SsangYong Rexton review
The SsangYong Rexton 4x4 is pitched as a bargain-priced Discovery – so does it deliver?
When the first SsangYong Rexton appeared on UK shores in 2003, it was notable for being very large and very cheap, but not a lot else. In the intervening years the company didn’t do much to improve things, while a glut of more modern and sophisticated SUVs appeared to highlight the Rexton’s predicament as a motoring dinosaur.
The Korean car maker’s regeneration has been in full swing for a while now, 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 went on sale in the UK towards the end of 2017 with a choice of five or seven seats.
The design has moved on for the new Rexton, and while styling is always subjective, to our eyes it looks much cleaner and more upmarket 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.
The kit and tech are a world away from its predecessor’s, too. Base cars come fairly well appointed, but the 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 – features that were unheard of in the SsangYong line-up only a couple of years ago. As a result, the Rexton is no longer the bargain buy it once was, with the Ultimate version commanding a £3,000 premium over a top-spec Skoda Kodiaq.
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The one thing that hasn’t changed is the Rexton’s separate chassis construction; although this format is undeniably rugged, these days it’s typically reserved for commercial-based pick-ups and the like.
SsangYong looks to have skipped a couple of generations with its latest Rexton. The big SUV is miles more attractive than its bland and clunky predecessor, plus it’s much more solidly built and far better to drive. But while it looks the part and serves up a very credible ownership proposition, the Rexton is still hamstrung by a relatively basic – if rugged – chassis. As a result, it drives more like an upmarket pick-up than a luxury SUV. Still, if you want a genuinely tough machine for towing, or an off-road workhorse that can double up as convincing family transport, the Rexton ticks a lot of boxes at the price.
Engines, performance and drive
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.
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. And the Rexton is no different, even though it’s a big improvement on the wayward outgoing car. 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 can seem slow to react to inputs, too, although it’s decently weighted and responsive enough for the type of driving owners are likely to prefer. Push hard through bends and the Rexton feels heavy with noticeable body roll, but again, it’s perfectly acceptable when driven with moderation.
As a result, for those after a rugged workhorse with enough comfort for the family, it strikes a decent balance between on-road composure and very effective off-road prowess. A locking centre differential and low-range ratios in the gearbox mean the Rexton will keep ploughing on when many more premium SUV rivals are floundering.
Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
The new 2.2-litre diesel delivers 179bhp and 420Nm of torque, enough to give the Rexton acceptable performance and surprising refinement, too. The engine only becomes raucous higher in the rev band, but that’s fine, because the Mercedes-sourced seven-speed auto gearbox is happier taking it easy; the set-up is slow to kick down and sends revs soaring under hard acceleration. The six-speed manual option may well be favoured by users with off-road ambitions. Either way, the Rexton doesn’t encourage being pushed, but if you want to go as fast as possible it will cover 0-62mph in 11.9 seconds, and go on to a top speed of 115mph.
MPG, CO2 and Running Costs
The Rexton is a big, heavy car, and its running costs – particularly fuel consumption – are much closer to a one-tonne pick-up truck than some of the lighter, but more fashionable SUVs on the market. That’s probably fair enough, given that the Rexton is arguably more likely to appeal to buyers considering a Mitsubishi L200-style double cab or Nissan Navara.
Official fuel economy for five-seat versions with the six-speed manual gearbox stands at 36.2mpg, with SsangYong claiming 34.8mpg for autos. Opt for seven seats and the extra weight makes a surprisingly big difference, with the manual version dropping to 34.8mpg.
Emissions are relatively high, too, which is definitely a potential issue for business users. With tailpipe CO2 figures ranging from 208g/km to 218g/km, the Rexton attracts the steepest Benefit-in-Kind percentage. Of course, the relatively low purchase prices mean it’s swings and roundabouts, but this SUV definitely loses out to rival one-tonne pick-up trucks with their generous tax breaks.
At least road tax is a manageable £140 annually, because no Rexton breaches the £40,000 threshold.
The group 35 insurance rating for the Rexton is on the high side compared with similarly priced SUVs from Hyundai and Kia. Again, the numbers pitch the Rexton closer to insurance groups for vehicles such as the Nissan Navara pick-up, which sits in group 36.
