The fourth-generation Rexton is a huge stride forward
If you think you know SsangYong as a manufacturer of rather dated and under-performing vehicles languishing somewhere in the bargain basement category, then it’s time to think again.
The Korean car-maker signalled something of a new dawn with the introduction of its Nissan Juke-rivalling Tivoli a couple of years ago – itself a very good car – and is about to take another huge stride forward with the fourth-generation of its flagship model, the Rexton.
Rexton is an important car for SsangYong as it bids to woo more style-conscious customers. Not surprisingly, given this intent, the first people to see its wheels in the flesh, so to speak, were those attending last month's Blenheim Palace Horse Trials.
And the fact that the car (certainly in top spec Ultimate trim) would not look out of place in a field full of Range Rovers, Audi Q7s or Mercedes GLSs speaks volumes.
The Rexton has always been a great load-lugger (ask any caravan owner); with this latest version, SsangYong is targeting the horsey set.
It’s a go-anywhere, do-anything kind of car but one with a 3.5-tonne towing capability, which means a horse trailer is well within capabilities. And having joined other motoring journalists for the launch of the Rexton, not at Blenheim but the equally exclusive Weston Park, I can vouch for its quality on and off road.
Into showrooms by the end of this month, my advice is to go see it and try it yourself because, unless you’re suffering a severe case of badge snobbery, it will make you question whether you really want to spend hundreds more a month on something German or from Jaguar/LandRover.
SsangYong actually considers the Rexton’s main rivals to be the Hyundai Santa Fe or Kia Sorento, both of which it is priced to undercut, but the firm is also aiming it at buyers of a used three to four-year-old LandRover Discovery in a kind of “okay, you could have that but just look what you’ll get in our car” way.
A five-year limitless mileage warranty might just be the clincher.
So, the car. Forget everything you ever knew about the outgoing Rexton, which even SsangYong admits was looking terribly out-dated. In its place we have an on-trend and stylish, nay handsome, 4x4, offering a perfect balance between form and function.
There are three trim levels. Entry-level EX costs from £27,500 and provides an 8in infotainment screen, manual air-, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers with windscreen wiper de-icer, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, DAB radio with Bluetooth, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, high-beam assist and traffic sign recognition.
Mid-range ELX adds to this some 18in alloys, dual zone automatic air- conditioning, Nappa leather, power heated seats, a heated steering wheel, 9.2in infotainment screen with TomTom navigation and rear-view camera and a smart key system with window control and auto closing function.
Both have the choice of five or seven seats at no extra cost and in ELX models with seven seats, there is the additional provision of rear manual air-conditioning.
The range-topping Ultimate version, which we drove, is only available with five seats, but adds an automatic gearbox, 20in alloys, HID headlights, surround-view monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot detection, lane change assist, a powered tailgate, heated and ventilated front seats and quilted Nappa leather upholstery that helps lift this SsangYong to previously unimaginable heights of comfort.
Out on the road the new Rexton offers plenty of brawn and brain, thanks to a new 2.2-litre Euro 6 diesel engine, with 181 horsepower and plenty of low-end torque for effortless cruising, whatever the conditions or load.
Cocooned in the leather seats, I found the engine remarkable quite with little wind or road noise to speak of disturbing the cabin’s inner calm. There was plenty of power in hand thanks to the seven-speed auto box; disappointingly, there were no paddle shifts for those quick down-shifts, although there was a tiptronic manual-shifting capability with the gear selector.
With so much in its favour it’s only fair to point out that, from a negative point of view, the Rexton’s fuel consumption means this is a thirsty car; reflecting the fact that it is very heavy. We were quoted an average 34mpg for the seven-seat automatic, rising only to 36.2mpg for the five-seater and as any real-world motorist knows, the figures are going to be lower than that.
As stated, this is a heavy car; solidly built with great body protection which, together with things like hill descent control, selectable four-wheel drive, hill start assist, ground clearance and best-in-class approach and descent angles, makes it able to tackle the most challenging of terrains.
It is still a traditional body on ladder-frame chassis (which some may grumble about) but that, again, adds to the car’s sure-footedness when the going gets really tough. We were able to put it through some serious off-road challenges on the Weston Park estate (steep climbs, descents, rocky surfaces, mud and water) and the Rexton ate them all for breakfast.
Many owners, probably the majority, won’t go anywhere near terrain like this but it’s reassuring to know it can handle it. What they will like is the comfort, luxury and high riding position.
SsangYong has more than 60 years of 4x4 heritage and sees itself as the Korean LandRover. Choosing that comparison sets the bar very high but, with this car, it’s anything but fanciful and with the UK being the company’s biggest export market, I can only see sales (up 35 per cent here in the past year) growing steadily higher.