REVIEW DATE: 13 Feb 2008
SsangYong's Rodius certainly creates a stir. If you're fed up with bland MPVs, this will certainly generate comment. Andy Enright reports.
f 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 Ssang Yong's Rodius, the most unusually styled car of its type. It's also incidentally arguably the largest and easily the best value.
Let's put this politely: not everyone will like the styling. It's tough to know where to start in describing the car, a lumbering leviathan of an MPV with unparalleled presence. 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.
Walk round to the rear and the view is even more bizarre, looking for all the world as if the stylist has contrived a way of adding the rear hatch of a 4x4 to the bootlid of a saloon car. The current trend for high-mounted brake lights is wilfully ignored while the detailing of the rear glasshouse does little to match the rest of the car. It's quite astonishing and looks so wrong in so many regards that it does something that very few MPVs can do. It brings a smile to your face and impels you to find out more about this curious vehicle.
"You could be at the wheel of a Lamborghini and attract less attention"
The man behind the Rodius' 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.
There are four Rodius models on offer in either 2WD or 4WD - all with a 2.7 litre turbo diesel engine and with automatic transmission as an option. The entry-level Rodius retails at less than £15,000, easily undercutting its nearest rival, Kia's Sedona. 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.
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.
Naturally, you'll need a fair amount of muscle to haul a vehicle this big about and at first glance 163bhp doesn't seem a whole hill of beans. You can buy a Peugeot 206 with more grunt than that. What hope does 163bhp have of moving this mountain of metal? In truth, it does a pretty reasonable job. That power output is generated by a common-rail 2.7-litre diesel engine of Mercedes origin and generates 252 ft/lbs of torque which is a good deal more than a 3.0 BMW X5. Thus equipped, the Rodius will get to 60mph in around 13 seconds and run out of go at 104mph. Fuel consumption is also relatively good for such a sizeable vehicle, the 32.1mpg combined figure being better than you'd expect had you invested your money in a comparable Ford Galaxy instead. 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.
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