That view no longer really fits SsangYong, however. Recent new models, particularly the Tivoli and XLV, have brought significant growth to what is actually the oldest Korean brand of all, tracing its history back to 1954. Yet SsangYong also remains one of the smallest brands, and to continue the growth and close the yawning gap to its young upstart rivals, cars such as the Rexton have to be brought into line.
The all-new, fourth-generation Rexton goes quite some way to achieving this, particularly in terms of looks, interior quality and refinement. But it’s not all about revolution. In an age of monocoque SUVs, the Rexton retains its old-style body-on-frame construction. So it also retains its membership of the declining club of proper serious off-roaders, but will its on-the-road refinement suffer as a result? And with a price tag for the upper models significantly increased over predecessors, can this really still be seriously considered as a low-cost option to the likes of the Land Rover Discovery?
Buying and owning a SsangYong Rexton
Choosing a new Rexton will be quite a simple process. Mechanically they are all the same, using the same 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel of the previous generation, though with a small amount of extra power squeezed out of it. On offer is 181hp, along with 400Nm of torque, which in this heavyweight environment results in an 11.1-second 0-62mph time – adequate, if not exciting.
The engine can be combined with a six-speed manual gearbox but an attractive option is the seven-speed automatic, which is a unit sourced from Mercedes-Benz and behaves very well. And every Rexton comes with selectable all-wheel-drive – no pussy-footing front-wheel-drive only models here. The unit boasts a low-ratio mode, and with the car’s high-stance providing steep approach and departure angles, and Hill Descent Control, the Rexton can hold its own when the going gets rough.
One other major plus is the car’s towing weight – the Rexton can haul 3.5 tonnes, which will make it attractive to the likes of the equestrian community, and allows it to compete with much more upmarket rivals such as the Discovery.
Prices start from £27,500 and range across three trim levels – EX, ELX and Ultimate. Some have questioned the £37,500 price of the latter for a brand still considered a budget option, but this does pay for a lot of equipment.
One can have the entry EX level with seven seats, while it also boasts 17-inch alloy wheels, manual air conditioning, a smart audio system accessed through an eight-inch screen, power/folding door mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and wipers and cruise control.
The standard safety package is notable too – the likes of Euro NCAP will no doubt point to this budget brand offering autonomous emergency braking as standard along with forward collision and lane departure warnings, high beam assistance and traffic sign recognition.
An extra £4,500 buys the ELX – the wheels get an inch larger, and there are such niceties as leather upholstery, dual-zone and rear air-con, heated and powered front seats and keyless entry.
The central infotainment screen grows to nine inches, which is useful as it now includes TomTom navigation. There’s a digital instrument cluster and nine instead of six airbags.
Ultimates only come in five-seat form and with the seven-speed auto transmission. The £37,500 price tag also pays for such desirables as 20in alloys, high intensity headlights and LED fog lights with a cornering function, quilted nappa leather and a smart tailgate that opens or closes with a wave.
The safety package jumps too – a 3D around-view camera is included, as are lane-change assist, blind-spot detection and rear-cross traffic alert driver aids.
Outside and Inside the SsangYong Rexton
On first viewing, the new Rexton presents a much more modern image. The latest styling treatment follows the LIV-2 concept unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in September 2016, and the look is smoother throughout, which allows the car to appear far more confident alongside rivals in the car park.
It’s not quite so pleasing from the rear, as the Rexton still boasts an enormous rear overhang – this machine outstretches the Hyundai Santa Fe by some 150mm though at 4850mm in length it remains 100mm shorter than a Volvo XC90, another car SsangYong would like to steer customers away from.
The advantage of the stuck-out rear end becomes apparent once inside the car. Everywhere is spacious, front and back, and if you choose a five-seater version you get a gargantuan 820 litres – a lot more than the longer Volvo even before you think of folding the seats.
Making even more of an impression than the interior space, however, is the quality. Admittedly on the launch event we did not get to try the entry-level EX model, but the interior trim on the ELX and Ultimate versions is to a notably high standard. Evolved from the Tivoli, it features plastics that are soft touch and the chromework neatly detailed. It’s slightly too ‘blingy’ but also a world apart, in a good way, from previous Rextons.
Driving the SsangYong Rexton
Taking the Rexton onto the road we were ready to be unimpressed, due to the designers retaining that body-on-frame construction. Off-road such a build provides the robustness one needs, as well as the impressive towing ability, but it doesn’t usually translate to the predictable, higher-standard handling of more modern monocoque designs.
The Rexton maintains the trend, but it’s not as bad as one might expect. Cruising on a motorway it is composed and noticeably quiet – the designers have worked hard on cutting noise, vibration and harshness out of the car and to a great extent they have succeeded.
In corners the car is not quite so assured – the softness of the suspension can make itself felt on sharp corners with a degree of body roll, but again it’s not excessive and a whole lot better than previous versions of the car.
The diesel engine plays its part too – under acceleration it remains refined, only really producing any significant audio note when really accelerated hard. However it can’t compete with more modern, downsized units in terms of efficiency – 36mpg and plus 200g/km emissions levels are somewhat old generation in today’s market.
SsangYong has improved the Rexton to an extent that will greatly surprise those who know the brand – especially once they get in it. The car will also score highly on the level of equipment supplied, in particular the safety package – justifying the now more substantial pricing.
Whether such first impressions will lead to purchases will likely depend on the requirements of the buyer. If you are looking for an SUV for the road, with car-like handling and great efficiency, then the Rexton is not for you.
If, however, you want a strong, robust 4×4, that can tow a heavy caravan or trailer not only to the scenery but through it, but you also want rather more than the low-rent, black plastic interior that formerly was a signature element of any vehicle with versatility, then you should check out the SsangYong Rexton.