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The artist formerly known as Ssangyong returns with a chunky family crossover

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"Adventure starts here", says KGM, in a reflection of the brand's newly stated modus operandi: 'powered by toughness'.

Sorry, KGM? That's Korea Green Mobility or Korea Genuinely Made, depending on who you ask, and it's Ssangyong reincarnated.

Korea's perennially overlooked car maker was bought out yet again last year after a long period of uncertainty and underinvestment under Mahindra, and it apparently faces a bright new future as a vendor of smartly styled and electrified SUVs. 

The revolution starts here, with the Torres, a 4700mm five-seat crossover that's slightly larger than the Korando and slightly smaller than the Rexton (Mahindra-developed models due boldly styled replacements in the next year or so).

On sale now with a front-driven petrol powertrain, the Torres will soon also be available with four-wheel-drive and in electric form, and it's easiest thought of as a left-field alternative to the likes of the MG HS and Dacia Duster.

In size and price terms, though, it will inevitably come onto the radar of a fair few prospective Skoda Kodiaq and Nissan Qashqai buyers - enticing whom will be no small feat for KGM.

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DESIGN & STYLING

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kgm torres review 2024 02 panning side

It gets off to a good start with a massive 703-litre boot – bigger than most of its contemporaries – as well as a generous standard kit list and a raft of quirky design cues that help mark it out as one of the more characterful compact SUVs on offer.

In a class saturated by characterless crossovers, widely criticised for being indistinguishable from one another by dint of their amorphous silhouettes and ubiquitous specifications, KGM merits commendation for giving the Torres a distinctive visual character - even if the initial front-driven car can't quite make good on its connotations of rugged dependability and off-road capability.

As you might have guessed, the off-road-flavoured fripperies – chunky tie-down handles, checker-plate trim panels, tow hooks and the like – are decorative rather than functional (to say less of the strange mock tyre-carrier on the boot lid), although KGM does highlight "competitive approach and departure angles" and a 1500kg braked towing capacity, which go some way to making the Torres a genuine SUV rather than simply another hatchback on stilts.

We would expect the 4x4 (set to command a £2000 premium) to be of rather greater appeal to farmers and other rural sorts, especially considering the dearth of all-paw family SUVs at this price point, but details on its precise technical make-up and functionality remain under wraps.

INTERIOR

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kgm torres review 2024 08 interior

There's a sleek wraparound digital panel atop the dashboard, which looks suitably classy and speaks volumes to KGM's designs on establishing itself at the upper end of the 'value' car market, as do the copper-effect trim panels. 

But the premium sheen is easily wiped away. The steering wheel – conspicuously still wearing the old Ssangyong insignia – is rather too slim of rim and coated in a shiny faux leather that's neither slick nor supple; the seat bases are flat and firmly unforgiving; the plastics are universally scratchy and thin; and the physical switchgear, glad though we are to see some, just lacks the reassuring tactility that you would expect for near-£40,000. 

The infotainment looks the part graphically and its menus are arranged more intuitively than in many an infuriatingly configured rival, but it's fairly slow to respond at times and we had to employ the old IT Crowd fix a few times when the audio wouldn’t play. There's no wireless smartphone mirroring here, either, which feels like a dropped ball. 

And then there's the bonging. Left the engine running while you nip out to put your coat in the boot? Bong. Speed limit changing up ahead? Bong. Car in a neighbouring county brakes suddenly? BONG BONG BONG.

This isn't a phenomenon unique to KGM, of course: the EU's new GSR2 safety regulations have imposed upon motorists a lifetime of deafening and unhelpful electronic warnings. But other cars make it so much easier to deactivate these systems, and several times were we berated by the Torres’s irascible driver aid system without really being told why.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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kgm torres review 2024 14 urban

The turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol four-cylinder engine is carried over from the Korando, still making 161bhp and 207lb ft of torque, the latter of which KGM claims is best-in-class. It’s certainly plenty gutsy, and the Torres is 10% quicker of the line than its slightly larger sibling, thanks to some tuning tweakery. However, real-world efficiency is conspicuously sub-par. The Torres musters 33.2mpg on the WLTP test cycle, but our test car managed only high-20s on a motorway run.

We would be inclined to apportion a fair chunk of blame to the Aisin six-speed automatic gearbox, which holds the engine at high revs for too long before changing up (doing a passable impression of a CVT in the process) and feels like it could do with a couple more cogs at the top end to let the engine come down below a noisy 2100rpm at an easy 70mph cruise. 

It’s easily confused, too, needing a good couple of seconds to react on kickdown, which makes for many a missed gap in traffic or overtake opportunity, and there’s an inexcusable driveline shunt when you switch between drive and reverse. If this really is the third iteration of this 'box, as claimed, we can't help but wonder what was learned from generations one and two.

RIDE & HANDLING

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kgm torres review 2024 15 panning side

But of all the attributes that conspire to mark the Torres out as one of the harder sells in this segment, it's its lack of composure on UK roads.

The rather rudimentary suspension set-up lends an overt element of agriculturality to the Torres – which KGM really needed to have addressed as a priority in its bid to erase Ssangyong’s poor brand image from collective memory.

It's far firmer and more brittle than it should be in everyday driving situations, prone to vibrations and jolts, which are only exacerbated by the aformentioned flat seat, which offers your posterior precious little insulation from imperfections and obstacles. 

VERDICT

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kgm torres review 2024 18 static rear

Were the Torres around £5000 cheaper, we might be inclined to forgive its stiffly sprung suspension and rustic powertrain, but at a punchy £35k, this rugged upstart is found wanting in Qashqai and Kodiaq territory. 

You can find superior refinement, performance and efficiency for your money if you're prepared to sacrifice a mite of visual charisma.

That's not to say the Torres doesn't merit consideration. Certainly the inbound 4x4, EV, hybrid and pick-up truck variants will go some way to broadening its appeal. But charm can only get a car so far, and like a Chelsea fan in 2011, you might come to regret buying a Torres.

Felix Page

Felix Page
Title: News and features editor

Felix is Autocar's news editor, responsible for leading the brand's agenda-shaping coverage across all facets of the global automotive industry - both in print and online.

He has interviewed the most powerful and widely respected people in motoring, covered the reveals and launches of today's most important cars, and broken some of the biggest automotive stories of the last few years.