The new SsangYong Rexton proves a pleasant surprise for Mark Stone.

‘ALWAYS the bridesmaid, never the bride’ could have been penned for SsangYong’s Rexton. The large SUV was always more than capable, built (as a true 4x4 should be) on a separate chassis, with room for five and plenty of cargo, decent towing abilities. It was not at all bad off road and was decent value for money. But when it came to the looks department, it was never quite right. Big, dull and stodgy, its only claims to fame were being powered by a Mercedes-Benz drivetrain, the fact caravan owners loved it and that it came with a seven-year warranty.

However, like its close cousin the Musso double-cab pickup, all that has changed, and quite noticeably. The new styling is European with a hint of North American. 20-inch alloys with 255/50 rubber are shrouded by pronounced arches, defined creases and a high waistline defining the Rexton’s side view. From the front, a deep chrome bar outlines the grille, lower spoiler and skidplate, large LED lights filling in the gaps, with the remarkably vast rear tailgate and underbody protection receiving similar attention.

Forestry Journal: The new, stylish Rexton is visual proof that SsangYong now knows what European and British buyers want.The new, stylish Rexton is visual proof that SsangYong now knows what European and British buyers want.

Sat on double wishbone suspension at the front and 10-link independent at the rear, while the new Rexton is no shrinking violet physically, off road it is more than capable. With approach, departure and ramp-over angles of 20°, 22° and 20°, the Rexton sits more than high enough to be able to take on hostile terrain with the same degree of alacrity as its predecessor, although to date SsangYong don’t actually quote a wading depth.

Forestry Journal: Spacious and comfortable, the new Rexton offers buyers a large 4x4 SUV at a sensible price.Spacious and comfortable, the new Rexton offers buyers a large 4x4 SUV at a sensible price.

Well specified and nicely appointed, SsangYong makes no secret of the fact the trim is faux leather. That said, until it’s pointed out to you, you’d be forgiven for concluding the large, welcoming, climatically controlled and eight-way-adjustable seating and quilted inlays were sourced from decent hides. Elsewhere, black and wood-grain inserts and textured soft-touch surfaces take care of the rest of the interior, the thick contoured, heated steering wheel nicely filling the hands. Clear and information-rich instrumentation is complimented by a 9.2” central screen complete with TomTom sat-nav, DAB radio, rear-view cameras and every known form of connectivity and file play formats. And for those in need, you can occupy yourself trying to work out just how many USB ports the Rexton actually has (more of them seem to appear the more you look).

Forestry Journal: In Ultimate spec the Rexton rides on 20" alloys.In Ultimate spec the Rexton rides on 20" alloys.

With more than sufficient room for five adults, cargo space is commodious: 820 litres with the 60:40 split rear seats in use, 1,806 litres with the seats folded and the twin-floor luggage bed at its lowest position. Add in the 3,500 kg towing max and the Rexton’s practicality switches from decent luxury motoring to full commercial capability – something few others have been able to so efficiently combine.

Motive power is still courtesy of Mercedes-Benz, the Euro VI 2.2-litre turbo diesel mated to a 7-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, although a 6-speed manual option is available. Delivering 181 bhp and 400 Nm of torque, power is adequate but a little more would be advantageous. Hitting 60 mph in 11.9 seconds and onwards to a top speed of 115 mph, overall economy is more than acceptable – an average of 29 mpg over 400 mixed miles with just short of 470 miles per 70-litre tank of diesel.

Forestry Journal: Logical layout makes the Rexton very easy to live with.Logical layout makes the Rexton very easy to live with.

Behind the wheel, the Rexton, while sizeable, is undemanding to drive. With just over three turns lock-to-lock, the hydraulically assisted power steering is smooth and well weighted, the commanding driving position offering a clear all-round, uninterrupted view while all controls fall sensibly and easily to hand. In the main, the on-road ride quality is reasonably smooth, but anything other than smooth surfaces can cause the suspension to crash somewhat. Off road, it keeps the vehicle well anchored to whatever landscape it is crossing, but given the Rexton will spend the majority of its time on road, it does become noticeable over extended periods of time.

What’s also worth mentioning is the SsangYong’s propensity to drop into or hold lower gears when a higher ratio would be more appropriate. Easily overcome by shifting into sequential using the small rocker switch on the side of the shift, this allows for manual selection, one of the most notable effects being an improvement in fuel efficiency and a useful drop in revs. And like all auto-shift 4x4s, the sequential also proves its worth when towing and crossing more demanding off-road surfaces.

Forestry Journal: You’ll be hard pressed to know the seating and interior are faux-leather lined.You’ll be hard pressed to know the seating and interior are faux-leather lined.

By and large, SsangYong’s new Rexton is a major improvement over the earlier model in every respect. To look at, to drive and generally live with, the latest model easily fulfils every task asked of it, be it load lugging, daily transportation or heading off road. It asks little of its driver while providing all the latest conveniences along with a plethora of warning systems, radars and driver aids more usually found on far more expensive equivalents. With the new Rexton, SsangYong has got it right at last.

All powered by the same engine, it’s only the specification and transmission that differs. The entry level EX is all yours for £25,131 climbing to £38,995 for the Ultimate specification model seen here. My advice, though, would be to lease, especially since this is a new vehicle to the market. This would allow you to take full advantage of any launch offers and offset depreciation while still benefitting from SsangYong’s comprehensive seven-year warranty over a three- or four-year contract.

And if you’ve never considered one of SsangYong’s Rexton models, go and take a look. You’re more than likely to be pleasantly surprised.

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