The new Rexton is a big car for SsangYong, both in physical size and in the brand’s aspirations.
In South Korea, where the car is already on sale, it’s selling at 10 times the rate of the old model.
SsangYong is being cagey when it comes to predicting UK sales, but expect a big increase over the old car.
Compared with the outgoing model, the new SsangYong Rexton is more powerful, better made, more plentifully equipped and safer.
But it’s not the old car SsangYong wants the new model compared with – it has the likes of the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento firmly in its sights.
Step inside, and it feels like the Rexton has skipped a generation or two. The improvement in cabin quality is very impressive, with a solid feel and a surprisingly attractive finish.
There’s a clear and easy-to-use touchscreen infotainment system, a configurable seven-inch display between the rev counter and speedometer, and a design which doesn’t look like something another Korean brand rejected four or five years ago.
More refined than ever
SsangYong promises a big effort has gone into making the new car quieter and more sophisticated, despite the decision to stick with body-on-chassis construction rather than the monocoque of the Santa Fe and Sorento.
Start the 2.2-litre engine – a development of the existing diesel rather than an all-new engine – and it sounds more distant than before, and there’s no vibration coming through the wheel or pedals.
Pull away briskly and there’s a gruffness to the note, however. The equivalent Sorento or Škoda Kodiaq are smoother and less vocal, despite the step forward that SsangYong has made.
The cars we drove and towed with on the UK launch were all automatics. SsangYong uses a development of a seven-speed Mercedes-Benz gearbox. It changes gear smoothly, with a sport mode which changes down more readily and a manual override if you want to take charge for yourself.
The override function helps make the most of the engine, which in its new guise has 181PS (179bhp) and 310lb ft of torque.
Powerful and heavy
That means the car is a little down on power compared with its key rivals, but there’s no arguing with the pulling power, delivered from 1600rpm to 2600rpm. In solo driving, that’s enough for dogged acceleration, despite the car’s heft.
Sticking with the separate body construction contributes to the SsangYong’s 2095-2233kg kerbweight.
That’s around 160kg heavier than a Sorento, and over 340kg heavier than the equivalent Kodiaq.
Weighing in at two-tonnes plus gives the car a minimum 85% match figure of 1781kg. SsangYong quotes a legal towing limit of 3500kg, but judging by the VIN plate that drops to 3000kg when the car is fully loaded.
What tow car might does the SsangYong Rexton have?
Unusually for a press launch, there was an opportunity to tow with the Rexton.
Even more rarely, I could tow on the road rather than trying out a reversing aid in a car park.
So, how well does the Rexton tow?
It’s hard to be definitive when towing with an unladen twin-axle horsebox weighing 1400kg, but the big SsangYong handled this relatively straightforward test very well.
The car quickly pulled up to 60mph, and felt secure and stable once it got there.
However, we averaged 20mpg around a route of A-roads and motorways, at least 5mpg worse than we’d have hoped for.
A solo sensation?
In solo driving, the Rexton is much closer to its rivals than it used to be, but it doesn’t match them.
The ride is lumpy at times and sharp bumps send a shudder through the cabin, but the ride smooths out at speed and body movements are far better controlled compared with the old car’s sloppy responses.
The steering is better, too. The old car’s helm felt connected to the front wheels by elastic bands, it was so vague.
The new car’s steering is hardly the last word in precision, but it is more direct and accurate.
So, it’s competent on the road, but genuinely excellent off it.
I took the car on a testing course and was pleasantly surprised with its grip in muddy conditions, even with road tyes.
The SsangYong Rexton uses a switchable 4×4 system. It can run as a rear-wheel-drive car for better economy, or switch to high-ratio four-wheel drive at the twist of a switch, at speeds of up to 38mph.
You have to stop and put the car in neutral to select low-ratio mode, but the ability to change to lower gears for really testing conditions is one of the things which makes the Rexton so strong off-road.
Is it practical?
Yes, it’s practical as well as rough and tough.
The entry-level model (badged EX) comes with seven seats, the mid-spec ELX has a choice of five- and seven-seat configurations at the same price, and the range-topping Ultimate version has five seats.
To my mind, it’s odd that you can’t have the high-spec car with the third row, and that’s something SsangYong is already planning to change after the car has been on sale for a few months.
There’s enough room for a six-foot passenger to sit behind an equally tall driver, and there are air vents between the front seats to keep everyone at a comfortable temperature.
Access to the third row is good, although the thick rear pillars and limited headroom and legroom do make the back to the car feel rather cramped.
As you expect of SsangYong, the Rexton is very well equipped.
Splash out on the top spec and you get a 9.2-inch touchscreen satellite navigation system, Bluetooth connectivity, leather upholstery, powered adjustment for the driver’s seat, 20-inch alloy wheels and a whole lot more, including several electronic driver aids.
A tyre repair kit is standard, but a full-size spare is available as an option.
Prices start from £27,500, rising to £37,500 for the Ultimate.
That’s well north of the sort of money charged for the old car, but then the new SsangYong Rexton is a very different proposition.
As a road car it’s not as polished as a Sorento, but it’s heavier, has a higher towing limit, and I’d wager it’s better off-road.
We’ll need to tow a heavy caravan behind one to find out for sure, but the first impressions are that the Rexton marks a new high point for SsangYong.
It feels like the Rexton has skipped a generation or two