Review and road test of the SsangYong Rexton (2003-2013)
THE LAW OF GRAVITAS
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
We all love a bargain. There are, however, some cars that seem almost too inexpensive. Think that's not possible? You need to try buying a used SsangYong Rexton. Believe me, you will end up feeling strangely guilty at how little you've paid and how much you've ended up with. That's not a function of terrible residual values either, the Rexton being fairly healthy in this regard. It's just down to the fact that SsangYong seem to have priced the Rexton a good few thousand pounds cheaper than it by all rights should be, when new, resulting in even more outrageous savings for the used buyer. If metal for your money is a priority and you want something nigh-on new, the Rexton makes a very interesting bet.
5dr 4x4, 3.2 petrol, 2.7, 2.9 turbodiesel
Few cars sold in modern times have quite such a convoluted history as the SsangYong Rexton. It was first 'introduced' to the British public in 2001 although internal wranglings within SsangYong meant that none were officially sold here in the UK. SsangYong were then swallowed up by Daewoo who sold a few Musso and Korando 4x4s and even threw a press launch for the Daewoo Rexton but again never officially sold a car here. General Motors' buy out of Daewoo came at a cost for the SsangYong marque as it was cast adrift. A separate distributor, SYUK, then took up the reins in 2003, finally offering the Rexton for sale on these shores. At first the range consisted of versions of the RX290 turbodiesel and RX320 petrol powered model. In summer 2004 a more advanced diesel engine was also made available in the shape of the 270Xdi version.
The range was rationalised in 2006 with only the 2.7-litre diesel engine from the 270 model surviving the cull. It was offered in S, SE or SX trim. Later that year came the re-launch of the Rexton. Christened the Rexton II, the new model carried over the underlying mechanicals including that 2.7-litre engine and the basic styling but it added a revised front end (grille and light clusters) an improved interior and tuned suspension for enhanced on-road performance. The S specification was dropped at this stage making the better-equipped SE the entry-level point.
Further tweaks were introduced in 2008 including the introduction of the SPR range toppig variant.
What You Get
Whereas the Musso and the Korando were never much more than oddly styled curiosities, the Rexton looks to have a good deal more in its favour. It's been on sale since summer 2001 in its domestic market, and has trounced its key rival, the Hyundai Terracan, despite production capacity being initially limited by having to share a line with the Musso. Work on the Rexton began in 1998 at the SsangYong R&D Centre in Pyungtaek. Although ItalDesign was initially commissioned to produce a clay mock up, the Koreans felt the design was too conservative and worked on it in-house. The result is certainly striking although some may spot definite Mercedes M-Class influences in its profile - itself no bad thing.
Step inside and you'll be impressed by the finish. Certain fittings look very familiar, although let's diplomatically say that if not copied, then many switches and layouts have been inspired by Volkswagen Group products - itself no bad thing. The Rexton may be slated to compete with Discoverys and Shoguns but its pricing puts it alongside Family 4x4s from the slightly more utilitarian class below where you'll find models like Mitsubishi's truck-based Shogun Sport and yes, the Hyundai Terracan. Just as well then that the ambiance is reminiscent of the more upmarket class.
All three models are available in seven seat trim and the interior isn't cramped due to a long wheelbase with tidy overhangs. The seating arrangements are versatile and there's no shortage of cubbies and storage areas. The neat door bin bottle holders are a neat touch as is the dash-mounted pen holder and ticket clips in the sun visors. The way the rear wiper arm automatically retracts downwards to keep it out of the way of the flip-up rear window is also something to impress your otherwise puzzled friends with.
What to Look For
The Rexton offers a decent blend between rugged engines and no-nonsense componentry. Even after being subjected to quite arduous off-roading, a Rexton can come through unscathed. That said, do check the wheelarch liners for rust-inducing punctures make sure the alloy wheels haven't been mangled. Get under the car and take a look at the suspension and exhaust for signs of damage. The car should not pull to one side or the other as this can be a sign of steering damage and groaning sounds while cornering can spell a damaged differential.
(Estimated prices, based on a 2003 2.9TD). There's often a sting in the tail with many budget South East Asian cars and it comes when you need to replace a part. SsangYong bucks this trend, offering reasonably priced spares. A radiator will set you back around £115 while an alternator is approximately £180. A starter motor is again realistically priced at around £165 and you'll need to budget around £300 for a complete exhaust (minus catalytic converter). The cat itself will be around £170 while front brake pads will cost a mere £40.
On the Road
Although the Rexton rides well on road, it's not been designed for exclusive blacktop use. On tarmac, it defaults to rear wheel drive operation but the push of a button forces the Borg Warner transfer case to engage either high range four-wheel drive for when things get a little slippery or low-range four-wheel drive for those occasions when you really need to lug yourself out of a spot. When in all-wheel drive mode in SE models, a vacuum actuator serves to lock all the wheel hubs automatically, further boosting traction. In plusher SX models, there's a torque-on-demand system which engages 4x4 progressively according to conditions.
The Rexton is built around a proper industrial strength ladder-framed chassis construction. Although immensely strong, most rivals have abandoned this architecture in favour of monocoque chassis structures that give a more car-like drive. Given the Rexton's luxury pretensions it seems a trifle odd that it uses this he-man set up but the upside is that it feels almost indestructible when taken off road and the wheel articulation will get you out of many a tight spot. It's ride on tarmac isn't the smoothest but if you need a 4x4 that looks good but can still walk the walk when the going gets tough, the Rexton is a good value bet. The RX320 possesses a fair turn of speed and body control is better than expected but it lacks that polished final few percent that convinces people to stump up big premiums for a premium product. Bear in mind that low price and any criticisms we make should really be put into context.
New sales of SsangYong's Rexton have demonstrated that there are quite a few customers out there who want a big, shiny 4x4 but don't want to fork out telephone number figures for the privilege. That's good news for the used buyer who wants to capitalise still further. The RX290 and RX320 models that represent the bulk of used stock both have something to be said for them, but the best model in the range, the 270Xdi is still very hard to track down. Whichever model you opt for, that smug feeling you'll get when you see a premium-priced rivals come the opposite way is worth the price of admission alone.
SsangYong Rexton (2003-2013) review by ANDY ENRIGHT