Larger families who need real offroad capability, but are on a budget, have limited options when it comes to seven-seaters. The Ssangyong Rexton is at the affordable end of the spectrum, offering on the one hand strong value for money but also a few oversights.
This 4x4 is one of the largest in the crowded medium SUV segment; not among the many soft-roader options, because the Rexton is a genuinely capable off-roader.
It's equipped with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turb- diesel engine producing a maximum of 115kW of power at 4000 rpm. The engine hits max torque of 360Nm between 1500 and 2800 rpm.
It’s paired to an automatic five-speed transmission and offers selectable four-wheel drive with high and low range.
Many SUVs now have eight or nine-speed transmissions, but the five-speed doesn’t seem to be an issue for the Rexton. It has enough power in the lower reaches of the rev-range and the diesel engine stays smooth through the gears.
Rather than the usual paddles or tipshift, if you want that manual gearchange experience in the Ssangyong, you’ll need to get used to shifting up or down using your thumbs on the buttons positioned in the steering wheel. There’s a switch on the gearshift knob for manual gear selection, but it is a bit unintuitive.
The suspension shows its class out on the open road with a smooth and comfortable ride, though that’s something that’s not translated so well around town where it can feel a bit busy.
Get the Rexton out in the wild though, and the suspension proves capable of handling the rough and tumble of offroading. It’s kitted out with double wishbone front suspension and coil springs, and a five-link rear suspension also with coil springs.
Be prepared to put a bit of muscle into the steering, though. Simple manoeuvres like parking require a lot of work at the wheel and it has a tendency to resist the urge to self-centre, resulting in an equal amount of spinning back the other way.
Fuel consumption is a claimed 9.9 litres per 100 kilometres in urban environments and 6.7L/100km on the highway for an official combined figure of 7.8L/100km. During our testing we found it was a little thirstier than that, at 8.4L/100km (trip computer indicated) after a mix of urban, freeway and off-road driving.
The Rexton is definitely built to handle basic 4WD-ing, with an approach angle of 28-degrees, departure angle of 25.5-degrees and a ramp over angle of 22.5-degrees.
For a medium SUV it could almost technically be classified as a large vehicle. The Rexton is 4.76 metres long and 1.9m wide with a 2.84m wheelbase. It’s 1.84m high including the roof racks.
With a 2.6-tonne towing capacity, and a towing and lashing hook as standard, there’s scope to handle decent sized boats and trailers.
The Rexton is also equipped with winter mode to help with those slippery starts, an external temperature gauge and reasonably serious rear mud flaps.
During our offroad adventure, it became clear that the SUV tag is not entirely appropriate. Whack the Ssangyong in low-range and head down a steep hill, and the hill-descent control proved a huge help tackling the terrain.
Ride height is a little low for anything too hardcore, so it was slow and steady across some of the deeper ruts. Trying to climb a muddy hill with some large rocks we soon hit its limits. With wheels slipping and spinning on the more challenging path, it was necessary to back-up and try again on an easier trajectory.
Exterior touches include high-profile 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lights and LED side repeaters.
Though its ride, diesel engine, transmission and off-road ability get ticks, there are areas where the Rexton suffers from the family viewpoint.
There are some glaring holes in its safety kit, for starters. Despite having a solid frame, door impact side beams, as well as anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, anti-rollover protection, emergency brake assist and seatbelt pre-tensioners with load limiters – there are no airbags in rows two and three.
The driver and passenger are covered with both front and side airbags, but for a family hauler the lack of curtain airbags in the rear is concerning.
There’s also no option of a reverse-view camera, though the Rexton is equipped with front and rear parking sensors, driver’s seatbelt reminder and a collapsible steering column.
Though basic, the interior is suited to family life and there are a few luxury additions. The driver's seat is comfortable and is electrically adjustable with three-position seat memory and lumbar support.
Leather touches adorn the cabin, with leather steering wheel and gearshift knob as well as leather upholstery. Woodgrain and faux-chrome accents offer a reprieve from an otherwise dark and dreary interior that’s a little dated. Not that you’d expect an affordable, functional family mover to be too flashy or modern.
Bizarrely there’s a digital clock, but not a digital speedo and satellite-navigation is not available which is a disappointing oversight given its potential as a family adventure vehicle.
Rear passengers are well looked after when it comes to airflow, it’s equipped with climate control with front and rear zone air-conditioning, rear air-vents and third-row controls.
Entertainment-wise, the Bluetooth system is fairly quick to sync giving access to your phone and audio streaming, you can also access your music via MP3 or CD. Audio controls are located on the steering wheel.
The second-row features 60/40 split-fold seats, though the smaller section isn’t kerbside in right-hand drive guise. Folding the seat to allow access to the third-row is a two-step fold and tumble process, but you can initiate it from either the side or the rear.
The seats also recline to almost flat, though any third-row passengers behind would become more irritated than the equivalent airline passengers. Storage wise, there are two-cupholders and map pockets in the doors. Another obvious omission – no headrest in the centre seat.
Third-row passengers also miss out on headrests, and while that is a comfort factor, it’s also a safety issue when it comes to preventing impact injuries like whiplash. Again, being a family SUV, who is going to be in those back seats? Most likely, young children.
The third-row is not very comfortable, thanks to the thin, short seat base. The seat is also very close to the floor so adults or tall teenagers would end up with their knees up uncomfortably high. Headroom, however, is abundant.
The two rear seats fold flat for extra cargo space, however the seats aren’t split so there’s no option to have one seat in play for extra boot room, it folds away as a single unit. Cup-holders are nowhere to be seen but there are storage nets on both sides.
A wet/dry storage area in the boot provides a welcome way to dispose of muddy, sandy, beach or river soaked shoes and clothes, however it doesn’t appear to be easily removable and does take up quite a bit of valuable cargo space.
A storage nook is located on the left side but it’s only accessible when the third-row is folded away and there’s a 12-volt outlet, one of three located in the vehicle. The open tailgate is quite high and there’s a handy strap to help pull it down.
Ssangyong offers a three-year/100,000km warranty and three-year roadside assistance, and the service intervals are 15,000km or annually.
The Rexton is a practical, functional family SUV with the ability to head off-road and accommodate the whims of a wide variety of adventurous owners. However the lack of airbag protection for the second and third-rows means it would struggle for recommendation in our view. If Ssangyong were to remedy this, the Rexton would be a lot easier to recommend as a comfortable, affordable family car.