SSangYong Musso Saracen – it’s a mouthful even without the ‘SS’ at the start, isn’t it? Apparently, it translates as Double Snake Rhino Saracen model, or, for the LWB version called the Rhino ‘Snake Snake Rhino Rhino’. Still, if you can get over that, and the fact that your fashionable and label addicted ‘friends’ are, for the moment at least, likely to never have heard of it, is it right for you? In fact, it has an exceptional pedigree as SsangYong has been making HGVs for some time in their demanding home market of South Korea and following extensive testing, the Musso and its variants have become the ‘go-to’ vehicle enhancing the abilities of the Korean Armed Forces. You may remember we once had a UK-derived vehicle which had similar a heritage and function but which has now fallen victim to fashionistas.
As a family living in ‘the sticks’ our vehicles have always been required to be functional rather than status symbols. Let me give you a historical example. After being informed that she would have to buy a new car for her NHS community work, apparently because there was growing discontent within the NHS Community Senior Leadership of the ‘frequent off days’ of her much loved, but somewhat idiosyncratic, Morris Traveller. My mother was thus given a selection of dealers to contact to find a new car. Having looked at each of the shiny new vehicles on offer she was final greeted by an equally shiny salesman. After the usual pleasantries My mother’s requirement “It is very nice I am sure but..how many sheep will it carry?” had him ‘on the ropes’ and it was all he could do to bluster something about the fact, that, to his knowledge that sort of question wasn’t in the manual. At this point, a young lady from ‘Parts’ saved his bacon, the sale, and probable commission, by saying “I am not sure about sheep, but I can get two hay bales and my riding tack in mine without effort” Through that immediate understanding of customer needs and requirements, or “Will it do what I need it to do?” A sale was rapidly and concluded, all parties involved were happy, and perhaps, in part, it was that family demand for substance over style which led us, many years later, to test drive then purchase the Musso Saracen.
Acquiring our new 4WD has been a long and carefully thought out process even though it was unexpectedly extended by the pandemic. After an objective look at our ‘must have’ requirements and budget we determined that our needs would be best met by a pickup with a hard top, easy to clean load bed, and massive towing capacity. Armed with this list we used the pandemic ‘lockdown’ to take a detailed, but virtual look at every pickup on the market, from those that were ‘nearly new’, to ones that were ‘showroom shiny’. Our search was not helped by the fact that during this period some manufacturers withdrew candidate vehicles from the market because they could not meet new Euro-derived emissions targets, so in reality, we were left with a couple of options. The advantage of the Saracen was that our previous 4WD was a second-hand Rexton and though over a number of years we had driven it ‘into the ground’ my wife and I were both aware that we could both drive them in comfort and that they would tow our large 2.7 tonnes ‘brick’ of a trailer both on and off-road. However, a pickup meant that we could carry bulk in the back and safely take our 3 large and highly energetic house hounds with us in comfort. This key requirement was discovered by accident and almost incident with the Rexton when on a long motorway journey three bored hounds managed to make their way through the dog netting barrier and arrive as an excited, and ‘ever so pleased with themselves’ bundle, on my lap whilst I was driving. This incident made it clear, that for us at least, a straightforward like-for-like replacement was not the answer.
Compared to the Rexton and other 4WDs I have driven, at first sight, the Saracen looks BIG and there is no doubt it has an imposing presence on the road, that said, it drives like a car. It has ‘proper’ robust doors front and back that close with a reassuring firmness. You do not need a key in the ignition to start, as that’s taken care of by a large stop/start button and the automatic gear shift and hand brake feel comfortable but solid. The driving position is infinitely variable thanks to barely audible electric motors including a lumbar adjustment. The steering wheel houses many useful functions and allows the driver to complete a whole range of functions and checks such as checking fluid and tyre pressure levels or making a phone call without taking either hand off the steering wheel. Rear passengers can also control their environment and have the ability depending on the control panel setting to conduct a phone conversation from the rear seats, this proved a real bonus with elderly family members in the pack calling ‘home’ whilst being ‘chauffeured’ – yes the back is comfortable enough for elderly adults to travel in without any complaint!
