Review: SsangYong Rexton
Friday 29th September 2017
Apparently, the most common first questions asked of SsangYong staff at any show or stand are “what’s with the name?” and “is it Chinese?”
The answer to the first is that it means two dragons in Korean, and the answer to the second is, well, no, it’s South Korean.
In fact, despite been less well known than Kia and Hyundai, SsangYong is Korea’s oldest car maker. The company came about at the end of the Korean War, the result of a merger between two firms who built US Jeeps from kits.
Since 1954 it’s been through several name changes, entered various partnerships and been bought and sold more than once but throughout the years of building trucks, buses and special purpose vehicles its 4×4 heritage has remained central to SsangYong.
The name first appeared on these shores in the early 1990s attached to the Musso, a large SUV which under its utilitarian skin used oily bits from Mercedes. After a brief period where its models were badged as Daewoos, the SsangYong brand reappeared in 2001 with the first Rexton. Like the Musso it succeeded it used Mercedes mechanicals and was “challenging” to look at.
2014 brought the third-generation Rexton with more modern looks and the firm’s own 2.2-litre engine. A mere three years later and we’re now getting the fourth generation, and possibly most important Rexton yet.
This is a car that marks a step-change for the brand. Where before the relatively low ticket price has been reflected in the look and feel inside and out, the Rexton is a leap forward in quality.
From the outside the looks of this large SUV are a progression rather than wholesale change but the sharper lines, shiny trim and LED lighting mean the new model is more modern, perhaps more European, than before. It won’t scare the horses at the local gymkhana but it won’t stand out in the car park either.
Inside is a much bigger deal. The Rexton displays a quality and cohesion miles away from previous efforts. Surface materials look and feel high-quality, as do the controls, and their layout is clean and logical. There’s a classy looking metal-effect trim around many of the controls and our test car topped it off with a leather and wood finish to the dashboard that was reminiscent of recent Volvos.
The ride is more of a mixed offering. On motorways and smooth surfaces the Rexton is smooth and composed but on rougher A roads and poor urban surfaces it feels a bit jittery and unsettled. Given that our test car was a pre-production model this may, or may not, improve. Hopefully the overly light steering will also be addressed. It makes it easy to manoeuvre but at high speeds it’s disconcerting for such a large car.
As mentioned, our test car was a pre-production South Korea model so as well as shouting at me in Korean it had a bizarre mish-mash of equipment from across all three trims that we’ll get in the UK.
The bottom line, however, is that whichever spec you go for you’ll get plenty of the latest technology. At £27,500 the base spec EX comes with an eight-inch touchscreen with DAB radio, Apple Carplay and Android Auto. In ELX and Ultimate that’s a 9.2-inch screen and TomTom navigation is included. Forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and high beam assist are standard across the range, as are cruise control, and auto lights and wipers.
ELX adds bigger wheels, speed-sensitive steering, high-quality Nappa leather, a heated steering wheel and seats, keyless entry and start and a part-LCD instrument cluster for your £32,000. And at the top, the £37,500 Ultimate adds 20-inch alloys, mood lighting, stainless steel trim, 3D aroundview camera, a powered tailgate, quilted leather, ventilated seats, blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert.
The cabin is bright and airy and the seats big, comfortable and supportive. Rear legroom is perhaps not the best in class but it’s still fine for average-sized adults. Thankfully, the UK won’t get the test car’s sunroof, which ate badly into the headroom.
EX and ELX versions will get seven seats as standard. The foldaway rear seats will presumably rob the Rexton of a little boot space but, with an enormous 880 litres to play with in the five-seat model, it’s unlikely to be a huge problem.
The Rexton, like virtually every SsangYong, is powered by a 2.2-litre, four-cylinder diesel. It puts out 179bhp and 310lb/ft. It’s clearly been designed with heavy towing in mind – there’s loads of torque low down – but is remarkably smooth and refined. Unlike some rivals there is very little noise intrusion into the cabin from the engine and, mated to our test car’s seven-speed auto, it make brisk and smooth progress.
It’s not just engine noise that’s kept well under control. The cabin is well isolated from wind and road noise as well. Even at motorway speeds the interior remains a hushed and pleasing place to be.
SsangYong have a clearly defined market in mind for the Rexton. It’s people who tow the biggest caravans, horseboxes and trailers. Those who would traditionally look to the Shogun or Land Cruiser. And it could cause real headaches for Mitsubishi and Toyota. It offers everything they do – loads of kit, a serious 4×4 system backed by years of knowledge, a 3.5-tonne tow capacity, plenty of space, seven seats, a torquey diesel and five-year warranty – for thousands of pounds less than them.
I can’t speak to the Land Cruiser but having recently driven the Shogun the Rexton has it beaten. It’s quieter, smoother, more responsive and with a better looking, better quality interior. Plus, fully loaded it’s still £6,000 cheaper than our test Shogun was.
This car suggests SsangYong are going the way of that other Korean brand, Kia. They first came to the market with bargain-basement cars that simply did a job but are now working up to better quality, better looking machines as the brand gets established.
If this latest Rexton is anything to go by there could be big things to come from the two dragons in the future.