Guilty Pleasure SsangYong Rodius

Guilty Pleasure SsangYong Rodius

Google ‘ugly MPV’ and you’ll be presented with a stream of Fiat Multipla images. All but one of the first 15 results show the criminally under-rated and unfairly panned Italian MPV, with a rear view of the SsangYong Rodius the only thing preventing a clean sweep for the Multipla. It’s as though the designer Ken Greenley saw the Rodius as an opportunity to save the Fiat from a lifetime of derision and cheap laughs.

Much like the Multipla, the SsangYong Rodius was designed from the inside out. The aim was to maximise interior space, creating a cabin that would allow up to 11 people to be transported in comfort. At 5125mm in length and 1820mm in height, the Rodius was longer than the 2022 Range Rover and a mere 50mm from being as tall. If space is the final frontier, the Rodius would send a rival Ford MPV into another galaxy. Some would argue that there isn’t a galaxy far, far enough away for something as hideous as the Rodius. The fact that the design was inspired by the world of superyachts has been well publicised, but Ken Greenley’s head must have been turned by a Coleman-Milne brochure (insert something about the design being left for dead on the studio floor).

It was no surprise when SsangYong launched an ambulance version. Pedestrians walking into lampposts or stumbling into the road having clapped eyes on a Rodius were distinct possibilities. The government should have considered slapping a public health message on the car. ‘Warning: this car could seriously damage your eyesight. Viewer discretion is advised.’ The use of the 2.7-litre diesel engine from the Mercedes-Benz ML – and used in the contemporary SsangYong Rexton – meant that going into hyperspace was never going to be an option. Weighed down with seven people and their luggage, the Rodius would struggle to meet the claimed 0-60mph time of 13.1-seconds, while the top speed of 104mph was equally ambitious. At 2134kg, it felt as heavy as one of the superyachts that inspired its challenging styling, while the tall stance meant that cornering was like trying to steer a pedalo across the Bay of Biscay in a force nine gale. Still, at least the excitement of bringing the body under control would take your mind off the quality of the interior plastics and your passengers’ seasickness. Cries of ‘are we nearly there yet?’ are replaced by demands to make it stop.

The charge sheet extends to pitiful fuel economy of around 28mpg, ruinous depreciation and the fact that, at launch, you could have bought a fully loaded Ford Mondeo with the same money. Granted, you can’t fit seven people and the Royal Albert Hall in a Mondeo, but you’ll arrive at work with your image intact and your kids won’t disown you. Has anyone launched an investigation into the long-term effects of being ferried to school in a Rodius? ‘You can drop me off a few miles from the school gate, Mum, I’ll walk the rest of the way.’

I almost hate myself for admitting this, but I’ve always quite liked the Rodius. In the context of some modern BMW and Mercedes-Benz models, the styling is far from offensive, while the design of the dashboard is at least interesting. You even get a Volkswagen Beetle-style plastic vase to evoke memories of the flower power era, although a trip in a Rodius won’t be many people’s idea of a far-out experience, man. I also like the fact that the Rodius prioritises space and comfort for four people, so the middle row consists of two captain’s chairs that rotate to face the rear bench. You can even fold down the second and third row of seats to create twin beds, making the Rodius less like a Beetle and more like a VW Camper.

Autocar greeted the car’s debut by asking, ‘Is this SsangYong the UK’s ugliest car?’ A decade later, it was ranked fourth in the Auto Express list of the ‘worst cars ever’. Latterly, Top Gear said it was ‘arguably the most hideous thing ever created’. I’m in the minority, then, because I find the disdain more odious than the car itself. I also can’t afford a superyacht.

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