Rexton. Sounds a bit ‘Texas’ doesn’t it? You can imagine the ‘Rexton Suite’ at a five-star Houston hotel - all gilt-edged, power operated and BIG. Lots of white leather, too. Is this, then, a tough Texas-like 4x4? Or is it just a ladder-framed off-roader, masquerading as an SUV and fighting for a space on the school run, with a name that’ll have schoolboys sniggering?
Any SUV worth its lofty driving position has to score in the high-street fashion stakes. Ssangyong, - or rather Guigiaro - has avoided the overwrought and ugly styling that afflicts many of its rivals and created a shape that is distinctive yet attractive.
Built on a traditional ladder-frame chassis rather than any new-fangled monoque, the Rexton has low and high gearbox ratios and diesel variants can run with only one axle powered: switchable while on the move. Together with decent-looking approach and departure angles, it looks a bit useful off-road.
Using the old Mercedes-Benz lump up front may give buyers reassurance as to its longevity, but 189lb ft of torque from a 2.9-litre five-cylinder motor is a bit feeble. The Land Rover Discovery’s Td5 engine develops 220lb ft from 2.5 litres.
It comes as no surprise to clock the Rexton’s 0-60mph time as 17.0sec and your low expectations aren’t challenged once moving. Our test car was the four-speed auto variant, too, which struggles to find a ratio to suit all situations. Although the engine is respectably quiet at low revs, it becomes noisy as the revs rise, and you’ll need to work the auto shifter around to overtake with any conviction. But the Rexton’s lack of poke never seems an issue. It performs adequately for its role, and steps off the line with a keenness that, while not quite justifying the word ‘eager’, shames the Volvo XC90 D5.
Drive a few yards and you soon realise this isn’t a trendy SUV, but a simple, traditional off-roader. It changes direction leisurely and with obvious inertia, and there’s plenty of roll and pitch to dampen any thoughts of pedalling quickly.
Most disappointing is the low-speed ride that thumps around town (possibly exaggerated by the semi off-road tyres). Up the pace though and things improve, the Rexton lolloping along in a relaxed manner. The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is very light and offers little communication, but points the Rex faithfully. Nevertheless, it’s a reminder of just how talented modern SUVs are at replicating a car-like experience.
It feels a long way back to the tailgate from up front. The rear seats on this seven-seat variant are really only for occasional use, as access is complicated and you sit so low that adults will have their knees around their ears.
Elsewhere it’s comfortable. This SE model has climate control, leather, a CD player and countless other goodies as standard, including the cheesiest wood ever stuck to a dashboard. Although it may have all the subtlety of a Las Vegas-era Elvis jumpsuit, you soon realise that it’s screwed together in a respectably tight way. Better in fact, than a similar product from the firm that supplies the engine.
Price is the Rexton’s secret weapon. The 290 SE costs £22,462 - not bad for a fully loaded, genuine off-roader with seven seats. A top-spec Disco Td5 ES seven-seat is £33,095 plus another £1495 for the auto ’box and £399 for metallic paint. You could do a lot with the change.