SsangYong's seven-seat Rexton proved that a big, rugged 4x4 needn't be prohibitively expensive. The improved 2.2-litre diesel version only reinforces that point. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Want a large SUV that can walk the walk as well as talking the talk? What about one you probably aren't familiar with, SsangYong's Rexton, this car now fitted with a more efficient Euro6 2.2-litre diesel engine. 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 - SsangYong's Rexton. This model's sales challenge will certainly be helped by the fact that this much improved car is now equipped with the key thing it always needed - a properly modern efficient diesel engine. This 2.2-litre Euro6-compatible e-XDi220 unit is all SsangYong's own, a powerplant that keeps the torque and pulling power of its predecessor while adding lower running costs and greater refinement. At the same time, the brand has introduced the option of a smoother Mercedes-sourced 7-speed automatic gearbox that also brings greaer refinement. It's all part of a package of changes that have brought us a far more modern, up-to-date product. Of course, its core values haven't changed. This car will still tow better than most of its competitors. It's still better suited than many of them to really rough off roading. And it's still built to out-last you. If SsangYong has succeeded in sugaring these practical virtues with an efficient bit of efficient tinsel, it could have a very appealing product indeed on its hands for the right kind of buyer. Let's try it.
Modern SUVs are usually marketed as being very 'car-like'. This one isn't. Climb up into the commanding driving position and, rather refreshingly, it feels like exactly what it is, a tough, solidly-built go-anywhere 4x4 that isn't frightened of a bit of hard work. The Rextons we've driven in the past have always been like that, but this one has also added a layer of sophistication to its driving manners that was missing before. And SsangYong's own 2.2-litre e-XDi220 diesel engine is a lot more refined than the rattly old 1990s-vintage Mercedes lumps used in previous models, especially when mated to the latest 7-speed automatic gearbox. We wouldn't want you to assume from this that the South Korean brand has turned this car into some kind of BMW X5 or Mercedes GLE rival. It hasn't - nor does it wish to. Those models have passenger car-like monocoque chassis and air suspension set-ups that would compromise this one in extremis. The point we're trying to make though, is that SsangYong has narrowed the gap to big SUVs of the modern era whilst retaining the kind of go-anywhere practicality that most of them can only dream of - and doing so at a fraction of the price. Pitch a Rexton into a corner and you'll notice the rather over-assisted steering and yes, there'll be plenty of lean and understeer. Not significantly more though than you'd expect to get in, say, a Mitsubishi Shogun or even a pricey Land Rover Discovery. It's not precious about getting up to its axles in mud either. The tougher the terrain, the better the Rexton likes it thanks to its solid ladder-framed chassis and heavy duty low ratio 4WD set-up that splits the torque equally between front and rear axles to provide all round traction and ensure optimum grip even in the most challenging conditions.
Design and Build
This improved model looks pretty much the same as its 'Rexton W'-badged predecessor. Still, that's no bad thing. A neat chromed grille framed by projector headlamps gives this SsangYong a contemporary look that certainly isn't immediately suggestive of a budget brand. Underneath it all though, is the thing that counts. The kind of tough ladder-framed chassis that all big SUVs used to have before they because all city-slick, bling and ineffectual off road. Yes, it sets this car back behind car-like monocoque-based rivals on-tarmac, but for heavy duty use, there's not much to beat it. And at the wheel? Well a proper off roader should have a properly commanding driving position - as this one does. There's a big, imposing leather-trimmed steering wheel too: this is certainly old-school SUV motoring. But then in some ways that's rather refreshing. And in the second row? Well for the kind of money SsangYong is asking, you'd expect something pretty cramped. Instead, what you get is a car that, thanks to a wheelbase some 30mm longer than a Toyota Land Cruiser costing nearly twice as much, offers decent space for two or three folk. That long wheelbase means there's room for third row seating too, though you can delete the extra chairs from the specification of your car if you want to if you need the extra boot space that'll create.
Market and Model
The Rexton W line-up sees an entry-level SX variant at around £23,000, but most will want to find another £2,500 for the leather-lined EX model. With that version, you can specify the Mercedes-sourced 7-speed automatic gearbox for another £1,500. Choose that and might also want to consider the flagship ato-only ELX variant that, for around £29,000, gives you a luxurious beige/grey leather interior, a smarter multi-function steeeing wheel and updated instrumentation. ELX buyers also get distinctive 18-inch Diamond cut alloy wheels, front parking sensors, an auto-dipping rear view mirror, heated rear seats and satellite navigation. All for the kind of money here that would hardly get you an all-wheel drive diesel version of a small RAV4 or Honda CR-V-style soft roader, the kind of car that wouldn't give you seven seats, proper off roading capability or decent towing capacity. Yes of course, earlier Rexton models were cheaper than this one but you need to put SsangYong's pricing into current day perspective. What else can you currently buy that seat more than five people and can capably tackle almost anything off the beaten track? A Kia Sorento, a Mitsubishi Outlander or a Hyundai Santa Fe? You don't get a proper low range gearbox on either of those three and they can't tow as much. Anyway, they cost around £32,000 or more. A long wheelbase Mitsubishi Shogun is a closer match, but that's pitched at £30,000 or more too - and much more if you want a car fitted to the kind of spec on offer here. Otherwise, for a product properly capable of taking on this Rexton, you'll need the kind of £40,000 budget that would be required for a new Toyota Land Cruiser 2.8 D-4D or Land Rover Discovery. I say 'new' because SsangYong actually thinks this car's closest competition will come from used examples of both of these models. Which will have led tough lives and won't come with the kind of all-inclusive lengthy warranty you get here. So yes, you can see this Rexton's appeal.
Cost of Ownership
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 Euro6 e-XDi220 diesel engine. Compared to the old 2.0-litre unit used before, combined cycle fuel economy has improved from 38.2mpg to 40.1mpg, which will mean an operating range of between 550 to 600 miles from the decently sized 80-litre fuel tank. CO2 emissions have improved too, from 196g/km to a more acceptable 184g/km. Go for the automatic variant and those figures fall - but only slightly to 38.1mpg and 194g/km. 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. An automatic version will actually give you very similar returns to those you'd get from a directly comparable Toyota Land Cruiser 2.8 D-4D or Land Rover Discovery. 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 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 proper tough ladder-framed 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.