The Ed­i­tor sam­ples Korean brand Ssangy­ong’s new Rex­ton bodyon frame SUV and comes away im­pressed,

THE FIRST SSANGY­ONG I DROVE WAS A MUSSO UTE, BACK when the then dis­trib­u­tor’s idea of a road test was a cou­ple of hours.

Nat­u­rally, I re­fused his terms, in­sist­ing on at least a morn­ing-to-fol­low­ing-morn­ing chance to as­sess whether this thing was any good. Af­ter all, if you’re keen, you can log up hun­dreds of city and coun­try kilo­me­tres in a 24-hour pe­riod.

It was a weird-look­ing truck with duck­bill front end styling and sig­nif­i­cant gaps be­tween ma­jor com­po­nents like the rear of the cab and the well­side load tray. It all looked kind of dis­con­nected.

But it didn’t drive all that badly, and the Mer­cedes-de­rived en­gine was lusty; to­day that awk­ward Musso has mor­phed, through at least one also odd-look­ing de­riv­a­tive, into the well-re­garded if now a lit­tle dated, Ac­tyon.

The Ac­tyon is near­ing the end of its pro­duc­tion life and a new vari­ant is about to burst on to the world scene.

My sec­ond vivid rec­ol­lec­tion of the Ssangy­ong brand was at a Sydney mo­tor show where, in a back­wa­ter in­hab­ited mainly by mo­tor­bikes, a col­league and I came upon a ve­hi­cle such as we had never seen be­fore.

It was an oddly-styled MPV with a cabin sec­tion topped at the rear by an in­con­gru­ous an­gu­lar sec­tion which, we were told later, was in­tended to sug­gest the rear of the su­per­struc­ture of a cabin cruiser mo­tor launch. Re­ally and why?

This weird ve­hi­cle bore the moniker Stavic which led me to re­mark in typ­i­cal foot-in-mouth style: “what the good­ness is this, some­thing out of East­ern Europe?” – or words to that ef­fect.

The legacy of the Sko­das and Rus­sian Lada Ni­vas lin­gered on, you see.

Re­mem­ber the Lada Niva SUV with its usu­ally out-of-har­mony drive­shaft which made driv­ing in one at speed feel like you were in the bowl of an old ag­i­ta­tor wash­ing-ma­chine? You don’t re­mem­ber the Niva? Prob­a­bly best not to.

“Hello guys,” came a voice from the shad­ows – the Ssangy­ong dis­trib­u­tor who told us he was go­ing to bring this odd­ball ve­hi­cle to New Zealand.

Not, he said, in the 11-seat ver­sion Ssangy­ong was show­ing at Sydney but in a more Kiwi frame-friendly seven-seater.

We never drove it but by all ac­counts the Stavic was pretty good with plenty of power, good cabin space and good on-road dy­nam­ics. You just had to ig­nore the open-mouthed stares of peo­ple who saw you driv­ing it or get­ting out of it.

Which brings us in a round­about way to Ssangy­ong’s new­ly­launched Rex­ton SUV, a Ssangy­ong very dif­fer­ent from any that has gone be­fore.

It’s the fourth Ssangy­ong to wear the Rex­ton moniker – hence the G4 la­bel – and it looks, in a way, like an en­larged ver­sion of the Tivoli com­pact cross­over SUV the Korean brand launched a cou­ple of years ago.

When the Tivoli ar­rived it was her­alded as a new kind of Ssangy­ong, the first of a new breed of ve­hi­cles to wear the dou­ble dragon badge.

It was a nice enough lit­tle car, though we drove it for only a short

time on the model’s me­dia launch; but I can’t re­call there be­ing much that made me think that here was a ve­hi­cle that was go­ing to change any games.

But the G4 Rex­ton cer­tainly is; it’s one of the best ve­hi­cles that we drove in 2017, im­press­ing us in much the same way as Skoda’s Ko­diaq SUV did.

It’s a tra­di­tional-style SUV, us­ing body-on-frame con­struc­tion with the seven-seater body­work mounted on a lad­der chas­sis with side rails made of ul­tra-high-strength steel.

