Back again, like Sylvester Stallone churning out another ill-advised boxing movie, it’s South Korea’s own square-jawed bruiser: the SsangYong Rexton W. After a nine-month sales hiatus in 2014 owing to the absence of an EU5 emissions-compliant engine, the seven-seat SUV has retuned.
Facelifted lights and grilles sharpen the looks, it uses a new in-house engine, and still purports to offer all the utility of a Toyota Land Cruiser and the space of a Mercedes GL, for not much more than twenty grand.
The Rexton W is a quintessential ‘lot of car for the money’ definition. But does cheap also equal cheerful?
How much SsangYong Rexton W do I get for my money in 2014?
The range starts at £21,995 (which gets you seven seats, all-wheel drive with locking differentials, and 265lb ft of grunt from the new 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine). If you need to conquer the Outback on a shoestring, this is one hell of a candidate.
And what about this posher-looking test car?
We’ve tested the range-topping Rexton W EX, which costs a hardly extortionate £25,995. For less than the cost of a diesel-fuelled VW Golf DSG, you’ll find yourself perched in a fully-fledged off-roader with an automatic gearbox, electrically adjustable leather seats, keyless entry, parking sensors, 18in wheels, and cruise control. The sheer amount of metal makes it a bargain – the extra kit of the EX verges on philanthropic.
Is it a case of quantity of equipment over quality?
Rather, yes. Though the fake wood-festooned cabin is solidly finished, it’s very dated in design, betraying the architecture’s decade-old origins. It’s all very well having climate control, but the LCD can’t be read in daylight – as seen in these official SsangYong press pictures. Same goes for the top row of shiny buttons across the centre console, rendered invisible by sunlight and streetlight alike. Not a single item of switchgear (save for the infernal cruise control toggle) is shared between the Rexton W and its newer stablemate, the Korando, so there’s no sense of uniformity inside.
Those are minor niggles. More serious is the cramped cockpit. Drivers are desperately short of shoulder and elbow room in the Rexton W. Instead, the gigantic steering wheel occupies most of the space up front. The sense of claustrophobia isn’t helped by the heavily tinted windows: great for a presidential cavalcade, but a liability when you’re manoeuvring this 4.7m-long, 1.9m-wide truck.
What’s the Rexton W like on the road?
Far from brilliant. Once you’ve heaved the stiff auto ’box lever into drive and set off, the first thing you’ll notice is the ropey ride quality. Rap video-spec wheels aren’t to blame: despite 18in alloys, SsangYong has equipped the Rexton W with chunky, tall sidewall rubber. It doesn’t paper over the cracks, in the road, or the chassis set-up.
The Rexton W fidgets and crashes over country lane ripples, and makes a five-course meal out of the larger potholes and traffic calming devices that conspire against everyday driving in the UK, before going back for seconds. The whole car is jarred by road imperfections – and unsettled if they’re encountered while the Rexton W is preoccupied with surviving a bend in the road. Want an impression of the Rexton W’s ride quality in three words? Crash, bang, wallop.
Meanwhile, the steering is so vague, you could be forgiven for thinking SsangYong has had a crack at an Infiniti-style drive-by-wire set-up, and elected to equip the rack with the processor from a Commodore 64. Its comfort zone is off-road and the Rexton W makes no attempt to disguise that.
Is the drivetrain as agricultural?
The old Rexton W used an elderly Mercedes package for motive power – now SsangYong has its own in-house 2.0-litre diesel. Accordingly, the the brand’s people say ‘the only hangover from Mercedes these days is the gearbox’. Excellent choice of metaphor, sir – the transmission remains a headache.
Don’t go looking for the eight speeds of a new BMW X5 here, or the seven ratios offered in Mercedes’ GL-class. The Rexton W has only five gears to choose between – and still manages to get caught out.
It’s only okay on the way down the ladder, as you shed hard-won momentum. On the way back up, the changes aren’t as crisp as a modern autos, and it’s caught napping in give-and-take traffic, before wildly overreacting. There’s no kick-down button at the end of the throttle pedal’s travel either, so it can be tricky to judge just how much gas to apply before the gearbox attempts launch control.
SsangYong knows it’s probably unlikely to attract buyers simply seeking a luxury 4×4 for the price of well-stocked supermini. The brand contests that the Rexton fills the hole left by the Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe, which have grown up considerably in the past two model generations, graduating a whole price point, and shunned maximum off-road and towing ability in the search for more car-like efficiency.
Yes, the Rexton W’s official figures look silly by inflated contemporary standards (36.2mpg and 206g/km). But, it’ll tow up to three tonnes, likes muck more than the proverbial pig, and comes with a five-year, unlimited mileage warranty.
SsangYong expects to punt only 300 Rexton Ws to UK buyers during 2014. They’ll be bought by its landowning customer faithful, not the school run set. It’s one for those saddened by the increasingly politically correct metamorphosis of the modern SUV.
The Rexton is like an old Mitsubishi Shogun, Nissan Patrol or Toyota Land Cruiser – unashamedly no-nonsense. However, it’s also no-comfort and little-refinement, and we can’t recommend this dated machine as anything more than a very niche choice for die-hard 4×4 bargain-hunters.