After about a week looking after SsangYong’s “full-size” SUV, the Rexton, I now know what it must be like to be a muthi. Forgive me if I’m patronising you, but a muthi is the name given to one of the chaps who sits atop a tame elephant, a sort of pachydermal jockey. (SsangYong, by the way, is Korean for double dragon, and has nothing to do with elephants.) In a Rexton, an automotive big beast, like on an elephant you’re also high up; you rock around quite a bit as the monster navigates awkward terrain, and indeed even when it’s on the level.
The steering is a bit vague, there’s a fair bit of pollution out of the back end, but you feel as through you can conquer the world, like Hannibal (the Great, not Lecter). What you can’t go over in this motor, you can go through, with switchable two- or four-wheel drive, with high- and low-gear settings, locking central differential, and hill descent controls – so lots of control. I’ve been off road in one and it’s extremely capable. And, punchline alert, the Rexton also has an impressive boot, even with seven, yes seven, adult humans on board. It’s like the elephant house at London Zoo in there. It’ll pull like a bull elephant in must too, all of 3.5 tonnes on the tow bar, right at the top end of its class. Mighty.
I’ll go on, seeing as I’m making such fine progress. The Rexton also has a good memory, so, for example, the satnav will store your favourite addresses and radio stations, and the way you like your seats set up.
The SsangYongRexton is also a fairly simple beast. It’s got a rigid separate ladder-type chassis, which is a rather old-fashioned construction these days, usually found on pick-up trucks. It means that the car is that bit more rugged – the classic Land Rover was made this way – and it’s also cheap to build. Actually, the Rexton is a sort of posher version of the SsangYong Musso pick-up – sharing much of the bodywork and mechanicals, but a touch more civilised and with a trendy giant grille on the front. The design has been around for a few years but the Rexton has had a bit of a freshen up, with new bumpers, LCD lights and a smoother 8-speed automatic gearbox mated to a fairly unsophisticated 2.2 litre diesel engine that delivers most of its relatively modest power at low speeds, ideal for off-roading.
It boasts touches such as Nappa leather seats, nice new digital displays, excellent connectivity, powered tailgate, and heated seats and steering wheel in the higher trim Ultimate version. It’s still a bit crude and noisy, so they’ve plugged the microphone at the front into the speakers at the back, so you can have half a conversation with your companions in the back two roads of seats. It’s no style icon like a Land Rover Discovery, but it’ll work just as well.
Performance is also elephantine – it’ll put a surprising bit of pace on if you push it hard, but it’s happier at walking pace. I’ve made it sound like a nightmare to drive, but it’s actually a lot of fun once you get used to its roly-poly character. It’s not a sports car, and doesn’t really pretend to be; it’s very good at what it does, ie lugging folk and gear, and that’s what counts.
As always with this still unfamiliar South Korean brand (now owned by the Indian Mahindra and Mahindra group, and which has been in the UK since 1994), it’s about value, so you basically get something the size of Balmoral on wheels for about £40,000. I’m not sure, given everything, it’s that much better a buy than the more refined Nissan X-Trail, Seat Tarraco or Skoda Kodiaq, say, even if they just don’t have the absolute space. The Rexton is also closer in concept to the cheaper Mitsubishi Shogun Sport (albeit that make is sadly withdrawing from the UK). But for sheer size and pulling power, the Rexton has few real rivals. One small drawback with it being so cavernous and a diesel is that it takes a while to heat up the cabin.
The elephant in the room for SsangYong was always depreciation but that’s improved for the make in recent times. Even so, you should still be prepared for reticent buyers wondering what on earth it is. They should probably call it the SsangYong Elephant. More memorable.