Once a byword for plummeting prices, SsangYong has proven it can produce cars whose desirability extends into the used market with the likes of the Tivoli. We expect the new Rexton to perform pretty well, too, thanks to its good build quality, great value and undeniable presence.
Interior, design and technology
The new Rexton is one of the most handsome cars in the SsangYong line-up, which a few years ago wouldn’t have meant much. Nowadays this counts for something, because the Rexton is a striking and attractive proposition, with a genuinely premium feel and road presence to match.
It’s big and boxy as before, but the Rexton has an appealing new face comprising a broad, prominent grille and rakish headlamps with LED running lamps beneath for an up-to-date feel. The side view is interesting, too, if a little less well resolved, with bulging wheelarches and unusual horizontal side strakes and a slightly cumbersome C-pillar. Brightwork finishers around the windows, roof rails and big alloy wheels complete the car’s expensive aura. It may not have the badge appeal of more upmarket rivals, but the Rexton looks as happy in swanky parts of the city as it does on the farm.
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 Hyundai 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.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The top-spec Rexton comes with a big 9.2-inch touchscreen featuring all the bells and whistles, while even entry-level EX models offer an eight-inch touchscreen with DAB radio and smartphone connectivity, as well as a reversing camera and MP3 playback. The instrument cluster scores on hi-tech appeal, too, with its various selectable functions and engaging start-up animation. Range-topping Ultimate versions add a colour info display on the instrument cluster and a ‘surround view’ parking assistance pack.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
As you would expect from a car the size of the Rexton, there’s plenty of space inside, as well as a light and airy feel. It’s also pretty luxurious, with diamond-quilted stitching on the leather upholstery, loads of adjustment for the front seats – powered of course – and plenty of creature comforts to boot. Visibility is excellent, but the sheer size of the Rexton may cause difficulties for some less confident drivers.
The Rexton measures 4,850mm from nose to tail, plus 1,960mm wide and 1,825mm high. That’s over 20cm longer and 10cm wider than a Nissan X-Trail.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The Rexton is available with five or seven seats. Up front the driver and passenger have acres of space. There’s loads of headroom for the second row and reasonable legroom, while the optional third row of seats has a more spacious feel than you’ll find in a Skoda Kodiaq or Kia Sorento. The third row is relatively cramped, though, and you have to fold down one of the chairs in the second row to access these rearmost seats.
Five-seat models benefit from a huge 820-litre boot, and if you want to fold the seats down it increases to a van-like 1,977 litres. There’s a false floor behind the seats which gives a fully flat load space from the tailgate across the folded second-row seats. With the third row of seats installed but folded down, you still get an impressive 649 litres of luggage space – and they live beneath the false floor when not in use.
With its heavy build and body-on-frame construction retained, the Rexton remains a very strong tow car. In fact it can mix it with the far pricier Land Rover Discovery, which also has a 3.5-tonne braked trailer limit, and the combination of low-ratio gears and four-wheel drive should make tricky off-tarmac towing tasks a breeze.
Reliability and Safety
The Rexton range has won a decent reputation for reliability thanks to its somewhat agricultural engineering and relative simplicity. There’s a lot more hi-tech kit on the latest model, but the nuts and bolts beneath it should be as solid as ever. The latest engine is SsangYong’s own design, but the auto gearbox is a former Mercedes product which has been well tested over the years.
Plenty of seven-seat SsangYongs have also found their way into taxi fleets in the past, which must speak volumes about the vehicles’ capacity to soak up miles.
The Rexton hasn’t been crash-tested by Euro NCAP, but it benefits from an extensive range of safety equipment, including active emergency braking, collision warning and lane departure warning – bolstered on top-spec versions by blind spot and cross traffic alerts. ELX and Ultimate models get knee airbags for second-row passengers, as well as side curtain bags, plus two Isofix mounts are provided in the rear.
The five-year SsangYong warranty provides a reassuringly high level of cover. It’s an unlimited-mileage package and – unusually – includes cover for brake discs and clutch components for the first 12 months or 12,000 miles.
Rexton owners will need to book a service every year or 12,500 miles.