This is Ssangyong’s freshly-revised seven-seat SUV. Most notably, the Rexton’s previously crude styling has had some much-needed ointment applied, specifically with the aim of coaxing a prettier nose out of the previously prehistoric front end.
No amount of fresh slap could save its squared-off rear haunches from offending the eye, but this is at least a facelift in the right direction. The interior gets a brush up too; a light dusting of soft touch trim and chrome surrounds have appeared on the dash, presumably intended to close the gap to the Kia Sorento.
When we last met the Rexton, it was powered by a hand-me-down Mercedes motor; as of the back end of 2015 there’s a 176bhp 2.2-litre diesel that replaced the previous 2.0-litre, now available as a six-speed manual or Mercedes-sourced seven-speed auto.
That’s about as far under the skin as the modifications go. The Rexton’s body still sits on ladder frame – the smaller Korando remains Ssangyong’s only monocoque – and, while it defaults to driving the rear wheels for better economy, can still power all four the old fashioned way via a dash mounted dial. Despite being ditched elsewhere in the segment, low-range gearing remains a standard feature.
The Rexton’s capabilities off-road, its physical size, seven-seats and a reasonable amount of kit (remote locking, cruise control, heated windscreen, automatic air-con and Bluetooth are all included) are the obvious selling points, and SsangYong is shifting them cheap.
The Rexton starts at £23,500 for the SE model that gets climate control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, electric windows, cruise control, Bluetooth, USB connectivity and keyless entry as standard.
The EX adds rear parking sensors, heated and electrically adjustable front seats, a leather upholstery and 18in alloys. While topping the range, the ELX also includes front parking sensors, two tone leather, sat nav and rear heated seats, but is only available as a five-seater.
There's no denying that, on the road, the Ssangyong feels a little archaic. The last equivalent body-on-frame car we tested was a decade-old Jeep Grand Cherokee, and the Rexton barely feels a generation removed from it. The uncanny body shimmy, like a jelly fish haphazardly tacked to an oak tabletop, is unmistakable on any surface, at any speed.
The ride isn’t ruinously bad – given time, you adapt (regress?) into the Rexton’s gambol, and merrily loll about with it – but anyone switching from a monocoque-bodied SUV will wonder at the untidiness of it all.
The steering follows suit; over assisted into weightlessness, it needs be cranked almost to a half-turn before it will finally oblige. A quicker setup or better directness would hardly be appropriate given the Rexton’s structural reluctance to swiftly change direction, but the logic of it doesn’t prevent every junction becoming a necessary blur of palmed on and palmed off steering wheel input.
It’s probably for the best then that you never approach one carrying too much speed. The 2.2 diesel isn’t the cheapest to run, with the manual returning an official 40.4mpg, which is 2.3mpg better than the auto.
Around you the interior is large and chunky and also stranded in the plastic and appearance of yesteryear. It’s reminiscent of the kind of low-rent Korean effort that Kia and Hyundai used to crank out before they invested their way to acclaim. Seats six and seven are clumsily packaged beneath a raised boot floor too, but in comfort and capacity, they are strictly for temporary accommodation.
Should you buy one? For the road, for the family? No. Cheaper than the opposition it might be, but the seven-seat Kia Sorento is easily worth the premium you pay over the price of the Ssanger. However, it’s worth mentioning that Ssangyong has apparently earned a decent reputation in agricultural circles, and – in a mud-caked equation – it’s a different story. Pause for a second to let the transfer case do its bit, and the Rexton, even on buttery road tyres, devours unmade countryside.
Its low-range capability, along with a manual function on the gearbox, is the open secret here, helped along by burly enough ground clearance, hill descent control and, of course, the basic ruggedness of the ladder chassis. The heavy duty nature of the latter also assists in towing applications, allowing the Rexton to pull 3000kg behind it – a whole metric tonne more than an automatic Sorento.
Tough, cheap and backed by an unlimited five-year warranty, the appeal to those who couldn’t care less about ride comfort or performance or interior niceties isn’t hard to fathom. And thought of as an outward bound tool – gristly and abused – it’s rather easy to like the Rexton.
Subaru, for all its current warts, built a whole brand on similar foundations. Ssangyong has time yet to do a better job of convincing the rest of us, a process that probably needs to begin with the new Rexton coming in 2017, previewed by the LIV-2 concept car at the 2016 Paris motor show.