If you’ve ever driven around the south-eastern corner of France in January, February and maybe March, you’ll probably have seen hordes of UK-registered Range Rovers swanning about at 20mph over the speed limit.
Inside, these heavily laden beasts generally carry a group of middle-class, privately educated and often slightly inebriated toffs who think Val d’Isere would be rather a nice name for their third child.
There’s no doubt, though, that Rupert and Theodora chose well when they decided to drive to the Alps – ski flights always seem to leave at oh-my-God o’clock in the morning and tend to be full of drunken small-business owners from Blackburn who took up skiing because everyone else at t’ golf club did it and they felt left out.
Equally, there can be no doubt that they chose well when they decided to buy a Range Rover. Whatever the world throws at you, from blizzards to blind junctions and from rainforests to roadworks, the Range Rover will take it all in its stride. In many ways, it’s all the car you’ll ever need, and it’s unquestionably the perfect companion for your annual ski trip.
Range Rovers are, however, pricey – a new one will set you back at least £76,000 – so what do you do if you want to do it on the cheap?
Well, a small South Korean company called SsangYong thinks it can sell you the perfect car. The little-known brand calls itself the Korean Land Rover, and like the iconic British manufacturer, it only makes SUVs. Unlike Land Rover, though, SsangYong sells them at rock bottom prices.
To find out whether this is a future phenomenon or a false economy, we took SsangYong’s latest car, the Tivoli XLV, skiing in the French Alps and then brought it back to Britain.
With a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine, the Tivoli has less than half the power of the entry-level 3.0-litre Range Rover, but it still has lots of ground clearance, space in the back for equipment and, crucially, four-wheel drive. Even more crucially, our top-of-the-range car came with all the toys you’d expect from a premium car, but it only carried a bargain basement price tag. At £21,000, it was a massive £55,000 less than the Range Rover.
The starting point was the resort of Morzine, just east of Geneva, and the town itself was a stern test for the car, which was tasked with conveying people and equipment from our disappointingly remote chalet to the slopes. Happily, it managed the feat with ease.
Even on the snowy roads above Morzine, the car felt planted and untroubled by the inclement weather, scampering up and down the mountainside like a chamois goat. Its presence added a certain something to the resort car park, too – and not just because of its black-on-red paintwork.
For various reasons, mainly comprising boredom, illness and a deep desire not to listen to my eclectic music choices all the way back home, my colleagues elected to fly back to Blighty, leaving me to drive back alone.
With my passengers in the departure lounge at Geneva Airport and the Tivoli looking a little empty, I took the opportunity to pile luggage, chocolate and maybe just one or two bottles of French plonk into the boot, ready to enjoy on my return.
As a motorway cruiser, the XLV leaves something to be desired compared with the Range Rover. The engine is neither as refined nor as potent as the 3.0-litre diesel in the bigger car, and it doesn’t have that lovely tractability you get from any big diesel. It is, however, more economical, returning the best part of 40mpg despite the higher motorway speeds. It was also smaller than a Range Rover, meaning it was easier to squeeze into French toll booths.
That, it turned out, was a godsend, because as I set course for Britain, I almost instantly encountered a problem with tackling the trip alone: the toll payment machines are on the wrong side of the car.
Set up for French cars, which have their steering wheels on the left-hand side, inserting your card (cash isn’t widely accepted these days) is a veritable nightmare, which either involves clambering across the car and trying desperately not to hit the gear lever, handbrake or horn, or jumping out, running around the car and getting back in before the barrier comes down again.
Fortunately, the toll booths on my route were few and far between, and though that meant each toll set me back ludicrous sums, I did at least get to go a few hours between mad panics.
Otherwise, the only real problem was the Channel Tunnel, which conspired to delay me by a good two hours before finally depositing me and my steed back on British shores. The delay, however, did at least give me the opportunity to consider my verdict on the SsangYong.
After around 700 miles on the continent, I was left in no doubt that the XLV is comfortable, capable and surprisingly well built for such a reasonably priced car. It’s more than up to the task of taking a family skiing for the week, and though it doesn’t offer the luxury and lavishness of a Range Rover, the fact that it’s more than £50,000 cheaper is not to be sniffed at. It’s a proper SUV for people with more sense than money.