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James Batchelor hitches up to a close relation of the Club’s Pick-up Category winner in our Towcar of the Year competition
Pick-ups have long been popular in the UK. Rugged and workmanlike, they are often stylish and comfortable enough to double up as family transport. Always tightly fought, the pick-up category in the 2022 Caravan and Motorhome Club Towcar of the Year awards went to SsangYong’s long-wheelbase Musso Rhino.
Since its win, the South Korean firm has given the Musso a pretty bold makeover on the outside. The previous model was a little ordinary in the looks department, but the latest Musso sports an enormous grille and smart-looking vertical LED fog lights. There’s still the choice of standard (as tested here) and long-wheelbase models, the same impressively plush interior and a class-leading, seven-year, 150,000-mile warranty.
The cabin is worth dwelling on for a moment because it’s an area where the Musso really excels. While other pick-ups are bespoke and have a more commercial vehicle base, the Musso is based on the Rexton SUV. As such, it boasts an attractively-styled, well-made dashboard and solid build quality. Add in surprisingly plush-feeling materials and the cockpit is a nice place to be on long journeys.
There are plenty of gizmos thrown in as standard, too. All models have air-conditioning, alloy wheels and hill descent control, while most get an easy-to-use touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone connectivity and a reversing camera.
Our Saracen model features black exterior styling, roof rails, side steps, a heated steering wheel, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. The front seats are leather and electrically adjustable, but – most impressively – are also heated and have a cooling function (features normally found on high-end executive cars, not rugged pick-ups).
In the back, the Musso does nothing better or worse than its rivals. Thanks to a near-flat floor there’s foot space for three passengers (two would be more comfortable in the well-shaped and supportive seats), and there’s enough knee and headroom for six-footers. Pockets on the backs of the seats and large door bins are the only practical touches, but there is a centre arm rest. A fixed rear window is usefully large, giving the driving plenty of rear visibility, but note that it doesn’t open to allow loading of long items. There’s an assortment of practical, lockable load covers and stylish roll bars on offer if you dive into the accessories list. Unlike its rivals there’s no handy step in the bumper, though, and a damped tailgate – which comes as standard on the Isuzu D-Max for example – is £126 extra.
There’s just one engine on offer in the Musso – a 2.2-litre diesel with just under 180bhp and a healthy 420Nm of torque. Accelerating from nought to 62mph in 11.9 seconds, the Musso certainly isn’t a quick pick-up, but it feels faster than these figures suggest and there’s a nice punch throughout the rev range.
In normal driving, the default ‘eco’ mode can make the Saracen’s six-speed automatic gearbox seem a little hesitant as it hunts around for the right gear to give optimum fuel economy. ‘Power’ cures this as it holds onto the revs for a little longer and smooths out the changes, and there’s also a ‘winter’ mode.
It's comfortable behind the wheel, and the driving experience is pleasant enough. The steering weights up nicely the faster you go and, despite its size, it’s easy to ‘place’ on the road. The Musso also feels very ‘tied’ – it doesn’t have the feeling of wobbliness that tends to come with commercial vehicles.
A Ford Ranger is noticeably more fun to drive, but enjoyment isn’t the number one priority in a vehicle like this. What’s far more important is comfort and ability, and here the Musso shines. Perhaps the reason for its impressive refinement lies in the fact it shares a lot of components with the Rexton SUV. The engine never feels coarse, and once up to motorway speeds there’s excellent sound insulation, making for a quiet driving experience.
The same cannot be said for the ride quality, however. Pick-ups tend to suffer from an unsettled ride because their rear suspension systems are designed to carry a heavy cargo, and when driven with an empty load bay they can get a little bouncy on the move. The Musso particularly suffers from this – hit a pothole or bumpy surface and it bangs and judders, adding an uncomfortable quality to an otherwise refined driving experience.
All models are rear-wheel drive, but power can be sent electronically to the front wheels by turning a chunky knob by the gear lever, and there’s the option of ‘four-high’ and ‘four-low’. Meanwhile, fuel economy is reasonable at a claimed 28-32mpg (we averaged 31mpg un-hitched).
With decent performance credentials and the air of refinement (mostly) in the way it drives, you’d expect the Musso to be a good towcar – and it really is. I hitched up to a Swift Conqueror 630 and came away thinking the combination of this double-axle van and vehicle would be ideal for newbie towers. The Musso is impressively smooth and confident pulling such a large tourer, and at times I almost forgot I was towing.
The engine coped with ease, and the slightly hesitant auto gearbox performed better when hitched up. There was hardly any movement with the van and fuel economy was not bad at 19mpg. A fixed towbar will set you back £355, a 13-pin wiring kit is £198 with basic wiring, while caravan extension wiring is another £89.
While the harsh ride quality annoys, it’s something that can be overlooked when you consider how accomplished the rest of the package is. The Musso is a smooth performer with a plush interior and impressive carrying and towing abilities. Factor in its low sticker price and seven-year warranty, and the Musso is our pick of the pick-ups.