The Rexton was once viewed as a bit of a joke – but no-one’s pointing and laughing at the latest model from the Korean car maker, says Charlie Flindt
Charlie Flindt is pleased to discover that the SsangYong Rexton can no longer be considered a joke. The latest for the Korean car maker is no-nonsense, straightforward, old-school simplicity.
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When we tested the first Rexton many years ago, it was an interesting experience. As it rolled and waddled its way up the motorway to the fabulous freebie SsangYong had laid on for us, other drivers pointed and laughed. Not just because it had trouble keeping in lane; it was, frankly, hideous.
Well, to misquote Bob Monkhouse: they’re not pointing now. The latest Rexton looks relatively bland – a sign of how Korean styling has been brought more up to date, more mainstream. True, the rear quarters have too much metal and not enough glass, and the front grille is a bit of a mess, but there’s nothing (except a set of ghastly chrome wheels) to induce a double take.
The theme continues inside. It’s a lot better than it used to be but there are still taste-free zones, such as the quilted leather and terrible wood trim. But it’s comfortable and space is vast. My only interior grumble involved the small windows: the elbow was uphill from the shoulder when pottering round the farm surveying one’s acres with the glass wound down.
The really good news is that the Rexton is up to date but not that up to date. SsangYong has stuck with a separate chassis, a hi/lo box with options limited to, er, high and low. There’s no absurd menu of terrain choices featuring cacti and mountains; it’s no-nonsense, old-school simplicity.
For those who insist on flinging their SUVs round mountain bends while avoiding the prickles, this is bad news. For those of us needing to tow 3.5 tonnes to Salisbury market at sensible speeds, or looking for a bit of extra grip in the August rains, it’s just the job. No menu required. Towing the fuel bowser through sticky woods to the combine, even rear-wheel, two-wheel drive did well on those sensible choice tyres – and the chrome wheels were soon a mud-splattered memory.
Even the engine has a slightly old-fashioned feel to it: four cylinders, huge amounts of low-down grunt and a gruffness that’s easy on the ear. It propels the enormous Rexton with ease up to respectable speeds. The suspension feels a bit uneasy at medium speeds, hitting lumps and bumps with a curious springy firmness. Keeping the mud-pluggers and the bend-flingers happy is not easy.
Perhaps the only thing I miss about the old Rexton was the silence; the new one bings and bongs and plays infuriating little ditties as you get in, or stop the engine, or open the door, or just about anything. I don’t think I’ve ever shouted at a car to STFU so much. It also had a ‘lane departure warning’ that suggested Korean lanes are a lot wider that ours. No doubt a couple of hours with a tech-savvy teenager and the handbook would nail most of these but, mid-harvest, I just shouted. It was actually therapeutic.
We liked the Rexton: it’s a fantastically capable old-school beast of a four-wheel drive. My fear is that one day we’ll climb into a new model and find a cactus icon on the gearbox. Until then, we can enjoy this one.
♦ Engine: 2.2 litre 4 cylinder diesel
♦ Power: 181PS
♦ Max speed: 115mph
♦ Performance, 0 to 60: 11.9 seconds
♦ Combined fuel economy: 34mpg
♦ Insurance group: 32U
♦ Price: £38,495