New SsangYong Rexton 2017 review
We drive SsangYong’s new Rexton 4x4 for the first time. Is it a cut-price rival to the Land Rover Discovery?
SsangYong’s bosses are honest about the current Rexton’s obvious advancing years. It’s large, priced like a hatchback and impressively rugged, but the back-to-basics 4x4 has only received the odd nip and tuck after launching back in 2003. A glut of more modern SUVs have arrived since that highlight its status as a motoring dinosaur.
The Korean car maker’s regeneration is in full swing, however, with new models such as the Tivoli showing SsangYong has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with brands in Europe. Now it’s the turn of the all-new Rexton, which we’re driving first in Korea ahead of UK sales in October.
The design has moved on for the new Rexton, and while styling is always subjective, to our eyes it sports a much cleaner and more upmarket look than before.The sharper lines can’t disguise its sheer size, though – that bulky rear overhang is a consequence of it being 15cm longer and 13cm taller than a Hyundai Santa Fe.
Jump inside and the first thing you’ll notice – apart from the impressive space on offer – is the huge step up in quality. The old car’s dated switchgear and utilitarian plastics make way for a smart, Tivoli-inspired dash design, logical layout and welcoming array of soft touch materials. In fact, it’s easily on par with the Santa Fe for fit-and-finish. Anyone familiar with what SsangYong was making just five years ago will be taken aback by how far things have improved inside.
The kit and tech is a world away, too. Base cars come fairly well-appointed, but our Ultimate model is packed to the rafters with a 9.2-inch touchscreen sat-nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, quilted leather, heated and cooled memory seats, and even an around-view camera. There’s a full suite of active and autonomous safety tech thrown in, too – features that were unheard of in SsangYongs only a couple of years ago. As a result, the Rexton is no longer the bargain buy it once was, with our Ultimate car commanding a £3,000 premium over a top-spec Skoda Kodiaq.
The Rexton is available with five or seven seats from launch, although we were only able to try the five-seat version. There’s loads of headroom for the second row and decent legroom, while we’d be surprised if there wasn’t more space in the optional third row than you’ll find in a Kodiaq or Kia Sorento. Five-seat models benefit from a huge 820-litre boot, though.
Despite SsangYong persisting with a body-on-frame construction – a design that you’ll only really see on pick-ups and dedicated off-roaders these days – the new model is considerably stiffer with far more high-strength steel than before. It remains a very strong tow car as a result, mixing it with the far pricier Land Rover Discovery with its 3.5-tonne braked trailer limit.
The downside of body-on-frame cars is that they rarely match the ride and handling standards set by the unibody construction of most modern SUVs. The Rexton, despite being a big improvement on the wayward outgoing car, is no different. Most of the time the ride is soft and well damped, while wind and road noise aren’t noticeable. But hit a sharp bump and shudders are still felt through the body and steering column. The steering itself is slow to react to inputs, too, while push hard in the bends and the Rexton feels heavy with noticeable body roll.
However, for those after a rugged workhorse with enough comfort for the family, it strikes a decent enough balance between on-road composure and what will likely be mighty off-road prowess.
The new 2.2-litre diesel offers acceptable performance and surprising refinement, too, only becoming raucous higher in the rev band. That’s fine, because the Mercedes-sourced seven speed auto gearbox is more happy taking it easy, being slow to kick-down and sending revs soaring under hard acceleration. The biggest concern for some will be efficiency – those torn between a proper off-roader and an SUV won’t be swayed by the auto Rexton’s claimed 35mpg figure.