SsangYong Rexton SUV
"Although far from cutting-edge, the latest SsangYong Rexton makes most sense as a no-nonsense family workhorse with a touch of luxury"
- Impressive performance
- Seven-seat versatility
- Good value
- Poor driving feel
- Unfamiliar image
- Unimpressive fuel economy
SsangYong may not exactly be a household name in the UK, but its tough, rugged four-wheel drive SUVs and pickups have slowly earned the brand a loyal following. The Rexton is the South Korean company's latest offering to the SUV market, and its maker sees it as offering a good-value alternative to a Kia Sorento or Hyundai Santa Fe, both of which it significantly undercuts on price.
Value is undeniably the Rexton's strongest suit, as few SUVs can match it for size, equipment or power at the price. It's also worth adding that the entry-level EX model has seven seats as standard. It soon becomes apparent that the SsangYong's list of rivals is rather broader than is initially apparent.
SsangYong isn't a manufacturer that has been associated with fashionable, stylish design, but the Rexton is truly a step forward from previous models when it comes to visual appeal. Its front-end detailing has a muscular look with a broad grille and shapely headlights, while the LED daytime running lights in artificial bumper vents lend a modern touch. The Rexton looks a little more generic from the rear but it’s still neat enough.
The only let-down is when you look at the car in profile - it would be a much more pleasing view without the awkward bumps that run fore and aft from the front and rear headlamps. They detract from what is otherwise an impressively contemporary look and has strong hints of Toyota Land Cruiser – a car with a considerably higher price tag.
Take a seat in the Rexton and the initial impression is of a car that doesn't cut any corners. Thanks to the visual appeal of a leather-clad lower dashboard, the use of woodgrain trim in moderation and a design that isn’t too old-fashioned, the SsangYong has an interior that almost looks too good to be true in the showroom. You quickly realise, though, that many of the interior materials in less visible places are rather more ordinary – it soon becomes apparent where budgets have been reined in.
You wouldn't know it too look at the equipment list, though – all models offer DAB radio, air-conditioning, alloy wheels, a reversing camera, cruise control and automatic headlamps and wipers. ELX models add leather upholstery, sat nav, a colour dashboard display and bigger 18-inch wheels. There's also second-row air-conditioning controls on seven seat models – while the third seating row is mandatory in the EX, the ELX is offered in five or seven seat variants with no impact on price.
The range-topping Ultimate is five-seat only and has special 20-inch alloy wheels, LED interior 'mood' lighting and other luxuries, but its lavish feature count is rather at odds with the Rexton's core appeal as a simple, robust and value-packed SUV. Especially when you consider that all models share the same mechanical package.
This comprises a 178bhp 2.2-litre diesel engine and a six-speed manual gearbox or seven-speed automatic made by Mercedes, the latter being standard on the Rexton Ultimate. It endows the Rexton with more than adequate performance on the road, but the selectable four-wheel drive system and low-ratio mode really separate it from SUV rivals, along with its very traditional separate-chassis construction.
This is either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you intend to use the Rexton. It lends the SsangYong rather dull responses, with overly light steering and a ponderous feel around corners, but body roll isn’t bad and grip is reasonable. The ride is firm around town - something that's due, in-part, to the car's significant weight. As a family car that happens to take the form of an SUV, the Rexton falls behind rivals such as the Mitsubishi Outlander and Renault Koleos on the road.
The Rexton finds its true calling in life as a practical workhorse. If bought for heavy-duty family use, it undeniably offers a lot of metal for your money, and is more civilised inside – not to mention more versatile in seven-seat form – than a four-door pick-up like the Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi L200 or Isuzu D-Max. It could also be seen as an alternative to a used Land Rover Discovery, or even a Defender, such are its off-road credentials. It's also capable of towing a huge 3,500kg – that's far more than a Mitsubishi L200 can manage.
Unfortunately, the Rexton's sub-par 36.2mpg fuel consumption may eat into the money saved by its low purchase price, and CO2 emissions over 200g/km will put company car users off choosing the SsangYong. However, the Rexton should be fairly durable, and the seven-year/150,000-mile warranty is very generous.
Overall, though impaired by its separate chassis when it comes to driver appeal, the Rexton makes a well-equipped family car, and a very practical alternative to a new pickup or nearly-new SUV. However its excellent value-for-money decreases as you move up through the range, so the seven-seat EX model is our pick.