Talking of comfort the leather seats are still comfortable even after hours of driving and the ability to have a ‘chilled’ seat after the truck had been sitting in 40 plus degree heat for 8 hours was a real and unexpected treat.
I had read reviews from ‘professional car journalists’ concerning the steering, but, after 3 months of use, I still can’t fault it. Having driven single-seat racing cars at speed in the past it is true the steering is not in that league but it is not meant to be, it’s a working vehicle and perhaps some journalists should accept that.
The Musso real excels when towing or carrying a significant load and in comparison, it is so much less tiring than the Rexton ever was, and I no longer suffer from stiff shoulders after hours behind the wheel.
The Musso, however, brings towing into the 21st century, it is a paradigm shift from its predecessors and easily towing including our large twin axle trailer which, from tow ball to rear number plate is something over 8.5 metres long and 2.8 meters high. The trailer is vital to our business interests but even with the Rexton and its 2.7 Mercedes derived power unit the combination was not a pleasure to tow and could be an exciting challenge in traffic on motorways or high bridges.
In most driving situations you don’t really know you are being followed by a large trailer. Hitching the trailer is now a simple task taking minutes thanks to the vehicle’s manoeuvrability and the exceptional visibility provided by the rear camera. This was a revelation as some ‘big name’ pickups we tried had awful fuzzy cameras often combined with tiny screens. Some we tried on test drives were so bad in anything less than optimal daylight that they seemed to be there to justify the price of the vehicle as opposed to actually being useful. Pickups, after all, are designed for hard work.
Towing both on and ‘off road’ have become simple, even backing such a long trailer into overly tight spaces at events is now not the challenging and sometimes fraught task it once was. Day or night towing with the super headlights provides great visibility even on narrow country lanes and the brakes take care of stopping the trailer when there is a need to stop rapidly despite the momentum generated by the trailer. Towing such a big ‘brick’ does have an impact which is only really noticeable when travelling up long steep hills, but a quick shift to the ‘Power’ mode button on the centre console allows the drive train to quietly get the job done though this does impact significantly on the MPG. If the Musso is becoming ‘low’ on fuel then you will be warned by the information system. In fact, there are warnings for just about anything and it can become a bit ‘nannyish’, but most warnings can be turned on and off via the settings. One of the warnings that did take me by surprise was the ‘You have been driving for two and a half hours and it’s time to stop for a coffee’ at which point a large graphic of a coffee cup complete with steam appears in front of the driver together with a chirpy musical interlude. This warning is time-based and seems to take no account of the fact you might have been in a long queue for much of that time, but it does show that your Musso cares about your comfort! In discussing comfort, I have a minor niggle. As a passenger, your elbow naturally rests on the top of the central storage box, and it is a shame that the top is not better padded as I received a couple of whacks to my right elbow when going across country in 4WD mode a transition which is made by a simple dial.
We opted for a ‘dealer fitted’ hard top from Elysium complete with internal light and opening windows at the time of purchase and this extra has been invaluable with the easy clean loading bed keeping everything we need at events secure, but at the same time easily accessible. Washing the vehicle with a power washer revealed no leaks in any part of the tailgate or hard top and our valuable cargo of books remained dry despite a couple of monsoon-type deluges during the summer.
During day-to-day use the fact that the mirrors automatically fold in when the vehicle is locked, combined with the clear view and direction provided by the camera makes parking, even in miserly spaces very easy and prevents careless drivers or pedestrians from knocking into them. In urban driving so far our average MPG has been down from our usual 36-38MPG but the vehicle provides an exceptionally quiet ride and the internal sat nav proved by Tom Tom saved our blushes in reaching a destination when the team responsible for placing diversion signs along an unexpected route appears to have got bored and given up, or perhaps returned to their depot to collect more signs. Navigation updates are periodically published online and installed using the supplied internal micro-SD card.
In summary, the value for money provided by the Musso together with its 7-year warranty make any of the Musso range, from the Rebel to the long-wheel-based Rhino a sensible choice for a working vehicle. But add in the build quality, the integral level of comfort, the farming or equestrian price discount, and the service level we have had from our dealer has made our acquisition a pleasurable one. I expect to see many more SsangYong Musso on the road as users become more aware of its abilities. Find one, and try it, I think you might just like it!