-link, coils, stabiliser|
|Brakes||Front and rear discs|
|Driven wheels||Part-time 4×4 with 4L|
|Payload||790kg as tested|
SsangYong Australia backs its vehicles with an excellent seven-year warranty and roadside assist plan.
It also has reasonable capped-price servicing costs of $375 per visit for each of the first seven services, at 12 month or 15,000km intervals. That’s highly competitive.
There are some additional costs to factor in, though, including various fluids, filters, belts and brake pads. They’re all priced in full here, if you’re curious.
It’s a bit of a surprise packet, this Musso.
If you carry large or heavy things I’d suggest an ELX in XLV long-wheelbase form is the pick, despite its rather gawky proportions.
But plenty of ute buyers are suburban types who just want something macho yet modern, and it does this task well. It’s super quiet and comfortable by class standards, well-equipped, nicely put-together, and sharply priced.
If you can get past the lack of badge cred, it’s honestly worth considering.
Before wrapping up, there’s another thing to flag.
As you can read in more detail here, SsangYong late last year put itself into ‘Autonomous Restructuring Support mode’ in South Korea, giving itself three months to sort out its finances and potentially negotiate a sale to a new owner.
Chris Mandile, CEO of SsangYong’s local arm, told us at the time that “the Australian subsidiary remains fully operational, business as usual”.
The fact SsangYong is Korea’s oldest extant auto-maker, we’d expect it’ll find a buyer. But this is still surely a consideration.
All said though, based on my week in the Musso, there’s plenty about this battler brand to like.