New SsangYong Rexton 2021 review

The rough and ready Rexton has got a sharp new look and major tech gains but the old practicality and pulling power remain

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

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Improved though the facelifted Rexton is, don’t expect the sharpest handling, most refined, or frugal 4x4. However, the simple fact is this: if you need a car with genuine off-road ability, that carries seven and can tow pretty much anything, it’s over £13,000 cheaper than the closest alternative. Throw in a lengthy equipment list, smart in-car tech and a huge warranty, and it’s not without appeal.

This is the SsangYong Rexton, a rugged 4x4 that has been treated to a round of mid-life updates in order to boost its appeal and make it a little easier to live with every day.

It doesn’t take long to spot the first change. The front end receives a new face dominated by an enormous grille. It splits a pair of headlights that have grown sharper and more square than before, and sits above a revised bumper design. The back end changes are more modest; there’s a tweaked bumper and the tail lights use more modern LED tech. 

As before, there’s a 2.2-litre diesel under the bonnet, but there have been changes here, too. Power is up 20bhp to 199bhp, and torque has risen 21Nm - the 441Nm maximum is available from just 1,600rpm. Previously, the 2.2 was mated to a Mercedes-derived seven-speed automatic gearbox; now it’s paired with a more modern eight-speed system from the Hyundai group. 

The Rexton is mechanically very similar to the Musso pickup - underneath there’s a ladder chassis - and it’s worth remembering its agricultural origins before setting off. Expecting SUV-like road manners from a car like this feels a little bit ambitious, and that certainly proves to be the case; buyers accustomed to any of the modern crop of high-riding four-wheel drive SUV options will find the Rexton ponderous to drive. It rolls through corners and dives under braking, the steering is slow and heavy, and grip levels are modest. 

The suspension has been retuned for this refreshed version of the Rexton, and while the ride is an improvement, it still jiggles both at town and motorway speeds. Overall refinement has improved slightly, however, thanks to hydraulic engine mounts and better noise insulation. The diesel engine is still a little clattery, but pulls strongly.

The new gearbox is an improvement over the old one, with good behaviour at low speeds and smooth shifting when you’re going faster. You can even take manual control with paddles mounted behind the wheel - particularly handy when towing or off roading.

Basing our assessment purely on its road manners would be missing the point of the SsangYong Rexton though, as in other areas, the likes of a similarly priced Kia Sorento or Skoda Kodiaq can’t compete. First, there’s also genuine off-road ability here. The Rexton is equipped with high and low-ratio four-wheel drive setups (plus a rear-wheel drive setting for road driving). It’s the towing rates, however, where the Rexton holds a clear advantage. Where most typical SUVs will haul a braked trailer weighing up to 2,300kg or so, the Rexton can tow 3,500kg. Introduced in the updated model is a Trailer Sway Control system, which automatically makes corrections to keep things stable when pulling.

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It’s clear that fundamentally the Rexton remains a rugged 4x4. It makes it all the more surprising, then, that SsangYong has packed some impressive tech into its cabin. Ahead of the driver sits a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel. There’s plenty of scope for customisation; from showing the traditional dials in a familiar clock layout or as BMW-style C-shaped speed and rev graphics, to a full screen navigation setup, it all looks really slick. It’d be nice if it could be turned a little brighter, though.

The 9.2-inch infotainment system comes with navigation, smartphone connectivity and even a surround view camera system. The menus are neatly laid out, it’s easy to use, and loading times for route planning are on a par with the majority of mainstream systems. Elsewhere the cabin is tidied up with a new centre console (thanks to a shift-by-wire gear selector made possible by the new transmission). Though most surfaces are covered in scratchy plastics, it all feels sturdy.

The Rexton is very spacious too. That’s perhaps not surprising considering the external dimensions - it’s 4.8 metres long and 1.8 metres tall - but this is a genuine seven-seater. When the back row isn’t being used it folds flat into the floor, leaving an enormous 820-litre volume available.

Then there’s the price. The Rexton starts from £39,895 - the closest new car alternative, in terms of its towing and seating capacities, plus genuine off road ability, is the Land Rover Discovery. And yes, the Land Rover is significantly more powerful and comfortable, but it costs from £53,150.

Go near the options list of the Discovery and that gap will only grow wider. The Rexton is generously kitted out from the off. It’s available in two trim levels (there were three before the facelift) and even the entry-level Ventura comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, that digital driver’s display, an eight-inch touchscreen, a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, nine airbags and parking sensors all round. 

The top spec Ultimate gains full LED headlights, ambient interior lighting, full leather seats that are electrically adjustable, and a powered tailgate. It’s now priced at £40,665 - a slight rise from the previous £39,895. As before, SsangYong offers a seven-year/150,000 mile warranty - a package that rivals struggle to compete with.

Model: SsangYong Rexton Ultimate
Price: £40,665
Engine: 2.2 4cyl diesel
Power/torque: 199bhp/441Nm
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, four-wheel drive
0-62mph: 10.7 seconds
Top speed: 114 mph
Economy/CO2: 32.9mpg/225g/km
On sale: Now
Chief reviewer

Alex joined Auto Express as staff writer in early 2018, helping out with news, drives, features, and the occasional sports report. His current role of Chief reviewer sees him head up our road test team, which gives readers the full lowdown on our comparison tests.

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