SsangYong's new-era seven-seat Rexton proves that a big, rugged 4x4 needn't be prohibitively expensive. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Want a large SUV that can walk the walk as well as talking the talk? What about one you probably aren't familiar with, the vastly improved fourth generation version of SsangYong's Rexton? If you're secure enough in yourself not to care too much about badge equity and want a large, capable, well equipped seven-seat 4x4 for sensible money, it makes a lot of sense.
Increasingly, large luxury SUVs are all about image, all about badge-equity, all about fashion. Or at least most of them are. Here's one that's more practically grounded - the fourth generation version of SsangYong's Rexton. Of all this South Korean brand's products, the Rexton is probably the one provoking most familiarity amongst UK buyers. That's because it's been around so long - since 2001 in fact, sold in first generation form until 2006 when a second generation version offered much the same kind of solid, practical proposition - and much the same aging 2.7-litre Mercedes diesel engine. A big step forward though, was made in 2013 with the launch of the MK3 model 'Rexton W', which got a properly modern 2.0-litre e-XDi diesel engine later uprated to 2.2-litre capacity. This fourth generation design borrows that engine, but not a lot else, showcasing the recent steps forward that SsangYong has made in technology and quality.
Under the bonnet, this Rexton gets an uprated 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine manufactured by SsangYong, which delivers maximum power of 181PS and maximum torque of 420Nm. This proven e-XDi220 unit is much the same as the one used in the last versions of the previous generation Rexton model and has been tuned primarily for the strong low-end torque typical of the Korean maker's powerplants. Transmission is either a 6-speed manual, or a Mercedes-Benz-sourced 7-speed automatic. Like most SsangYong SUVs, this one will be ideal for those wishing to tow. Thanks to a braked towing capacity of 3.5-tonnes, it can deal with heavier items like a double horsebox, a large caravan or a commercial trailer. Like other SUVs in this class, the Rexton features a part time 4x4 system with power delivered permanently to the rear wheels. Unlike German premium brand SUVs, you get a low ratio gearbox for when off-road conditions become more demanding. Off road electronic safety aids like hill start assist and hill decent control are standard and the Rexton is best-in-class for approach and departure angles - 20.5 degrees and 22.2 degrees respectively. On-tarmac, SsangYong says that this Rexton's refinement is much improved over the car it replaces, due to its stiffer body, improved aerodynamics and better engine isolation.
This new-era Rexton has a fresh, more modern look and features body-on-frame construction. The front end has the grille style first seen on the smaller Tivoli SUV (supposed to suggest a bird in flight) and there's a choice of 17", 18" or 20" alloy wheels. SsangYong says that this SUV is one of the strongest and safest cars in its class thanks to the high-strength steel construction of its body, which makes this car stiffer than many monocoque-built competitors in this category. Inside, the step-up in quality over the previous model is notable and the top of the range 'Ultimate' model offers quilted Nappa leather seat upholstery. There are five and seven seat model options, the second row of seats splitting 60:40 with a folding centre armrest, and giving easy access to the third row of seats you get on 7-seat models, chairs that also fold individually 50:50. This seating combination gives greater passenger and load flexibility, equipping the car with one of the largest load spaces in its segment: four golf bags can fit in the boot. In the 5-seat model, rear boot space with the seats down is 1,977-litres - and 820-litres with the seats up, measured up to window level.
The Rexton line-up sees an entry-level seven-seat 'EX' variant at around £27,500, but most will want to find another £4,500 for the plusher 'ELX' model, which comes with either five or seven seats. Both variants come with the option of 7-speed auto transmission for an extra £2,000. You have to have the auto 'box on the top five-seat-only 'Ultimate' version, which costs around £37,500. As expected equipment levels are generous. Avoid entry-level trim and you get power-adjustable front seats, dual-zone fully automated air-conditioning with fine dust filters, plus a USB connector and 220V/115V inverter is available for rear seat passengers. On the top 'Ultimate' version, the front seats are cooled and have memory settings. As for safety, the car features up to nine airbags including a knee-airbag for the driver and most models get side-airbags in the rear. Electronic safety aids include forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, high beam assistance and traffic sign recognition. The top of the range Rexton 'Ultimate' also gets cameras front and rear as well as on the door mirrors. This suite of electronic safety aids also includes 3D around-car monitoring and blind spot detection as well as a 'rear cross traffic alert' system to provide a clear view of the area surrounding the car, increasing safety and driver convenience during low-speed driving and parking.
SsangYong has done a reasonable job in bringing the running cost returns of this Rexton up to date courtesy of its own 2.2-litre Euro 6 e-XDi diesel engine. Combined cycle fuel economy is rated at 36.2mpg for the manual model and 34.8mpg for the automatic. The respective CO2 figures are 204g/km and 213g/km. That's for the five-seat model. For the seven-seat variant, the figures are fractionally down on that. The magazines will tell you that these returns aren't up to the levels of cars like Kia's Sorento or Hyundai's Santa Fe. Well of course they're not. Those two models aren't as tough and capable, nor do they have a proper - but inevitably heavy - low range 4x4 transmission. So we need to be comparing apples with apples and pitching this car against proper tough SUVs that as well as seating seven, can easily tow heavy loads and, if necessary, take you through the Serengeti rather than simply through the odd muddy carpark. Once you do that, this Rexton actually stacks up pretty well, with running cost figures pretty similar to those of a properly rugged rival like Toyota's Land Cruiser. Residual values should be good too. Used Rextons are in high demand across SsangYong's dealer network. Perhaps the best bit though, is the peace of mind that comes as standard with this car thanks to SsangYong's impressively complete class-leading five year 'limitless' mileage warranty, 'limitless' meaning the lack of the kind of irritating maximum mileage condition that many other brands impose in their small print.
Let's get down to the facts here. There is no other properly capable large SUV in the same price bracket as this one. If you want something really comparable with seven seats that can tow as much or go as far off the beaten track, then you'll need to pay around 30% more for a Mitsubishi Shogun - or potentially, nearly twice as much for a Land Rover Discovery or Toyota LandCruiser. This basic point appears to have been ignored by most reviewers who seem to insist on comparing this SsangYong to rivals not capable of even thinking about tackling the tough tasks this Rexton will take in its stride. Yes of course the properly tough underpinnings necessary to achieve this mean that this car won't tackle the tarmac twisties like a BMW X5 - but then no SUV that's this big and practical can do that. Approach a drive in a Rexton remembering this, with expectations based around the things this car has been designed to do, and you're likely to be very satisfied with what it delivers.
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