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SsangYong Tivoli engines, drive and performance

2015 onwards (change model)
Performance rating: 2.2 out of 52.2

Written by Luke Wilkinson Published: 26 July 2022 Updated: 26 July 2022

  • 1.5-litre petrol isn’t a bad engine…
  • … but the automatic gearbox is dim-witted
  • No hybrid options in the range

Petrol engines

The SsangYong Tivoli is now only available with a choice of two petrol engines. You can choose from either a 1.2-litre three-cylinder or a 1.5-litre four-cylinder. Both engines were added as part of the car’s facelift in 2020, bringing a welcome increase in power and torque over the old car’s asthmatic 1.6-litre four-cylinder unit. If you’re buying new, you can’t have a diesel anymore either.

The 1.2-litre petrol engine makes the most sense if you spend a lot of time in town. It develops 128hp and 230Nm of torque which is up on the old 1.6-litre unit’s 126hp and 160Nm of torque. The discontinued engine also wasn’t turbocharged, meaning you had to thrash it senseless to get up to speed on motorway slip roads.

SsangYong’s 1.5-litre petrol engine is a sweet unit. It even sounds quite good when you drive it hard and, because it produces 163hp and 280Nm of torque, it’s quite nippy. However, we urge you to stick with the manual gearbox because the automatic leaves a lot to be desired.

SsangYong Tivoli pan shot
SsangYong Tivoli pan shot

It’s very hesitant. If you push the throttle hard to get ahead of a lorry joining a dual carriageway, for example, there’s a solid two second wait between the pedal contacting the firewall and the gearbox changing down. By which point you’ve missed your chance and need to brake.

You can’t solve the problem by being feather-footed, either. The gearbox is equally hesitant at low speeds and jerky when manoeuvring. It’s a real shame, because the poor auto ‘box takes the shine off what’s otherwise a very agreeable drivetrain.

What’s it like to drive?

  • Predictable handling
  • Well-weighted controls
  • Surprisingly fun, but there are better options

We’ve already discussed how firm the Tivoli is in the comfort section – but the trade-off for this harshness is admirable handling. There’s a little bit of body roll, but that’s to be expected in an SUV. More importantly, it grips well and doesn’t pitch or dive under hard acceleration and braking.

There seems to be a setting in the ECU which limits the amount of power the engine can supply when cornering, which some drivers may find irritating. If you try to accelerate out a curve with a bit of steering lock on, the throttle feels completely dead – although that may have also been the automatic gearbox protesting.

The electric power steering system is light around town, but well-weighted once you’re up to speed. There’s a little bit of play around the centre, but it’s perfectly acceptable given the sort of car it is. If you don’t like the way the steering feels, you can also adjust it with a trio of drive modes called Eco, Normal and Sport. The drive modes also adjust the sensitivity of the throttle and the gearbox.

SsangYong Tivoli rear driving
SsangYong Tivoli rear driving

Eco makes the steering featherlight and dulls off the throttle response, while Sport makes the steering heavier and the throttle sharper. Honestly though, in a budget family crossover like this, drive modes are completely pointless. After using each setting for a couple of miles, we put the Tivoli back in Normal mode and left it there for remainder of our drive.

The brakes deserve a mention, too. They’re very strong – stand on them hard and you’ll almost scrape the headlamps on the tarmac. The pedal has a nice weight to it, and there’s no sponginess in the first inch of travel and the calipers respond the moment your foot touches the pedal.