On the road: Ssangyong Tivoli – car review

Photograph of Ssangyong Tivoli

This is the new way of things, I start to realise: cars that are cute like Minis or Beetles, but the size of something larger. Such a car – my first encounter was the Fiat 500X, now it’s Korean brand Ssangyong’s Tivoli – may discombobulate you for a while. You think you’re in a city runabout, and you’re not. If you have a very visual imagination, you might crash it a few times. Then one day, you’ll be used to it.

The Tivoli is a relentlessly cheerful car, not only because it is flaming red (their description; not my archaic swearing). Its demeanour is bouncy, despite its square, bossy nose and trad interior. There’s a lot of zing in the middle gears; in third, it holds its speed and responds smartly. It’s always ready with a bit more push than you expect, and sometimes feels a bit like flying. It has neither a wild top speed – 107mph – nor a particularly impressive zero to 62mph – 12 seconds – but it feels like it should have: passengers, especially young, stupid ones, were constantly asking me to floor it. It is more fun in the city than on a motorway; the handling is fine but a bit monotonous, and the ride isn’t completely smooth. That said, acceleration was never any bother and if it was a little bit whiny in sixth, well, aren’t we all?

The screen, binnacles and steering wheel controls all look as though they belong to a more expensive car. It has a stick parking brake, which I prefer by far to the newfangled button arrangement, while the engine goes on with a start-stop button, which I prefer to sticking a key in a hole. The satnav is a bit of a pest – verbose, pedantic, not very responsive. There are also far too many alarms – an overanxious lane discipline beep, melodramatic front and rear parking noises, constant fussing about speed and seat belts. It’s like having a back-seat driver built into the car, which itself is like getting a kettle which has been pre-limescaled. But I only say all of that the way you would complain about a person who was basically cool but sometimes a little bit loud: it is the only Ssangyong you would ever buy for emotional reasons – the others are all big, boxy and characterless.

My worry is that it’s a bit like one of those splashy, toothsome indie songs: you absolutely love it, then one day you wake up and absolutely hate it (specifically, I’m thinking of I’m Glad I Hitched My Apple Wagon To Your Star). But even if you do fall out of love, unlike an indie song, you will be left with considerable practical and thrifty benefit.