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FINE AND DANDY

One of the on-going themes of this magazine, indeed a recurring theme of conversations between the majority of off-road enthusiasts, is that things are getting soft. All these new soft-roaders in the SUV market are not for real men; well, welcome to one that proudly ignores current trends.

SsangYong's Rexton is as traditional as you can get — and all the better for it. With its separate chassis and body structure, this big off-roader has selectable 4x4, with Low range. It's also a big machine, with lots of space inside and the ability to pull 3000kg (without much fuss). Perhaps a little surprisingly, it 'only' has a 2-litre Euro 5 diesel engine, with a modest power output of only 153bhp, but again it's something of an old fashioned unit and what it lacks in top end power it has down where it matters and thumps out 360Nm of torque through (in our test vehicle) a five-speed Mercedes-Benz T-Tronic automatic gearbox.

After spending some time with the latest ELX spec version, resplendent in 'Dandy Blue' no less, we can confidently confirm that there's little wrong with a touch of heritage. Forget all the high tech materials, and space-age computer technology, and a vehicle that makes all the decisions for you. In the old adage that if it ain't broke, you don't need to fix it, then when it comes to the Rexton, in my view, it don't need fixing.

A thoroughly enjoyable time with our Dandy Rexton led me to start to think of it as a sort of budget Toyota Land Cruiser. OK, it is not as capable off-road, and the latest Land Cruiser is a remarkably luxurious beast (a new version will be with us in time for this year's 4x4 Of The Year hopefully) but you pay for all that, and our Rexton is an amazing £27,995 On The Road. The standard equipment belies that price, but for us the most important part is that we are driving a capable off-roader that still retains selectable Low range. Yes, it's a big ol' bus, which would mean some greenlanes would probably leave their marks on the Dandy paintwork, but you'd plough through some pretty difficult conditions with ease. Tough winters would be of little worry, that's for sure. In fact, the Rexton gave the impression of being pretty tough all round. It comes with a five year, limitless mileage warranty to emphasise that point.

While must admit that the 'cream' interior was not really to my taste, and it felt as if was trying too hard to show this is a quality machine, praise has to go to the revised steering wheel (the old design was awful let's be honest). It was a comfortable drive, a good ride and had performance aplenty on a motorway jaunt we took during our test drive.

The Kenwood satnav/stereo system does still appear a little 'add on' but let's not forget the price here and at least it did have DAB digital radio. Gear changes are not as smooth as the latest multispeed boxes from some other competitors, but at the risk of repeating myself, look at the price.

So, why do you not see more of these on the road? You can't help feeling that perhaps people don’t really know much about SsangYong’s. It's an unusual brand name for most Brits, and if you are not living close to a SsangYong dealer, it's probably not something you would ever consider. But if you are in the market for a big, load carrying, towing capable 4x4 — and one that is still a 'proper' off-roader- then it would be worth searching a dealer and taking a test drive.

Sadly, you wonder how long it will be available. Even SsangYong is going soft, in search of global sales, with the new small SUV the Tivoli becoming available in the UK early next year. We've not driven it, but initial images show the Tivoli to be a stylish small 'soft-roader'. Here's hoping that if that raises the SsangYong brand and gets it in front of more people, perhaps that will help Rexton get the credit it deserves.

And if you think Tivoli is quite a good new name for an SUV, so did we, until we realised that it was created from -LOV-IT, which is TIVOLI backwards. Yep, we thought that as well. NF

For more information on the SsangYong Rexton please click here

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