SsangYong Rexton: Pulling power
Tough, practical and surprisingly plush, the SsangYong Rexton overs unbeatable pulling power for the money
YOU don't 'get' into a SsangYong Rexton in the way you might 'get' into a Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Golf or even an SUV like the Hyundai Tucson, writes William Scholes.
Instead, you climb aboard, much as a child might scale their way into a tree house.
The Rexton is a very large vehicle, one that doesn't look undernourished next to even something as massive as the latest Land Rover Discovery or Audi Q7. Passenger cars don't get much bigger.
By the time you try one of SsangYong's new Rexton models, you shouldn't encounter the same problem that I did.
Because I had forgotten that the Rexton at my disposal was left-hand-drive - fresh from its home market of Korea - I found myself in the passenger seat after completing the ascent procedure.
After getting out of the big SsangYong with as much nonchalance as I could muster - why, don't you also get into the passenger seat first when about to drive a left-hand-drive car? - and installing myself behind the steering wheel, I was better placed to take in the Rexton's swanky new interior.
'Swanky' is not necessarily the first word one would associate with SsangYong.
'Tough', 'utilitarian' and 'no-nonsense' perhaps, but 'swanky'...? Yet here we have a SsangYong with properly comfortable seats, trimmed in soft nappa quilted leather, just like you might find on a posher Audi or - if you squint - a Bentley Bentayga.
OK, the Bentley comparison is a bit of a stretch - the Bentayga is one of the few cars that is decisively larger than the Rexton, for a start - but the SsangYong's seats can also be specified to both heat and cool their occupants and adjust electrically every-which-way.
A heated steering wheel, 3D surround-view monitoring, 20-inch alloys and ambient night lighting can also be yours.
Safety kit includes autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, high beam assist, traffic sign recognition, as well as - deep breath - an emergency stop signal, lane change assist, blind spot alert and rear cross-traffic alert.
As you may know, many of these safety aids emit a beep or bong and illuminate a light on the dashboard when they are working.
'Swanky' is not necessarily the first word one would associate with SsangYong. 'Tough', 'utilitarian' and 'no-nonsense' perhaps, but 'swanky'...? Yet here we have a SsangYong with properly comfortable seats, trimmed in soft nappa quilted leather, just like you might find on a posher Audi or - if you squint - a Bentley Bentayga
The combination of the steering wheel being on the 'wrong' side, Korean script on the dashboard menus and some possible misapplication of certain buttons meant that my Rexton beeped and bonged with remarkable persistence.
It felt a little like being stuck inside a 1980s computer game, until I worked out how to calm it all down.
The sound effects should be less of a problem on proper UK specification cars, and in any case you will be able to turn them off or change their tone - SsangYong says you can change the sound of the indicators from the old-school tick-tock to that of a cricket. Yes, a cricket.
Optional sound effects aside, the interior is a vast improvement on the previous Rexton.
Sure, it's no Audi Q7 but then it costs considerably less. Even the top-of-the-range Rexton, modestly branded the 'Ultimate', costs £37,500; that's £20,000 to £30,000 less than a Q7 or Land Rover Discovery.
You would be right in saying, however, that the Rexton isn't really a direct competitor for those more sybaritic machines.
Instead, it rather treads its own path. And not just on price.
It's built rather differently, too. The SsangYong has a ladder chassis to which its large bodyshell is attached via rubber mounts, whereas the Audi and its ilk are monocoque constructions.
Among other things, that allows them to drive more like cars; in the SsangYong you sacrifice that in exchange for peerless towing and rough road ability.
The Rexton can tow 3.5 tonnes. A Discovery can still do that, but how many owners are really going to drag their £60k Land Rover through the muck with a cattle trailer on the tow bar?
A Mitsubishi Shogun or Toyota Land Cruiser are probably closer in spirit to the Rexton when it comes to rough 'n' tough hauling, but they are also pricier. Nor do they fulfil seven-seat duties quite as well as the Rexton.
SsangYong is Korea's third largest car manufacturer, behind Hyundai and Kia. Both those companies have products that the prospective Rexton buyer might consider, with, respectively, the Santa Fe and Sorento.
Both are handsome, family-friendly SUVs which can be had with seven seats, though without the SsangYong's obvious towing and serious off-road credentials.
It all goes to show that the Rexton occupies something of a niche. Similarly-sized 4x4s have got posher, more expensive and moved away from their utilitarian roots; cars around the same price point - Rexton prices start at £27,500 - are neither as spacious or strong as the SsangYong.
As Land Rover, BMW, Audi and so on shamelessly chase the 'sportier' end of the Sports Utility Vehicle market, the Rexton is less SUV, more genuine 4x4.
Rivals might all be more car-like to drive in terms of their on-road manners and refinement, with the ladder frame chassis becoming a rarity among passenger cars, though none has quite the uncompromising pulling ability of the Rexton.
A single engine and two gearboxes - a six-speed manual or seven-speed Mercedes-Benz automatic - are offered.
The engine, also Mercedes-Benz derived, is a 2.2-litre diesel unit with 179bhp and 310lb.ft of torque available from 1,600rpm.
The most economical version can achieve 36.2mpg on the combined cycle, with CO2 emissions of 204g/km.
The four-wheel-drive system has a low-range facility to split torque equally between the front and rear axles.
The Rexton can also be driven as either rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive at higher speeds. There is also hill start assist and hill descent control.
Instead, it's a no-nonsense, spacious and well-appointed seven-seat workhorse which can shrug off loads that will make other 4x4s wilt and tackle rough tracks that a more car-like SUV would be afraid of
Put all that together, and performance can hardly be described as brisk. Top speed is quoted as 115mph, and the least-slow version can crack the 0-60mph sprint in a leisurely 11.3 seconds.
The Rexton obviously isn't a car to punt along the road with the vigour of a hot hatch.
Take an easy, laidback approach and it is a pleasant enough companion. Its size and height mean you have a view of the road that is nothing short of commanding.
Things become less composed when rougher surfaces, speed changes and tighter bends are involved.
This, it has to be said, is not unexpected. You don't buy a vehicle like the SsangYong Rexton to carve through fast bends or demolish your favourite B road.
Instead, it's a no-nonsense, spacious and well-appointed seven-seat workhorse which can shrug off loads that will make other 4x4s wilt and tackle rough tracks that a more car-like SUV would be afraid of.
And how many other cars have a five-year, unlimited mileage warranty?
With practice, even getting in and out isn't as daunting as it is the first time you climb aboard.
Balance its range of attributes against the bargain price tag, and the SsangYong Rexton is unbeatable - for the simple reason that it has no new rivals.
AT A GLANCE
SsangYong Rexton ELX Auto seven-seat
Engine and transmission: 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel turbo, seven-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel-drive; 179bhp, 310lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 115mph, 0-60mph in 11.9 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 34.0mpg (EU combined), 218g/km
Car tax: £1,200 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 37 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Not yet tested