Left Field

THE SSANGYONG REXTON STANDS OUT IN THIS COMPANY IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE…

SSANGYONG REXTON

THE Rexton is one of several models introduced into Australia by a born-again SsangYong, but it shares little with the Rexton that was sold here from 2003 to 2012 and elsewhere up to 2017 before being replaced by the all-new model you see here. This new Rexton comes off the back of investment in SsangYong by Mahindra, who has owned SsangYong 2011. This new model will be also rebadged as Mahindra Alturas G4 for the Indian market.

Like the other three vehicles here it is built off a separate chassis (it shares a platform with SsangYong’s Musso ute) but unusually features coil-sprung independent suspension at the rear rather than a coil-sprung live axle you’ll find beneath all the other vehicles in this class, including the other three here.

The Rexton also shares the Musso’s 2.2-litre diesel but in a slightly higher state of tune, swaps the Musso’s six-speed automatic for a seven-speed auto, and retains the Musso’s dual-range part-time 4x4 system. What we have here is topspec Ultimate, which sells for $52,990 driveaway despite lavish standard equipment. That means a good deal less money for a vehicle that’s better equipped than the others here.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

THE Rexton’s 133kW/420Nm 2.2-litre diesel is the smallest here but makes more power - on paper at least - than the biggest engine here, the MU-X’s 3.0-litre. It does this without the benefit of multiple turbos as it’s a single-turbo design.

THE REXTON’S ENGINE IS A CLEAR WINNER IN THIS COMPANY FOR REFINEMENT

Its 420Nm figure is also good for the engine capacity and is available from just 1400rpm. By comparison, the next smallest engine here, the 2.4 on the Pajero Sport, makes just 10Nm more but needs another 1100rpm to do so.

On the road the Rexton’s ‘little’ engine lives up to this on-paper promise and overcomes the burden of powering the heaviest vehicle here to produce performance that’s competitive with the MU-X and the Pajero Sport. It’s still outdone by the Trailblazer, but so too are the two others.

The Rexton’s engine is a clear winner in this company for refinement. It’s quieter and smoother than either the MU-X or the Trailblazer engines and even betters the reasonably refined Pajero Sport engine. Very good economy, too - the best on test, even if there wasn’t much between it and the MU-X.

WHAT’S IN A NAME

THE SsangYong name dates back to 1986, but SsangYong’s beginnings are in 1954. A merger of two smaller companies, it built trucks, buses, and military Jeeps under licence for the US Army during the 1960s. With production expanding to firefighting equipment and specialist vehicles, the company was named Dong-A Motor in 1977 and acquired Keowha, which had been making Jeep CJ look-a-likes (the Korando) under licence. The financial takeover by SsangYong Business Group in 1986 brought the current name and since then SsangYong has been acquired by Daewoo in 1977 (before it went bust) and then in 2004 by Chinese carmaker SAIC who sold it to India’s Mahindra in 2011, where it has since flourished.

The seven-speed auto, a Mercedes-Benz design, is also an impressively smooth and slick-shifting gearbox that’s as good if not better than any here in terms of shift quality. Not so good is the ‘manual shift’ via the fiddly flick-switch on the side lever.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING

YOU’D expect the Rexton to ride and handle differently to the three live-axle vehicles here given its independent rear suspension (IRS), and it does. On paper the IRS gives a significant advantage over a live-axle design, and on most roads at modest speeds the Rexton feels more composed and compliant than the others here, thanks not only to its IRS but also the fact its more softly sprung and dampened.

Not so good is the sharp edge to the ride on some surfaces due to the 20-inch wheels and low-profile tyres fitted to this top-spec Ultimate. We have previously tested an ELX model (2019 4x4OTY) and found it rode much better on the 18s with their taller tyres.

Push the Rexton harder on bumpier roads and the soft springing and dampening sees handling start to unravel, while the very light steering lacks precision and feel at higher speeds on poor roads.

OFF ROAD

THE Rexton’s independent rear suspension, which is a theoretical advantage on-road, is also an off-road negative. Add in the fact there’s not much travel at either end and that electronic traction control isn’t notably effective, and the Rexton works harder than the other vehicles on more difficult off-road tracks. Further compounding the Rexton’s off-road limitations is that it has the least ground clearance and the poorest over-bonnet visibility of the four. The all-or-nothing throttle calibration in low range can also be a problem.

The Rexton is the only vehicle here that doesn’t draw its engine intake air from the inner mudguard (not so good for deeper water crossings) and the only one without fixed recovery points; although, it does have a screw-in towing eye that can be mounted front or rear. While it goes without saying, the Ultimate’s 20s aren’t what you want off-road.

CABIN, ACCOMMODATION AND SAFETY

THE Rexton has the biggest cabin here and a roomy and comfortable driving position, which is arguably the best here too thanks in part to its tilt and reach steering wheel adjustment.

The cabin looks to come from a much more expensive vehicle, with features such as heated and cooled front seats and heated second-row seats. It’s definitely the most lavishly equipped here, and the general fit and finish is also good even if the presentation is busy.

The Rexton has the roomiest rear seat with plenty of room for tall adults sitting behind a tall driver or front-seat passenger. There’s less joy in the third row, which lacks leg and foot room.

The Rexton hasn’t been ANCAP tested at this stage but has received a five-star rating in the equivalent Korean crash testing. All models get autonomous braking, tyre pressure monitoring, lane-departure, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert, which puts it at the front of the pack in terms of safety kit.

PRACTICALITIES

THE Rexton has a 70-litre tank, more than the MU-X or Pajero Sport but less than the Trailblazer. However, with the consumption recorded on this test, it has the longest fuel range.

The Rexton is rated to tow 3000kg, which is on par with the others, but its smaller engine and IRS may work against it when asked to tow that much. It also has the highest GVM, which helps give it the best on-paper payload of 727kg.

The standard 18-inch wheels carry a 255/60 tyre, but moving to a one-size-bigger 265/60s would open up a wide choice in all-terrain rubber in this common (Hilux, Prado, Ranger, etc.) size.

WHAT YOU GET

THE Rexton comes in three models but only two are diesel 4x4s, the third model being an entry-level petrol 4x2 ‘EX’ model. Both diesel models, starting with the ELX, come with autonomous braking, no fewer than nine airbags, heated and cooled seats, front seats with electric adjust, heated rear seats, third-row seats, tyre pressure monitoring, lane-departure, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert, an eight-inch touchscreen and smartphone connectivity. The Ultimate than swaps the ELX’s 18s for 20s and adds a sunroof, power tailgate, rear A/C controls, a 360-degree camera and HID headlights.