Ssangyong, the specialty SUV maker from South Korea brings to us one of its most successful products ever – the Rexton. To its advantage, owners of Ssangyong Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra are backing the premium SUV with all their force. Loaded with features and powered by engines boasting class leading power, does this burly machine have the goods to stir up its segment? We put the mammoth machine under our microscope to find out.
Design and visuals
Ssangyong traditionally hasn’t been known as a very strong auto maker design wise. The new generation of Ssangyong cars represented by the Rexton, however, exhibit great progress as regards aesthetics for the Korean brand. While the new Rexton isn’t exactly a sensational looking product, the balanced proportions and refined styling is a far cry from the oddball insanity its predecessor represented.
The Rexton doesn’t quite have the beefy, brawny appeal of some of its rivals. Visually, it’s a well mannered gentleman in the crowd of beefy rowdies like the Endeavour and Fortuner. While not very aggressive and muscular, the Rexton, by virtue of its sheer size does manage to turn quite a few heads on the street.
Up front you have a big, wide, sloping bonnet culminating into a classy looking radiator grille, smeared in chrome and comprising three slats holding the ‘double dragon’ Sssnagyong Emblem in place. The logo, often mistaken for a deer’s antlers, actually represents the mythical ‘twin dragons’, which in Korean folklore take on many forms, and are associated with royalty, power and strength.
The large upswept headlamps house projector lamps and are designed to gel with the soft and sophisticated theme. The front bumpers, housing wide, angular fog lamps are also home to the black central and side air dams. Those black finish angular air-dams, along with a few more chiseled surfaces on the lower bonnet manage to lend a fair degree of boldness to the Rexton’s face. Further sense of go-anywhere ruggedness is expressed via black plastic under cladding all across the car.
The flanks of the front bumper merge seamlessly with the enormous, but curvaceous wheel arches, which define the profile of this big SUV. An aluminium finish footboard with rubber ribs, chrome lining below the doors and on the window sills, ORVM mounted blinkers and a pair of funky roof rails go a long way in lending the Rexton a premium feel in profile. The lower half of the doors features a bulging line, working as a link between the massive wheel arches.
The unconventionally styled and rather thick D pillar lends the Rexton its personality at the rear. The black surrounds for the rear quarter panel glass and windscreen is another detail which adds substantially to the premium feel. Vertically laid out tail-lamps don’t look too hot, neither does the simplistic rear bumper. The posterior of this hunk could have done with a more fashionable pair of jeans we reckon.
Overall, the Rexton comes across as a nicely designed, well proportioned, and well finished product. It’s pleasing to the eyes and looks quite sophisticated. Big, as it may be, it isn’t exactly intimidating. There isn’t however a more elegantly styled big SUV in its category.
Engine & transmission
The Rexton packs quite a surprise under its hood. It’s propelled by a 2.7 liter (2696cc) 5 cylinder turbo diesel with a maximum power output of a very impressive 184 bhp at 4000 rpm. Those are the output figures for the Automatic RX7 variant. The 5 speed manual transmission variant comes with a less powerful 162 bhp engine. Even the torque output for the manual version is lower with 340Nm produced at 1800-3250 rpm. The auto variant pumps out 402 Nm within a lower band of 1600-3000 rpm.
We had the fully kitted, automatic RX7 variant with us for the test, and that’s the version we’re going to talk about here. Now, the 2.7 liter engine in focus here used to propel Mercedes cars at some point in time, including the M-class. There is, thus, no dearth of power here.
The engine feels potent, and delivers great pulling power right from the bottom of the rev range. Even at 1000-1200 rpm, there is enough torque on tap to help the near two-tonne heft of the Rexton gain momentum. The engine is appreciably silent at lower revs, but keeps getting harsher and noisier as you push the pedal. It impresses with its linear power deliver and great tractability, but doesn’t quite like being hustled. The five cylinder unit feels at home when you let it hum at 2000 rpm or thereabouts.
Partnering the easy-going engine is an equally leisurely transmission. It works just fine as long as you’re tackling the busy Mumbai streets where you hardly ever get a chance to make a swift maneuver. You’d also be at home traversing the open highways, cruising at 120-130 km/h where the transmission will have enough time to shift down on soft braking or shift up on detecting mild acceleration. Accelerate or decelerate with some zest, and the old transmission gives away its age. Downshifts, especially, take a while and are generally preceded by a confused engine roar.
You have the option to shift into the manual mode, where you can choose the cogs you want to engage based on the engine speed. You can either do it via the little switch on the drive select stick, or use the buttons on the steering wheel. Manual shifts too, as in the case of the computerized brain, do take a little while before being engaged. There is also a winter mode meant for slippery, snow clad roads – it makes the car start off in second gear and shifts early to prevent wheelspins.
The 2.7 liter engine of the Rexton is a potent mill. It has enough brawn to push the heavy vehicle reassuringly. It’s just that it doesn’t feel very happy being pushed out of its comfort zone. It’s a good engine- transmission combo for a freeway drive, or even your daily commute to work. But it isn’t quite the setup which would reward your efforts on a clocked dash.
Ride, handling and performance
The Rexton is a big machine. And not just is it big and heavy, it rides higher than any other machine in its segment and beyond. Its ground clearance of 252mm is 32mm more than that of the Fortuner, 42 mm more than the Endeavour and a full 52mm more than its distant cousin XUV500. Combined with the fact that it’s a body on frame construction, it comes across as a superb off-roader. While we didn’t quite take it to any slippery, slushy areas to check the capabilities of its All Wheel Drive system, we did take it off the beaten trail – and was it a delight!
