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James Batchelor checks out SsangYong’s SUV range topper – and is taken by its hard-working attributes
South Korean carmaker SsangYong’s reputation is growing all the time. Its Musso truck is up there with the best pick-ups on the market, thanks to its impressive towing capabilities and plush interior (it won a category in the Caravan and Motorhome Club’s Towcar of the Year Awards 2022), and its other models undercut the competition on price but not equipment.
The Rexton, the firm’s largest SUV and a caravan owner’s favourite has recently received a new range-topping model to add a little luxury to proceedings. We were keen to try out the new version.
Plush leather interior
Perhaps ‘SUV’ is the wrong way to describe the SsangYong Rexton, as that term is given to seemingly every slightly high-riding car these days, regardless of their off-road ability. Often SUVs have a slightly sporty character, too. The SsangYong Rexton, however, is far from being a sporting proposition, and represents a type of car that is surprisingly rare on the UK market – it’s a proper 4x4.
Under the imposing body lies a very traditional ladder-frame chassis, and the car’s eight-speed gearbox has low-range gearing – the latter being something few fashion-conscious rival SUVs in the family sector feature.
SsangYong has tried to add a little pomp with this new Ultimate Plus version. The current Rexton has been around since 2017 and a heavy facelift in 2021 gave it more kerb appeal, including an Audi-like large grille. Ultimate Plus models, introduced in late 2022, add even more bling and a smattering of luxurious touches including quilted nappa leather seats, a 360º camera (that impressively offers similar all-round views to those you get on a Range Rover) and a set of distinctive, 20-inch chrome alloy wheels.
Rivals might have flashier, more modern-looking interiors, but there’s little wrong with the quality and level of technology on board the Rexton. The design is simple, yes, and aside from a few plastics at the very lower regions of the cabin, everything is well screwed together. The large exterior dimensions equal roominess inside, too, with loads of space for six-footers up front and space for three (just) across the middle row thanks to a flat floor.
The Rexton is a seven-seater, and while backseat passengers will have more room in the likes of a Land Rover Discovery, there’s room enough for children or teenagers. With the rear seats in place, there’s space for a decent amount of shopping, but caravan owners, if they’re not carrying seven, might do better to lower them – do this and the boot is cavernous.
All Rextons get electrically adjustable front seats that are also heated, and ventilated, heated rear seats, keyless entry, a touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, parking sensors and cruise control. Prices kick off at £38,745 for the entry-level Ventura model, while this Ultimate Plus tops the range at £45,950.
The Rexton is an old-school kind of off-roader and uses a body-on-frame construction with a chassis. Consequently, it cannot offer the same levels of on-road comfort and refinement most SUV buyers have become used to.
Every ripple or pimple in the road is translated into the cabin, while potholes and motorway expansion joints can make the Rexton judder and bounce along; supple it isn’t. The ride is firm on Ventura and Ultimate cars fitted with 18in wheels, while our car’s 20-inchers added a further harshness.
The same goes for the handling. It’s a large machine with a gross vehicle weight of 2,950kg, which translates into body control that rolls through the bends. But the Rexton requires a different driving style from some rivals; take things at a steadier pace, work with the body roll and it’s fine. In many ways the Rexton drives and handles like Mitsubishi’s old Shogun Sport – unsurprisingly that was another ladder-framed off-roader.
One of the surprises is the engine. It’s a 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel with 197bhp mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. SsangYong claims a 0-62mph acceleration time of a leisurely 10.7 seconds, but it certainly doesn’t feel that slow. There’s a decent slug of torque in the mid-range which makes the Rexton feel perkier than you might think. For the most part there’s just a distant hum in the background as the engine gets on with the job. The only negatives are when you floor the throttle and that hum turns into a clatter, and fuel economy and CO₂ emissions could be better – we managed 31mpg solo and emissions are a high 235-237g/km depending on trim level.
Where the Rexton really excels is off-road, though. That body-on-frame construction gives the car rigidity, while the switchable four-wheel drive system, low-range gearbox and hill descent control make it laugh in the face of more stylish SUVs that might baulk at the first patch of camping site mud. Fit decent tyres and we’d bet the Rexton would match the best from Land Rover and Toyota.
The Rexton’s trump card is how much it can tow. It has a maximum towing capacity of 3,500kg, meaning it can probably take on just about any kind of trailer or caravan you can imagine safely; we hitched up to a large twin-axle Bailey Unicorn Cartagena with a MRO of 1,566kg.
The Rexton accelerates cleanly and quickly in its default ‘eco’ mode, while ‘power’ hangs on to gears for a touch longer, and the eight-speed gearbox shifts smoothly. The gearbox has a manual override option with changes selected by paddles behind the steering wheel, but it felt happiest on its automatic setting.
On twisty roads the Rexton changes quickly with hefty precision, and even steep hills are no bother. Rear-wheel drive is the default driving mode, but a quick flick of a knob on the centre console switches the car to four-wheel drive high for slightly more slippery surfaces.
On the motorway the Rexton, for the most part, is unflustered, but strong crosswinds unsettled the car very slightly on our test route. A towing mpg figure of 21 was better than we expected. SsangYong offers the choice of a fixed towbar for £398 or a removable one for £578. Unfortunately the addition of a towbar means the Rexton can’t carry a spare tyre but relies on an inflation kit instead. A space saver can be ordered as an option that sits in a bag in the boot.
The Rexton certainly doesn’t baulk at hard work. What it lacks in refinement it more than makes up for in rugged ability. It’s well equipped, good value for money and outstanding off-road. It’s easy to see why it’s a caravan owner’s favourite.