The Rex­ton weighs in a lit­tle over 2000kg, is diesel-pow­ered, and has quoted fuel econ­omy on the com­bined cy­cle of 8.3 litres/100km.

It has dou­ble wish­bone front sus­pen­sion, and NZ mar­ket mod­els have a solid rear axle which in­creases tow­ing ca­pac­ity by 500kg.

Safety kit is ex­ten­sive and the Rex­ton G4 has nine airbags, for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing, lane de­par­ture warn­ing, and head­light high-beam as­sist.

En­try and door-lock­ing are by smart key, and there’s push-but­ton en­gine start/stop. The park­ing brake is elec­tronic.

The Sport model we tested has high-in­ten­sity dis­charge (HID) head­lights, chrome-look 20-inch al­loy wheels (in­clud­ing the spare), LED fog­lights, and cor­ner­ing lights.

The Sport’s cabin has a classy look and at­mos­phere, and the well-shaped and sup­port­ive seats are up­hol­stered in leatherette.

Dash­board de­sign is clean and un­clut­tered, and the in­stru­ments are easy to read.

There is a 9.2 touch-screen and the ex­pected con­nec­tiv­ity fea­tures; the Rex­ton is Ap­ple Carplay and Google An­droid­com­pat­i­ble, and also has Blue­tooth phone and au­dio func­tions. The au­dio sys­tem is high-qual­ity and de­liv­ers su­perb sound.

From the driver’s seat, the Rex­ton G4 doesn’t feel big; I was think­ing in terms of mid-sized un­til by chance I parked it next to a Kia Sorento and re­alised just how big it was.

Around town the SUV is ma­noeu­vrable and easy to han­dle, of­fer­ing good vis­i­bil­ity; an ex­cel­lent cam­era sys­tem helps to make park­ing eas­ier.

Where the G4 comes into its own is on the open road – not just on mo­tor­ways and state high­ways, but on tight and wind­ing roads where a body-on-frame SUV can of­ten feel like a duck out of wa­ter.

Most of the time the Rex­ton runs in rear-wheel drive, with four­wheel drive avail­able on de­mand, and the gen­eral han­dling feel is like a well-sorted rear-drive ve­hi­cle. The thing is it felt more like a big car than an SUV.

Turn the Rex­ton into a cor­ner and it does so with alacrity and goes ex­actly where you point it.

There’s none of the wib­ble-wob­ble feel com­mon to body-on­frame SUVS when they first change di­rec­tion. And un­like most ri­vals, the Rex­ton will han­dle a road on which cor­ner fol­lows cor­ner and left fol­lows right like a well-sorted big sedan rather than a big, high-rid­ing SUV.

It never once felt un­gainly and could be flowed from cor­ner to cor­ner smoothly, never ever look­ing likely to get flus­tered.

In 90km/h-plus sweep­ing turns on our test loop, the Rex­ton was su­perb, run­ning rock-solid with body­roll com­pletely ab­sent.

In the most de­mand­ing sec­tion with slight off-cam­ber cor­ners on a nar­row road run­ning along a ridge its agility was im­pres­sive and the well-sorted han­dling gave me a great feel­ing of con­fi­dence. The steer­ing is well-weighted and ac­cu­rate and of­fers good feel. Ride qual­ity is very good and the sus­pen­sion is fir­mish but ab­sorbent at ur­ban speeds. There’s none of the body rock that is com­mon to body-on-frame SUVS in city run­ning.

Over the bumpy sec­tions of our coun­try road test loop, the Rex­ton was com­pletely com­posed and is one of the most sta­ble ve­hi­cles we’ve driven.

In the city, the turn­ing cir­cle is im­pres­sive and 360-de­gree turns around the small round­about at the end of my road were much eas­ier to make than in other SUVS of this type.

The Rex­ton tracked tightly and I never had to re­sort to bump­ing over the kerb on the out­side of the turn to get it around the ob­sta­cle. In fact, it didn’t even seem to get close to touch­ing the kerbs.

The Rex­ton has a 2.2-litre four-cylin­der tur­bod­iesel, de­liv­er­ing a strong 133kw at 4000rpm and a hefty 420Nm of peak torque that comes on stream at 1600rpm and stays there un­til 2600rpm.

