REXTON ROAD TEST
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.