ONCE considered the bargain basement car maker, Korean brand SsangYong has turned a corner in recent years developing high quality vehicles that are excellent value for money.
And the latest proof of that transition is the all-new fourth generation Korando - a practical family SUV that looks great, drives well and is packed to bursting with all the latest technology.
The Korando has actually been around since 1983, but this latest version really raises the bar.
The diesel-powered models were launched last year and now SsangYong has released a petrol line-up.
The Korando is available in four trim levels called ELX, Ventura, Pioneer and Ultimate. The petrol models are powered by a 1.5 GDI-turbo petrol unit with manual or automatic transmissions and 4WD available on certain cars.
Prices across the entire line-up start from £19,995 for the entry-level Korando ELX model powered by the 1.5-litre petrol engine with manual gearbox. The range-topper is the Korando Ultimate with the 1.6-litre diesel engine, automatic transmission and 4WD - this car will set you back £31,995.
From a design point of view, new Korando is very easy on the eye with sporty styling. It features a wide grille, sweeping light clusters, tinted rear windows, roof rails, a rippled bonnet, rear spoiler, front and rear LED daytime running lights and a powered tailgate.
We tried the high-end Korando Ultimate model with the new engine, a six-speed automatic transmission and 2WD. This car, priced at £27,995, looked the business riding on 19-inch alloys and the interior is very upmarket too.
It's an area SsangYong has given lots of time and attention too and is a vast improvement on previous models.
The soft leather seats are power operated and can be heated or cooled. The leather-trimmed steering wheel can also be heated, there are soft touch surfaces, a piano black dashboard facia and a whole host of techno treats to explore.
Creature comforts include a classy nine-inch high definition touchscreen, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone connectivity, a six-speaker sound system with iPod and Bluetooth link-up, TomTom navigation, a reversing camera, a DAB radio and 10.25-inch instrument cluster.
So the latest Korando looks the part and is very well kitted out, but how does it hold up out on the road? The answer is very well indeed.
According to the official stats, it can reach 60mph from a standstill in 12.0 seconds and maxes out at 117mph, while delivering 35.8mpg under stricter WLTP testing with carbon emissions of 162g/km (NEDC).
Despite the larger wheels, the car was nicely balanced and the road holding is confident too. Three drive modes called Normal, Sport and Winter alter the vehicle's reactions, with Sport delivering a livelier performance. And there are steering wheel mounted paddles for extra driver engagement.
The acceleration through the automatic gearbox is smooth and responsive with ample power from the punchy petrol engine at your disposal for overtaking slower moving vehicles.
The driver has an elevated seating position and that results in excellent all-round visibility which is vital for a car that is likely to feature regularly on the dreaded school run.
The new Korando is a car that can carry five adults when necessary and there will be few complains from passengers sitting in the back as they are treated to ample leg, head and shoulder room.
Storage space is impressive too with a capacity of 551 litres - drop the 60:40 split-folding rear seats and that limit increases to 1,248 litres.
A glovebox, deep central cubby, cup holders, seat pockets, a sunnies holder and door bins offer additional storage options.
Another plus point for anyone considering the Korando is safety. The car was awarded the maximum five stars when tested for its Euro NCAP safety rating and it's great to see that even the entry-level ELX model is kitted out with all the safety technology, including the likes of Autonomous Emergency Braking and High Beam Assist as standard.
So, all in all, the latest SsangYong Korando seems to tick all the relevant boxes for a compact family SUV. It looks great, it's practical, drives well, is very safe and boasts all the latest infotainment and connectivity features we demand these days.
Admittedly, the car is up against some very stiff opposition in a fiercely competitive sector, but the name SsangYong means "double dragon" in Korea and this latest Korando is certainly all fired up and raring to go.