It’s an ex­cel­lent en­gine, pro­vid­ing vivid ac­cel­er­a­tion and main­tain­ing cruis­ing speeds ef­fort­lessly.

It’s also an ex­tremely quiet unit, even at idle, and you’re hard­pressed to iden­tify it as a diesel. Even at full throt­tle, its sound is muted, and there’s never even a hint of diesel clat­ter.

The en­gine’s quiet­ness and re­fine­ment have one draw­back; com­bined with the gen­eral quiet­ness of the car you get vir­tu­ally no idea of how quickly the ve­hi­cle is trav­el­ling. A weather eye on the speedo is essen­tial.

The en­gine gives the Rex­ton the grunt to tow a 3.5-tonne braked trailer, which puts it right up there.

The seven-speed gear­box of­fers all but im­per­cep­ti­ble gearshifts, de­liv­ers in­stant kick­down, and is well-matched to the en­gine, pro­vid­ing seam­less ac­cel­er­a­tion as it trav­els smoothly up the ra­tios.

Brak­ing per­for­mance from the four-wheel discs is very good, with no signs of fade or soft­en­ing of the pedal even in hard use.

On the road, the G4 is im­pres­sively-quiet. Even run­ning at 100km/h on chip-sealed coun­try roads, it isn’t ex­actly “chip seal, what chip seal?” but the noise level is muted and no louder than some ri­vals’ on smooth-sur­faced roads.

If we were in the mar­ket for a big SUV, we’d cer­tainly con­sider the G4 Rex­ton, even against ve­hi­cles with uni­tary bod­ies.

And at a start­ing price of $59,990 for the Sport it’s very good buy­ing. For an ex­tra $8000 you could move up to the SPR with its quilted up­hol­stery and door and dash­board trim, and an au­to­matic tail­gate that raises it­self if you stand be­hind it with the smart key in your pocket.

But we pre­ferred the Sport’s more un­der­stated trim and we could do with­out the pres­ence-ac­ti­vated tail­gate and the as­sorted gew­gaws that dif­fer­en­ti­ate the SPR from its sib­ling.

Prej­u­dice may be the Rex­ton’s only real hand­i­cap. The thing that may hold back sales is sim­ply the Ssangy­ong name and its as­so­ci­a­tion with bud­get-priced and – well in the past – of­ten some­what crude ve­hi­cles.

If this body-on-frame SUV wore a Ford or Toy­ota badge, it would sell like hot­cakes, even though it would cer­tainly then cost a great deal more.

It’s one im­pres­sive tra­di­tional-style SUV, and at a price that un­der­cuts the op­po­si­tion, the Rex­ton is truly a value-priced propo­si­tion.

Get over the name and get into the driver’s seat – this is one of the best SUVS money can buy, well-equipped, sur­pris­ingly re­fined and with a ride han­dling, and power com­bi­na­tion that few can match.

And along­side that comes very real off-road abil­ity and Ssangy­ong’s good rep­u­ta­tion for re­li­a­bil­ity, un­der­pinned by Ssangy­ong New Zealand’s five years/150,000km fully-trans­fer­able war­ranty.

Main: New G4 Rex­ton goes as well as it looks. Fac­ing page: New Rex­ton takes Ssangy­ong brand to a new level (left). Re­ston han­dles and rides ex­tremely well, feels like well-sorted sedan rather than a body-on-frame SUV (right).

Styling builds on the thick C-pil­lar theme in­tro­duced by the Ssangy­ong Tivoli com­pact SUV cross­over.

Above left: Dash­board lay­out is con­tem­po­rary and tidy. Car’s me­chan­i­cal quiet­ness means driver needs to keep a weather eye on the speedo. Above right: To our eyes, Rex­ton doesn’t suit white as well as it does darker paint schemes. The white seems to over-em­pha­sise the sculpted whee­larches. This is top-of-the-line SPR.

Above left: SPR’S tail­gate lifts hands-free if the driver stands be­hind it with the smart key in pocket. Above right: Range-top­ping SPR uses quilted ef­fect on door in­ners, dash­board and seats.

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