David Motton

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It’s certain got the size to match most tourers, but in the Practical Caravan review, we find out what the SsangYong Rexton W is like as a tow car

Overview

The SsangYong Rexton W is a reminder of the way big 4x4s used to be. That’s no surprise: today’s car traces its roots to the Rexton that went on sale in 2003. While most off-roaders have become lighter but costlier, the Rexton W stays true to the old formula of a big car with a small price. Practical Caravan's team has had a top-spec Rexton W EX Auto on the long-term fleet, and put the car through a full tow test.

We know the Rexton W weighs a lot and costs relatively little, but how rough and ready is it? Are driver appeal, refinement and comfort compromised for a two-tonne kerbweight and a high towing limit? Our expert test team took the SUV to the test track to find out. 

Towing

The SsangYong Rexton W’s weights and capacities make just about any caravan a safe and sensible match. The top-spec EX Auto has a kerbweight of 2128kg, which gives an 85% match figure of 1809kg. (Manual models weigh 2095kg.) The towing limit is 3000kg, although this drops to 2600kg if the car is loaded to its gross vehicle weight of 2710kg. 

Anyone who has passed a driving test since 1 January 1997 and has not taken a towing test to upgrade will struggle to find a caravan that doesn’t push the combined maximum authorised mass of car and caravan over your licence’s 3.5-tonne limit. For older drivers, the Rexton W has the heft to make a sensible match for most twin-axle tourers. 

For the Practical Caravan SsangYong Rexton W tow car review, we matched the SUV to a Sterling Elite Explorer with a mass in running order (MiRO) of 1663kg. Pulling such a big van places serious demands on the 2.0-litre diesel engine. It’s up to the job, but only just, taking 19.1 seconds to accelerate from 30-60mph. 

Pulling from 50-60mph, as you may when caught behind slower motorway traffic, takes a pedestrian nine seconds. We had to push the accelerator practically to the floor whenever we pulled away from a junction or drove up a steep hill. 

If you can live with leisurely acceleration, the gears change smoothly and the 2.0-litre diesel is much quieter than the gruff and ill-tempered engines fitted to older versions of the Rexton. 

Stability at speed is acceptable, but you must correct the steering more often than when towing with most other two-tonne cars. 

The lane-change test had the Rexton W in difficulty, though. Vague steering gave the driver little confidence, the car leaned heavily and grip was in short supply. The caravan could be felt pushing and shoving at the back. 

It’s not unusual for big 4x4s to struggle with the lane-change test, but the hill start is usually tackled with ease. However, when we put the SsangYong and caravan on a 1-in-6 slope, the handbrake had to be pulled on very firmly to stop them from rolling backwards. Once underway, the Rexton coped well enough, pulling to the top of the slope without complaint. 

In dry conditions, the SsangYong Rexton W had no trouble in two-wheel drive mode; the twist of a switch selects four-wheel drive for added traction. There’s also a low-ratio 4x4 mode for extra control when towing at low speed on muddy ground.

The brakes felt a bit soft at first, but the car slowed enough if we depressed the pedal harder. The stopping distance of 10.4m from 30mph is reasonable.

As a tow car, the Rexton W is heavy enough to be a reasonable match for most caravans and it tows acceptably in a straight line. However, it feels cumbersome in an emergency manoeuvre and could do with more power for towing a twin-axle caravan.

Everyday driving

Things have moved on a lot in the past decade. Yes, most new 4x4s are lighter than the models they have replaced and their towing limits have dropped, but today’s SUVs are also more polished to drive and more comfortable to ride in. In everyday driving, the SsangYong Rexton W falls short of the standards set by the Hyundai Santa Fe, the Kia Sorento and other rivals, argue Practical Caravan's expert tow car reviewers.

The body-on-chassis construction and rigid rear axle don’t make for a sophisticated driving experience. At speed, body control is too loose but big bumps are felt with a thump and heard with a thud. Vague steering doesn’t help, and even driven with restraint the Rexton feels cumbersome.

The straighter the road, the better the SsangYong likes it. Find a smooth stretch of motorway and the ride isn’t bad and, while performance is steady, even without a caravan, the 2.0-litre diesel’s 265lb ft of pulling power is enough for respectable acceleration. 

Provided you don’t need to work it too hard, the engine is quiet and refined, and wind and road noise are kept to acceptable levels. The gearbox (from Mercedes-Benz, no less) shifts smoothly and is rarely caught in the wrong gear, although you’ll sometimes wish that it would change down more promptly. 

If you want to change gear for yourself, use the rocker switch on the side of the gearlever or the buttons on the front of the steering wheel, which look very similar to other controls located there; paddles behind the wheel would have been better.

