2019 SsangYong Rexton review

First Australian drive

Diesel engine, seven seats, off-road capability, lots of tech and sharp pricing. How does the SsangYong Rexton stack up against the competition?

Rather than being based on a 4WD ute, the SsangYong Rexton is a little different. Although it’s a ladder-chassis 4WD with low-range, diesel power and seating for seven, it puts the chicken before the egg. Kind of.

The Rexton is the first initial new design for SsangYong in Australia, with the Musso ute being a spin-off of the wagon. This is different to all of the other ute-based wagons it will be competing with: Toyota Fortuner, Isuzu MU-X, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Holden Trailblazer and to a lesser degree, Ford Everest.

Competition is stiff, especially when you’re a non-mainstream brand that’s just had a two-year breather. But this time, things are a little different for the Korean manufacturer. Firstly, the Australian operation is a fully-owned subsidiary of the OEM, no more middle-man distributors to muddy the waters. The product range is all new as well, including this seven-seat Rexton wagon, a 4WD ute Musso, and the Tivoli small SUV.

SsangYong is also coming in hard with a seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. This includes seven years of servicing (pricing is TBA, intervals are 12 months or 20,000 kilometres) and roadside assistance. This is a big and bold move for the Korean brand. Combined with lots of active safety, sharp driveaway pricing and plenty of inclusions, SsangYong isn't leaving many stones unturned. And its flagship model is the seven-seat 4WD wagon Rexton.

You might remember the name, and you might remember the old design. This design is all new, with a new driveline under that skin. SsangYong’s new look is much nicer than some of its older work, which has earned a reputation over the years for being particularly hideous.

Pricing on the Rexton starts at $39,990 driveaway, which gets you 2WD only and the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine good for 165kW and 350Nm. We haven’t been able to get behind the wheel of one of these yet. We did drive the ELX and Ultimate however, which both get the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel shared with the Musso. The ELX has a driveaway price of $46,990, and the Ultimate is $52,990.

So, what do you get for your money? Along with the petrol 2WD driveline, base-spec EX gets 18-inch alloy wheels, seven airbags, front and rear parking sensors and smartphone mirroring. There’s also dual-zone air conditioning, AEB and forward collision warning and cloth seats.

Move up to the ELX, and you get the diesel 4WD drivetrain. Seats are upgraded to a thermoplastic polyurethane, and you get HID headlights, tinted glass and a 7.0-inch display. Ultimate grade gets a big jump in specification, with heated/vented leather seats, rear air-con, sunroof, a powered tailgate and 20-inch wheels.

SsangYong has made a really serious crack of crafting the interior into something pretty special. And it’s all pretty impressive. In top-spec Ultimate guise, almost all of the hard plastics have been covered over with something softer and more premium. There’s even some nice stitching and detailing to catch the eye.

Air conditioning is plenty cold, and the infotainment unit is pretty responsive. There’s a smaller 7.0-inch head-up display that can fling out plenty of handy information, as well. For those wanting in-built navigation, you’ll have to be happy with smartphone mirroring.

There are two areas where the Rexton scores some big points over the competition, especially at its strong price points.

First is safety: Along with having important active safety of autonomous emergency braking (between 8-60km/h) and forward collision warning across the range, there’s also lane departure warning and high beam assist. ELX specification earns some extra goodies, including two extra rear and a driver’s knee airbags. There’s also blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist on the higher specifications. The Ultimate adds a pretty slick 360-degree camera. With good driveway pricing, they aren’t exactly asking for the world in return.

The second big point is warranty. Having seven years and unlimited kilometres puts it head-and-shoulders above the competition, who are flat out mustering up five years in most instances.

Rather than the Musso’s six-speed Aisin gearbox, diesel-powered Rextons score a Mercedes-Benz-sourced seven-speed automatic gearbox. It’s a smooth-operating unit, which does well to extract good performance from the SsangYong donk. Listed fuel economy for the diesel is a combined 8.5L/100km, which isn’t too bad. Our reading came back at 10.5L, but it’s worth noting our driving was on plenty of hilly roads and gravel tracks in the foothills of the Victorian High Country.

The diesel makes 133kW at 4000rpm, along with 420Nm at 1600-2600rpm. You’ll notice it’s a slightly different tune to the Musso application, giving an extra 20Nm of torque across a slightly narrower band of revs. With an extra ratio up its sleeve, the Rexton does get along fairly well. It would be out-powered by Holden’s Trailblazer without too many worries, but my seat-of-pants says it’s not too far off the straight-line performance of Isuzu’s MU-X and Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport.

What’s particularly good about the Rexton is its low levels of NVH overall, especially along fast dirt and bitumen. Pininfarina was conscripted to do the sound insulation, and it's done a great job. It’s really very quiet while driving around. Steering in the Ultimate specification features speed-sensitive inputs, which does help at low speeds. Without it in ELX spec, it can feel a little heavy at times.

Dynamic driving is reasonably inoffensive in the Rexton. It steers and brakes okay, plenty good enough for a 4WD wagon, in my opinion. If you’re looking for something that can pretend to be a sportscar however, you’ll be barking up the wrong tree here. What it does do well is eat up longer drives, with decent levels of comfort and driveline refinement. You can expect it to improve some time in the future, as well; SsangYong will be starting a local suspension tuning operation in Australia, early 2019.

SsangYong is proud of its body-on-frame SUV heritage, and that is staying true with the Rexton. It has all of the important 4WD underpinnings, like a part-time 4WD system and low range. The rear differential is Eaton’s automatic MLocker, which will automatically lock up the rear end when there is more than 100rpm of variation between each wheel. It works pretty well off-road, clicking into action relatively quickly to ease wheelspin and keep you moving.

Having an independent multi-link rear end improves the overall refinement of the Rexton, and having that locker in the bum will help when wheels get inevitably lifted off-road. It will have benefits on-road as well, if you encounter some low traction surfaces.

The Rexton isn’t exactly brimming with ground clearance for off-roading, especially compared to its ute-based wagon nemeses. That’s your first limiting factor when heading off-road, along with the relatively tame tread pattern of the rubber on the 18-inch and 20-inch wheels. The shorter wheelbase compared to the Musso (2865mm) and better clearance afforded by independent suspension means it touches down less than the ute, and will be plenty capable enough for what prospective owners want. Hill descent control operates smoothly and keeps your speed at or below 5km/h quite well, which is nice for your average off-road descents. Go a bit harder, and you’ll need to supplement that with some foot brake.

We haven’t been able to test out the towing credentials of the Rexton, which has a 3500kg braked capacity. So it can tow something very big and very heavy legally, but we’ll have to wait and see if it will do it well.

If SsangYong didn’t go to the effort of including some good active safety across the range, along with that very impressive seven-year warranty, it would be easy to overlook the Rexton. While it has some great inclusions for its price, you aren’t terribly far away from some of the more established players. In particular, Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport and Isuzu’s MU-X will need to be crossed off the list before choosing the Rexton.

However, the lure of a big warranty is good, as is the value for money. You’ll have to go without some outright off-road capability, as well as a little bit of engine performance. However, this Korean will certainly keep the competition honest, being both great value and well put together. And don’t forget: if off-road capability isn’t a big must for you, then the list of options gets much longer. In particular, Nissan’s Pathfinder and Hyundai’s Santa Fe will enter the fray as competition.