THE SsangYong Rexton is a big, rugged SUV which fills the gap developing at the lower end of the market. As cars like the Hyundai Santa Fe become steadily more premium — and expensive — those in need of an off-roader are becoming limited to smaller, crossover-style vehicles, or ferreting about on the used market.
A massive step up from the old model, the latest Rexton offers genuine off-road ability and space for seven, at a price lower than just about anything else in this sector. It’s not as accomplished on road as some rivals, and nor does it have the badge appeal — but we suspect many buyers simply won’t care.
The new Rexton shares very little with the outgoing model. The engine, formerly a Mercedes unit, is now a SsangYong-developed 2.2-litre unit, while the bodywork is all-new as well.
Inside is where the biggest changes can be found, as the new Rexton is a world away from the old car. Where you’d previously find reams of scratchy plastic, there’s now quilted leather, real wood and soft-touch materials. There’s also a comprehensively reworked infotainment system to operate the car’s ample interior equipment.
WHAT’S UNDER THE BONNET?
The Rexton only comes with one engine option, a 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel. It only offers up 178bhp, which seems low for a car of this size, but 420Nm of torque means it feels reasonably sprightly off the line and it will cope easily with a full complement of passengers. It will also tow up to 3,500kg.
Though a six-speed manual gearbox is standard-fit, SsangYong expects barely any of its customers to go for this, and so the seven-speed Mercedes-sourced automatic will take the lion’s share of the sales. It’s relatively smooth and unobtrusive, though taking manual control isn’t as easy as it should be — rather than steering-wheel mounted paddles, there’s a switch mounted on the side of the gear selector.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Take the SsangYong Rexton out of its comfort zone on-road and you soon start to upset the handling. The Rexton is prone to understeer, and leans like a ship in hard cornering — something that more modern SUVs have managed to phase out.
The steering doesn’t help matters either — it’s over- assisted and doesn’t inspire much confidence on faster roads. Keep the pace relaxed though and the Rexton gives a cushioned and comfortable ride — provided you avoid the 20in alloy wheels.
HOW DOES IT LOOK?
SsangYong has drafted in the famed Italdesign to style the Rexton, and the end result is a much more slick and cohesive effort than the previous car. Though it’s not what you’d call pretty, the bold chrome grill is a good addition, while the rear has shades of Porsche Cayenne about it.
The sides are less successful, with glitzy polished wheels on top-spec models and an awkward styling line over the rear arches.
WHAT’S IT LIKE INSIDE?
The interior is leaps and bounds ahead of any SsangYong that’s gone before. Rather than an awkward, third-party infotainment system, the brand’s own 8-inch screen (9.2-inch on higher-spec cars) is fully integrated into the centre console.
It works well, as does the high-res display in between the dials, which controls driving functions on the move.
Base models get cloth upholstery, but mid- and top-spec cars have leather, and all cars have a classy wood finish on the dash, centre console and doors.
Apart from some scratchy plastic around the air vents, material quality is easily on a par with offerings from Kia and Hyundai.
WHAT’S THE SPEC LIKE?
Even base-spec Rextons come with a wealth of equipment for their price. As standard you’ll find cruise control, climate control, automatic headlights and wipers, electric mirrors, and all-round parking sensors.
The safety front is even better, with autonomous braking, front collision warning, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and a whole suite of off-road aids all thrown in as standard.
The options list is limited to just paint and a tow bar, so you’ll have to stick to the three generously equipped trim levels if there’s a certain bit of kit you’re after.
SsangYong’s not expecting to convert Range Rover buyers over to the brand with the new Rexton, but for the first time it has a chance of being considered on its own merits rather than simply out of necessity.
It’s more rugged and utilitarian than anything you’d find for this price point, but makes a decent fist of budget luxury at the same time.
If you don’t mind the slightly agricultural driving manners, then the SsangYong Rexton could be the SUV for you.
AT A GLANCE
2.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
115; 0-60mph: 11.9 seconds