Around town, you never forget the size of the Rexton W, and thick rear pillars make for a poor view when reverse parking. It’s just as well that rear parking sensors are standard.

The engine and gearbox are the best aspects of the Rexton W in everyday driving. Otherwise, newer designs have left it trailing behind.

Space

There’s no denying that the SsangYong Rexton W is a lot of car for the cash, but it has rough edges, starting from the driver’s seat, concluded the Practical Caravan review. It benefits from ample head and legroom, but it’s a shame there’s no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, making it harder to fine-tune the driving position. 

Those in the middle row of this seven-seater have plenty of space and the transmission tunnel intrudes little in the footwell. When just two people occupy the row, they can lower an armrest between them from the seat back.

The third row has enough headroom but legroom is tight – there isn’t even enough space to put your feet under the seats in front. Access is easy, though, because the middle row folds and then tips forward.

With all seven seats up, the boot is tiny, even allowing for the small storage box under the boot floor. If you want space for seven and luggage, SsangYong’s Turismo MPV is a better choice. 

Once the third row has been folded, the boot is a good square shape, although the load floor is very high. With the second row folded as well, there’s a long and wide load space. Flaps on the seat backs cover the gap in the floor between the two rows.

With one or two provisos, this is a practical car.

Running costs

The strongest arguments in favour of the SsangYong Rexton W are price and value. Even in its range-topping EX trim, the Rexton W costs a modest £25,995 – that’s no more than many family hatchbacks. 

Prices start from just £21,995, which buys an SX, including climate control, 16in alloys, cruise control, electrically heated and operated door mirrors, and a CD player with iPod and Bluetooth connectivity. 

The EX has 18in alloys, leather upholstery, an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, rear parking sensors and side steps. All versions come with stability control, and front and side airbags, but not curtain bags.

However, the SsangYong Rexton W costs more to fill up than some rivals. According to the official figures, expect 36.2mpg on the combined cycle. On a recent journey towing from the Midlands to Northumberland and then London, we averaged 22.1mpg.

While it’s cheap to buy new, What Car?’s experts predict it will be very cheap used as well: expect to get back just 31% of the original purchase price after three years and 36,000 miles. The Rexton W comes with a five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty, which is reassuring if you hold on to cars for a long time.

Improved resale values and fuel economy would make the SsangYong Rexton W an even better value, but it’s well priced for all the kit.

Technical specs

Engine size1998 cc
Kerbweight2128 kg
85% KW1809 kg
Towball limit128 kg
Maximum towing limit3000 kg
Power153.0 bhp
Torque265.0 lb ft
Official MPG36.2 mpg
CO2206 g/km
30-60mph19.1 seconds
30-0mph10.4 m

Verdict

So, at the end of the Practical Caravan review, do we think that the new SsangYong Rexton W is a welcome return for the old-school four-wheel-drive SUV, or is it a warmed-over design that’s actually 10 years out of date? The truth lies somewhere between the two.

As a solo drive, the Rexton W is a long way off the pace of most modern 4x4s. It’s cumbersome and ride comfort is poor. The engine and gearbox are refined, but acceleration is steady even without a tourer in tow.

Hitch a caravan on behind the Rexton W and you need a heavy right foot to make decent progress. If anything, the caravan settles the ride somewhat, and the two-tonne kerbweight makes the SsangYong a sensible match for most tourers. 

Some steering corrections are needed at speed, but it’s nothing to be alarmed about. In the lane-change test, however, the Rexton W struggled with limited grip and lots of body roll.

As a family 4x4, the SsangYong offers plenty of space for five, with the option of squeezing in another couple of passengers from time to time – we wouldn’t want to travel in the third row too often, though. Once seats six and seven have been folded away there’s plenty of luggage space.

The Rexton W is inexpensive as well as practical. With Kia and Hyundai pushing their 4x4s upmarket, there’s space for a big, budget 4x4 and the SsangYong neatly fills that gap. However, SsangYong’s smaller four-wheel-drive, the Korando, is cheaper than its rivals but doesn’t seem built down to a price; the Rexton W feels like a budget car. 

If you need a new 4x4 for no more than £25,000, the Rexton W has its strong points. If you can live with a lower kerbweight there are better 4x4s.

Conclusion

Pros

  • The high kerbweight and towing limit make it a good match for any caravan
  • Ample head and legroom for passengers in first and second rows
  • A large, range-topping SUV for the price of a family hatchback

Cons

  • Steady but uninspriting acceleration, even when driven solo
  • Little grip, vague steering and plenty of body roll in the lane-change test
  • Fuel efficiency is not great
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