SsangYong rebrands as KGM – but will these 4x4s gain traction in Britain?

KGM Torres EVX 1
KGM Motors has launched two new SUVs – the Torres and the Torres EVX (pictured)

Sso long then, SsangYong. After three scrappy decades on the edges of Britain’s SUV market, the SsangYong brand is no more, having been replaced by the generic-sounding KGM Motors earlier this year.

The move comes after a takeover in 2022 by Korean giant KG Group, which wasted no time in shedding the old nameplate; KG’s chairman Kwak Jae-Sun rather brutally described SsangYong’s image at the time as “painful” despite having “a fandom with good memories.”

I am, I’ll admit, a member of that fandom. I once raced a Musso pickup truck at Cadwell Park during the brand’s short-lived one-make series; I drove a Turismo over the Alps at sunrise, on the way to the Geneva Motor Show.

A decade ago, I collected an old girlfriend in a “DMZ” (a camo-painted version of the Korando Sports) – tastelessly named after the no-man’s-land that divides the Korean Peninsula. I understand that she still complains about it to this day.

But those days are over. KGM is presenting itself as a more professional, less characterful outfit, and while it will continue to sell some of the SsangYong legacy models, everybody’s attention has turned to its two new SUVs – the Torres and the Torres EVX.

They’re pretty much the same car, with a petrol and battery-electric powertrain respectively, though they’re visually different and offer such contrasting driving and owning experiences that they might as well be different models.

Driving the KGM Torres

Let’s start with the petrol Torres. It’s aesthetically interesting, and while it isn’t quite as actively unappealing as the SsangYongs of yesteryear, it’s not exactly subtle.

Chunky off-road pretensions belie a two-wheel-drive setup in the car I’m driving (a 4x4 version will be available for a premium) and the boot lid is sculpted to resemble a (non-existent) spare wheel, redolent of something like an early Land Rover Discovery.

SsangYongs were always pretty competent off-road and great at towing; we’ll find out whether KGM can cash that cheque when we drive the 4x4 later in the year.

KGM Torres
The petrol Torres is 'aesthetically interesting'

The cabin is reasonably attractive, albeit with some hard-wearing plastics and a touchscreen that you will grow to loathe; too many of the car’s features are secreted away in this system, which is buggy and slow.

Still, there’s a lot of room for passengers and luggage; the boot offers an enormous 700 litres of space and the seats are fairly comfortable, in an old-fashioned sort of way.

Visibility through the front and side windows is good, but you’ll struggle to do an adequate shoulder check thanks to those huge rear pillars.

Combine that detail with the fact it’ll only seat five despite being 4.7m (15½ft) long, or the noticeably bad fuel economy, and the Torres starts to seem almost counter-cultural. In a world increasingly aware of emissions, oversized SUVs and vulnerable road user safety, KGM is going against the grain with a gargantuan five-seater with noticeable blind spots that’ll do just about 30mpg.

At least it’s fairly comfortable. That 161bhp, 1.5-litre petrol engine is largely powerful enough, and while no part of the drivetrain responds well to urgency, it’ll get up to speed comfortably after a while (9.8sec to 62mph, to be precise). There are comfier cars, and cars that are more refined, but plenty of people would be happy enough in one of these.

How about the electric one, then?

The electric EVX is an improvement. It arrives at a time when the electric SUV market is becoming competitive, with premium models from European manufacturers soon to be joined by budget alternatives from little-known Chinese brands.

But that could play into the hands of KGM here – why wouldn’t somebody choose this relatively obscure marque over a BYD, a HiPhi, or a Jaecoo?

As it happens, the 4.7m-long Torres EVX’s powertrain is largely supplied by BYD. A 73.4kWh lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) battery that’ll charge at a rate of 145kW. It powers a 204bhp motor that drives the front wheels, and while it won’t make you first off the lights, it’ll propel you to 62mph in 8.1sec.

Torres EVX
At speed, the Torres EVX is better than the petrol-powered Torres

And at speed, the Torres EVX is fine – better than the petrol-powered Torres, in fact. On a particularly twisty piece of road it does roll, and the steering is numb, but unless you’re actively thrashing it you’re unlikely to push this SUV’s dynamic boundaries. A claimed 287-mile WLTP range makes the EVX a usable everyday car for anyone who needs a gigantic boot and a large, rugged interior.

Are they worth buying, then?

SsangYongs had two key advantages: their price, and their towing capabilities. But they also had compelling individual use cases, and that’s less true of the new KGM models.

Both the petrol Torres and the electric Torres EVX are respectable cars, but they’re competing with the mainstream rivals now. They’re just large SUVs, with all the alternatives that already dominate that sector.

The Torres starts at £35,000 and the Torres EVX comes in at £45,000 – both quite punchy prices, considering that rivals such as the Skoda Kodiaq and the Kia EV6 are far better, and will be infinitely more desirable to the majority of customers.

Ultimately, a SsangYong was always a bit of a niche choice. You bought one because you had a horsebox, or a caravan, or a hill farm, or a massive family, or some other specific need that was best met with one of the company’s utilitarian vehicles.

KGM is clearly making efforts to go mainstream, but even with its inoffensive cars on offer, it does make you wonder whether SsangYong’s “painful” image might not have been so bad after all.