First Drive: The SsangYong Rexton is a big, old-school SUV

·6-min read

What is it?

Ssangyong Rexton
All cars get alloy wheels as standard


SsangYong is a brand synonymous with 4x4s and SUVs. Granted, it might not have the same badge appeal or following as Land Rover and Jeep, but in the same way that those two brands have remained centred around rugged models, so has this South Korean marque.

It’s the Rexton that’s always symbolised what SsangYong is about – big, capable and good-value SUVs. Think of it as a cut-price Discovery and you’re on the right lines. Now SsangYong is back with a mid-life update on its chunky Rexton, but can it lift it away from its more utilitarian roots?

What’s new?

Ssangyong Rexton
The uber-large grille is hard to miss


The latest generation Rexton arrived in 2017, and this is the first major update it has received since. While some facelifts can go a bit unnoticed, this one certainly won’t, with SsangYong slapping on one of the biggest grilles on the market, and one that can even make the latest BMWs look subtle.

After this, the firm has worked to increase the model’s interior quality, with one main addition being a new digital instrument cluster that moves the cabin further upmarket. There are also some changes under the bonnet too…

What’s under the bonnet?

Ssangyong Rexton
A 2.2-litre turbocharged diesel provides 199bhp


Like before, just a single 2.2-litre turbocharged diesel is available on the Rexton. It’s received a raft of changes, though, including an extra 20bhp and 21Nm of torque – now meaning it puts out 199bhp and 441Nm of torque. That equates to a 0-60mph in 10.5 seconds and a top speed of 114mph.

SsangYong has also adopted a new Hyundai-supplied eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard on this latest model, while the brand’s renowned selectable four-wheel-drive system remains – a bit of a rarity on a model of this class these days. In terms of efficiency, SsangYong claims 32.9mpg, which is easily achievable, though CO2 emissions are steep at 225g/km.

What’s it like to drive?

Behind the wheel, the Rexton has a bit of an old-school feel about it, which brings both pluses and minuses. Let’s start with the positives, and that’s that the Rexton remains seriously capable off-road. With the option to flick between high and low ratios, you’d have to try pretty hard to get the Rexton stuck.

The engine and gearbox also suits the Rexton well. Though the engine can be a bit coarse at times when accelerating, the gearbox is smooth and allows for more than enough performance. While we didn’t get a chance to tow with our Rexton, we have no doubt that it would have no trouble towing the 3.5 tonnes SsangYong says it’s capable of.

However, it hasn’t managed to shrug off its agricultural roots entirely. Unlike more modern rivals, the Rexton continues to be built on a ladder chassis – something used in many more extreme 4x4s and pick-ups – and it means the ride is just a bit unsettled in normal driving.

How does it look?

Ssangyong Rexton
The Rexton’s new look is particularly bold


While a car’s looks are always subjective, we reckon few will be admiring the Rexton for its styling. It can only really be described as a giant lump of metal, and at longer than a Range Rover Sport, it really does occupy a huge chunk of road.

While the huge grille gives the Rexton a face that even a mother would struggle to love, there are actually some quite appealing elements to it. At the front, the headlights are almost jewel-like in their appearance, while the curved line that runs into the rear door is nicely chiseled into the design.

What’s it like inside?

Ssangyong Rexton
The cabin is large and spacious


You might be tempted to turn your nose up at the Rexton, but jump inside and you’re likely to be pleasantly surprised by its interior. There are some really great touches to it, such as the smart digital instrument cluster, while the surface around the gear selector wouldn’t look out of place in a high-end BMW or Mercedes.

Inside, there’s no denying just how vast the Rexton is. It feels impressively roomy, while three adults could sit quite comfortably across the rear bench. Despite the size, though, it’s not quite as well thought through as you might hope.

Unlike lots of rivals, there are no sliding rear seats, while access to the rearmost seats is hampered by the middle row scraping against the roof lining. And, though the boot is absolutely huge, there’s a gap between the load lip and boot floor, which does compromise practicality somewhat.

What’s the spec like?

Ssangyong Rexton
The seat layout can be a touch clunky


The latest Rexton comes in just two trims – Ventura and Ultimate. Ventura still gets a vast amount of equipment, including 18-inch alloy wheels, faux leather seats, heated and ventilated seats, a 12.3-inch digital dial system and an eight-inch touchscreen with smartphone mirroring.

Make the step up to the Ultimate to get a nine-inch touchscreen with a TomTom sat nav, around-view camera system, automatic electric boot and additional kit.

There was a time not all that long ago when you could buy a new Rexton for under £25,000, but today that’s most certainly not the case. Prices kick off from £37,995 for the Ventura or £40,665 for the Ultimate. It might seem a lot of money, but it’s a good chunk cheaper than rivals from Kia and Hyundai, while a brand-new Land Rover Discovery’s starting price is almost £20,000 more expensive.

It’s worth noting that a class-leading seven-year, 150,000-mile warranty is also included.

Verdict

In a day and age where things are becoming more complicated and electrified, there’s something oddly satisfying about a big, old-school SUV like the Rexton.

While not as good on the road or perhaps as advanced as some rivals, if you want something that needs to tow a lot, or regularly goes off-road, but still want plenty of creature comforts, this SsangYong can do most things an equally-sized Land Rover can at a far more affordable price.

  • Model: SsangYong Rexton

  • Price: £37,995

  • Model as tested: SsangYong Rexton 2.2D Ultimate

  • Price as tested: £40,665

  • Engine: 2.2-litre turbocharged diesel

  • Power: 199bhp

  • Torque: 441Nm

  • 0-60mph: 10.5 seconds

  • Top speed: 114mph

  • Fuel economy: 32.9 mpg

  • Emissions: 225g/km CO2

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