SsangYong Rexton Trans Eurasia Trail06-09-2017
Stage 3 : Astana, Kazakhstan – Ufa, Russia
Stage 3 of the Ssangyong Rexton Trans Eurasia Trail started with departure from Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, and led into the forested mountains of the country’s north. As the convoy of Rextons drove from the city, we came into a landscape of green, thickly wooded forests.
The gleaming silver Rextons hugged the curving mountain roads as they ascended into Burnaby National Park, a popular summer vacation spot for families. We approached on a sunny day, when many families were swimming in the lake using colourful inner tubes. It was an idyllic scene that seems to come from a movie.
At this point, the Rextons had been on the road for around two weeks, after departure from Seoul, through China and much of Kazahkstan, now approaching Russia.
After lunch on the lakeshore, the Rextons embarked on an off-road drive through rolling green hills. And we stayed that night in Petropavyl, near the border with Russia.
The next morning we reached the frontier with Russia, for what would be the second border crossing of the Rexton Trans Eurasia Trail. Just like when we crossed from China into Kazakhstan, our team had prepared all the necessary documents for the Rextons, and we made it across quickly with no holdups.
Our destination on that day was Chelyabinsk, a mid-sized industrial city. It would take us longer than we had hoped to get there. As evening set in, the Rextons were forced to drive on a narrow two-lane road clogged with many freight trucks. As the trucks traveled slowly, cars were left to manoeuvre around them, while taking care to pause before overtaking to ensure safety. Fortunately the Rextons have enough engine power to accelerate as needed to overtake the trucks, and the kind of accurate handling required on narrow roads.
After one night Chelyabinsk, we were off to Ufa, a larger industrial city where Stage 3 would end. As we left Chelyabinsk in the morning,
the Rexton’s navigation system showed our course for the day: 364 kilometres in a totally straight line.
But of course the drive itself would be full of twists and turns, as we would be traversing the Ural Mountains, a physical boundary that runs north-south separating Europe from Asia. The Ural Mountains are also important as a boundary that separates east and west Russia. Throughout Russian history, “crossing the Urals” has in Russia meant undertaking a demanding, and at times dangerous journey. Nowadays the road is well paved and mostly smooth, but in the past it was unpaved and treacherous in places. Also, in Russia’s frigid winters, when the road are bombarded with snow, traffic jams lasting many hours can form when trucks slip on the ice, or are forced to drive slowly due to treacherous conditions.
Despite the tough terrain, the ride in the Rextons was smooth. “The seven gear automatic gear box provided by Mercedes Benz is well-matched with the car concept, for long distance travel. It’s smooth. It’s not so sporty but it’s very smooth, there is no friction between each gear,” said Olivier Panissaud, CEO of Ssangyong France who joined Stage 3 along with French journalists, who test drove the Rexton.
Vitoldas Milius, a guide for this stage of the Trans Eurasia Trail, has driven this same road before, and says that the Rexton is ergonomically ideal for a long journey like this, and therefore convenient for drivers. “First of all the Rexton is big enough to be comfortable for four people on a long drive, and the Rexton’s ergonomics are very good for people of all kinds of body types,” Milius said.
“And not only sitting, the equipment is also good ergonomically. In some cars, when you get in, you spend a long time looking for what you need. In the Rexton, everything is in front of you and easy to find.”
Milius is an expert on extremely long auto journeys, having guided, and driven, many tours across Europe, Asia and Africa. He says aspects of the Rexton make it ideal for such long drives. “One important thing is that it is quiet. Cars all have engine noise, aero dynamic noise and the noise of the tires. Just those kinds of noise can cause a driver to become tired, but the Rexton is very quiet and that’s not a problem.”
We were also fortunate to have no mechanical problems while crossing the Urals. CH Lee, a business director of SMS Korea, the event agent for the Rexton Trans Eurasia Trail, said, “Before the trip, we discussed a lot about any possible mechanical problems, and we planned for that by bringing a lot of spare parts. But there haven’t been any such problems; the Rextons have been really reliable.” “In particular, over long drives there are sometimes rattling noises between car parts that aren’t connected properly. That hasn’t happened, which shows that the assembly was very well done in Ssangyong’s factories,” Lee added.
Along the way, we marked the halfway point of the Trans Eurasia Trail with a ceremony at the continental border demarcation, a monument at the side of the highway. We popped a bottle of champagne at the foot of the monument that marks Asia on one side and Europe on the other.