Review and road test of the Ssangyong Rexton (2017 - 2020)
TOUGH TO LOVE?
By Jonathan Crouch
Want a large SUV that can walk the walk as well as talking the talk? What about one you probably aren't familiar with, SsangYong's Rexton? The 'Y400'-series version of this car, introduced in 2017, was smarter, classier and hugely improved over the Rexton models we'd seen before it. Ultimately, if you're secure enough in yourself not to care too much about badge equity and want a large, capable, well equipped seven-seat 4x4 from the 2017-2020 period for sensible money, it makes a lot of sense.
5dr large SUV 4x4 (2.2 diesel [EX, ELX, Ultimate])
Increasingly, large luxury SUVs are all about image, all about badge-equity, all about fashion. Or at least most of them are. Here's one that's more practically grounded - the 'Y400'-series SsangYong Rexton, introduced in 2017.
Of all this South Korean brand's products, the Rexton is probably the one provoking most familiarity amongst UK buyers. That's because this big D-segment SUV has been around so long - since 2001 in fact, when the first generation version was launched, selling until 2006. The MK2 model was to have a much longer production run and in the course of its sales life gained a SsangYong-developed e-XDi diesel engine, rather than the hand-me-down Mercedes unit previously fitted.
In 2017, that design was completely redesigned to create this far more modern and up-market-looking MK2 version. As before, it offered up to seven seats but in this form, gained a much higher quality interior and the latest media and safety tech. The basic engineering though, remained largely untouched - which meant that this SsangYong continued to ignore the more car-like monocoque-based design approach favoured by most of the period's more familiar modern large SUVs. This was because SsangYong felt that this model's more straightforward body-on-frame ladder chassis construction was still the best solution for the tough off road capability that typical Rexton buyers were seeking.
These people liked the engine too, which was the same 181PS 2.2-litre e-XDi220 diesel powerplant fitted to final versions of the previous model. It's a unit with enough pulling power to facilitate the kind of prodigious 3.5-tonne towing capability that no other SUV at this Rexton's price point from this era can match. And of course it's well suited for off road adventuring. The MK2 Rexton sold in this form until early 2021, when it was facelifted and a Hyundai-sourced auto gearbox added. It's the earlier 2017-2020-era versions of this 'Y400'-series model though, that we look at here.
What You Get
The Rexton has never previously been an SUV styled to sit very comfortably in the golf club car park. That changed with this improved model, which represented a huge aesthetic step forward from its predecessor thanks to a design language characterised by the concept of what the company calls 'dignified motion'.
Once you're inside, it's really quite impressive, easily the nicest SsangYong cabin you'll probably have sampled. There's a smart three-spoke leather-trimmed wheel, a classy wood grain fascia inlay panel and, on the top 'Ultimate' model, even stitched leather quilting across the lower section of the dashboard and on the door cards. Infotainment provision is on another level too, courtesy of the larger, higher-set 9.2-inch HD centre-dash touchscreen that comes as standard providing you avoid entry-level trim.
In the second row, there's decent space for two and, thanks to the low centre transmission tunnel, room for three should you need there to be. This car's long wheelbase means there's room for third row seating too, though you don't get that on the top-spec 'Ultimate' model. Out back, once the hatch is raised, there's a truly colossal cargo area if the variant you have is a five seat-only model. That means 820-litres of room if you load to the ceiling, a figure that would be reduced to 649-litres if opt for a seven-seat variant and have the third row chairs folded into the floor. If you fold the middle row backrests forward, a vast storage area is provided, 1,977-litres in size on the five-seater model and 1,806-litres in capacity if you've a seven-seat variant with the second and third rows folded.
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, this SsangYong can come through unscathed. That said, do check the wheel arch 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.
The Rexton has proven reliable and the e-XDi220 2.0-litre diesel engine is a tough unit; just keep an eye on oil levels once a month. As with all 7-seat SUVs, look for signs of child damage in the interior: as ever, stains and scratches are a good negotiating point. The interiors are also fairly indestructible but the metallic plastic finishes can quickly lose their lustre.
(approx based on a 2017 Rexton ELX) SsangYong parts aren't too expensive, given that it's a low volume importer. You'll need to set aside around £23 for an air filter and an oil filter costs around £23. Front brake pads should be no more than around £33 a set and rears can be had in the £27-£56 bracket. Rear brake discs can be had for around £83 a pair.
On the Road
On the move, this MK2 Rexton certainly feels more cultured in the cabin than its predecessors but once you've got properly underway, it's quickly clear that the driving dynamics are much as before. With this car, SsangYong continued to reject the car-like monocoque-style chassis approach used by mainstream rivals in favour of the sort of tougher but much heavier body-on-frame ladder chassis you'd find in tougher SUVs intended for regular 'off piste' use. You're certainly instantly aware of this Rexton's size and weight, especially if you start throwing the car about. By the same token though, there's also a pleasing sense of solidity that imparts the kind of feeling of safety and security that some will feel is far more important in a large SUV of this kind. And of course, thanks to a proper heavy duty 4WD set-up with a low range gearbox, this Rexton can be hugely impressive off road.
That mechanical package was carried over from the previous model, as was the 2.2-litre diesel engine, a 181PS e-XDi220 unit developing 420Nm of pulling power. Don't expect too much in terms of efficiency, the best results being achieved by the manual five-seat model which manages 36.2mpg on the combined cycle and 204g/km of CO2 (both NEDC figures). There's not much wrong with the way that the power is delivered though, available low down in the rev range just where you need it, from as little as 1,500rpm. It's certainly perfectly adequate to shift the substantial 2.1-tonne kerb weight and is the main reason why this car can offer such a hefty towing capability of 3.5-tonnes to match what you'd get in much pricier Land Rover Discovery or Mitsubishi Shogun models. On the highway, the car is refined and surprising impressive, going about its business with a rather beguiling effortless complemented by the smooth-shifting Mercedes-sourced 7-speed E-Tronic automatic gearbox that most owners will want. For some reason, you have to have this self-shifter if you're to get the multi-link rear suspension that does so much to improve the ride of models like the top 'Ultimate' variant.
Much changed with this MK2 'Y400'-series Rexton, with major upgrades in styling and cabin quality matched with huge enhancements in safety and media technology. Ultimately though, the fundamental reason why you'd buy this car remains much as it was before. Namely that there simply isn't another properly capable large SUV in the same price bracket as this one.
Sure, it offers very much a no-nonsense approach - but in the pretentious age we live in, that in many ways is actually rather refreshing. There's still a place in the SUV segment for old school virtues and Korea's oldest and most experienced brand reckons it's perfectly placed to deliver them.
Ssangyong Rexton (2017 - 2020) review by Jonathan Crouch