The first SsangYong Stavic was a total assault on the eyes as it looked like the back end of a large motor launch had been grafted onto the front end of a delivery van.
Yet for some precocious Kiwi families, the despicably-ugly Stavic was an absolute godsend as it offered no less than nine seats, and up to 11 in some configurations.
Nine-time New Zealand Superbike champion, Andrew Stroud, regularly used one to transport his burgeoning brood from track to track as he followed the race season. For someone determined to add as much of his bike-racing brilliance as possible to the collective New Zealand gene pool, the roomy-yet-frugal original Stavic represented the ideal choice of transport for a family with a kid-count of sports team size.
Now there's a new 2014 Stavic, which both looks more conventional, and offers a more conservative muster of seats. With the accommodation now reduced to seven seats in the first of the new Stavics to arrive here, the most enthusiastic breeders of the nation might now have to consider adopting other family transport alternatives, however the all-new body no longer looks more attractive with a cover over it.
There's still something a little heavy-handed about the exterior design, but this is definitely a Stavic that's been given a successful makeover when you compare it with the nightmare-causing potential of the original.
Now all that needs to be fixed to improve the image is that silly name. It reminds of some Russian military aircraft of Stalinist vintage, although it is preferable to the moniker that the Stavic wears in other markets – Rodius - where it's all too tempting to drop the R.
The 2014 Stavic is the first truly-new SsangYong to surface since Indian family comglomerate, Mahindra and Mahindra, added the once-troubled Korean car maker in 2011 to a rapidly expanding portfolio that includes interests in the aerospace, design, construction, agriculture, and energy sectors.
With the change in ownership comes a new role for SsangYong in emerging markets – providing an upmarket alternative to the range of M&M-badged vehicles already on sale in these.
SsangYong is perfectly positioned as a brand to meet the differing demands of third world economies and those belonging to the OECD. In the latter, the emphasis is on the value that it usually supplies, while in the former the Korean brand is viewed as upmarket.
I'm willing to bet that there are hundreds of taxi drivers in sprawling metropolises like Kampala, Phnom Penh, and La Paz right now who are kept awake at night by their burning desire to buy a new Stavic.
Here, there isn't quite the same potential for excitement for the vehicle itself, although the advertised price could trigger a brief cheap thrill, along with the two-tonne towing capacity. At $39,990 in front-wheel-drive form, this Tardis-sized family-mover costs the same as a range-topping compact car, and in terms of fitted equipment, spaciousness, overall comfort levels, user-friendliness, and sheer amount of sheetmetal, you do get plenty.
Don't expect new technologies like radar-guided cruise control, lane-departure warning systems, or even electronic stability control at this price level, and you might be pleasantly surprised by just how much room and versatility the Stavic offers.
There's throne-like seats for four occupants in the first two rows of the test car, and a walk-through aisle between the second pair to usher those further down the family pecking order towards a three-seat bench in the rear.
Future New Zealand-bound Stavics will be eight-seaters. Folding any unoccupied seats away can create a fair amount of luggage space, up to 3200 litres worth. The fold-out aircraft-style tables that serve those in the second row are hardly of Rolls-Royce quality, but they are better than no tables at all.
Up front, there's everything that a luxury car offered at the turn of the century, including plush leather-clad heated seats and well-tailored ergonomics. This might be a basic vehicle as dictated by SsangYong's current inability to invest in whizzy new high-tech tricks, but it does get the basics right (apart from reserving ESC solely for the more expensive $44,990 SPR 4wd version).
The 2.0-litre turbodiesel four is the same as the more urbane and Euro-centric Korando's, offering outputs of 114kW and 360Nm via a five-speed automatic gearbox of Mercedes design. The more frugal, smaller engine pumps out 20 more newton-metres of torque than the 2.7-litre five-cylinder unit of the previous Stavic, and has improved manners.
Also upgraded is the chassis performance of the Stavic. It no longer sledges into understeer as readily, and hangs tougher in the corners.
The best thing about the new Stavic, though, is the freshened exterior design. All the usual jokes about it looking as attractive as a burnt-out jandal at a BBQ, or a partly-collapsed bus shelter, are off.
- Sunday Star Times