With that high a clearance, the Rexton absolutely owned the unbeaten trail. Even with sizeable stones, plants and ditches thrown in its way, we never had to bother once about the chances of the odd boulder scraping its belly. The Rexton really can do some serious off-roading on dry surfaces. As long as it’s getting traction, the size of the obstacles is not going to be a deterrent in you making your own way.
The advantages that the high ground clearance brings, however are somewhat offset by the high center of gravity. The Rexton rides really well at slow to medium speeds, soaking in rough patches with utter disdain. The road, tyre and wind noise inside the cabin is remarkably low, but it’s the handling that takes the hit as a tradeoff for all that plushness. To start off, the steering wheel is devoid of any feel whatsoever. It’s utterly light, and doesn’t seem to react to small inputs. The soft suspension and high center of gravity makes chucking this mammoth around a rather tricky affair. There is ample body roll and sharp steering maneuvers are not accepted very generously by this burly machine.
Of course, you have, ESP and ABS to come to your aid if you were to negotiate a difficult situation, but the Rexton lacks the tactility and connected feel which is key to the feeling of being in control while behind the steering wheel. The Rexton doesn’t quite inspire confidence at high speeds. The soggy brakes lack feel and don’t help making the affairs any better.
While Ssangyong and Mahindra claim a top speed of 194 km/h for the Rexton, we would restrain ourselves much before reaching that mark. The Rexton, even with all its mass and electronic aids feels somewhat nervous from behind the steering wheel. A comfy, quiet, capable cruiser the Rexton may be, but it isn’t quite the car meant for spirited driving.
Cabin comfort and features
The Rexton is sold in Mahindra showrooms beside other Mahindra vehicles. The quality and the level of equipment inside the cabin makes many a Mahindra customers’ jaws drop in amazement. While not quite like the proper German luxury sedans, the Rexton’s cabin is appreciably plush, well-finished and laden with features to impress even a discerning prospect. There is a solid, well-built feel to the interior and everything has been put together immaculately. There may be some bits which may feel plasticky but overall, the Rexton’s cabin seems to have been built by a carmaker of international repute.
We liked the quality and feel of the buttons on the door panels. The faux wood inserts on the door panels, center console, steering wheel and drive lever also looks and feels classy. The Kenwood supplied central touch screen unit which handles media and navigation, however, features rather flimsy feeling buttons. The touch screen isn’t too responsive either and you have to press rather hard for a menu item to engage.
Front seats are big, wide and comfy. The driving position in the Rexton is exceptionally high and offers very good all-round visibility. The D-pillar sometimes becomes a bit of an obstruction while reversing, but in forward motion, the car offers one of the clearest views of the road. We weren’t very comfortable using the vertically stacked buttons on the steering wheel, but we guess it’s more a matter of getting used to things.
The top of the line RX7 variant is upholstered in leather. There are ample storage spaces for odds and ends with front door panels featuring bottle holders for one- liter bottles and two cup holders below the center console. Central armrest flips open in typical luxury-car fashion and offers ample space to let your wallet and cell phone in.
The second row has good space too, but not probably as much as a car of this size should have. Width-wise, three can sit abreast without a hiccup. Legroom is sufficient, though we imagined ourselves stretching our legs a little more in this car before we took it out for a spin. There are no bottle holders in the second row doors, but you do get a pair of cup-holders right below the rear blower unit.
Third row is best not discussed as it’s placed almost on the floor of the car. Sitting there means you have to bend your knees uncomfortably. There is a third set of blowers for the last bench though. The last row is useful only for small kids, and is best used folded, making space for loads of luggage.
The Rexton comes loaded with features which generally make an appearance in much expensive cars. You get light sensing headlamps, rain sensing wipers, 8-way adjustable electric seat for driver with memory function, electric sunroof, climate control, parking sensors, cruise control and an AWD system. The multimedia touch screen unit can take care of your music via aux-in, radio, CDs or USB. There is also a pre-loaded Navigation system on the touch screen.
As active safety aids, you get ESP, ABS, hill-descent control, active rollover protection and Anti-slip regulation. You also get dual front and side airbags as passive safety aids. Now that’s a liberal feature list for an SUV in this segment with no rival checking so many boxes.
The Rexton has its highs and lows. It’s got a punchy engine with the convenience of an automatic transmission. It’s an able cruiser, with a comfy ride quality, opulently appointed interior and capacious cabin. It’s laden with features, looks good and can do a fair bit of off-roading as well. For the price, you really get quite a lot and there isn’t quite a competitor which would offer so much for your hard earned money.
There are, however, some negatives too. The Rexton isn’t a very sure footed machine. The competition, though poor in terms of features, offers a better dynamic package. It’s too soft and cushy to inspire confidence at speed. The engine-tranny combo too, doesn’t quite work too well when you wish to hustle it.
The Rexton, then, is the right car for you if relaxed, highway cruising, with the odd trip out in the wild is your favorite motoring flavor. You can pack your family and a dog into its big cabin and go holidaying for weeks at end. The Rexton is a good family car which can double up as your daily ride to office too, thanks to the auto transmission.
If however, you like driving in the fast lane, we would ask you to look elsewhere.
Price as tested : Rs 19.78 lakh ex-showroom
Storage space with nets for the third row
Like that was not enough, there’s another storage space with a cover for the third row.
Space after the third row flips open with these compartments for a more sorted storage.
Third row is best folded and used for storage.
The middle row can be folded to get almost truck-like storage space from the Rexton
Third row of seats gets its own A/C vents and blower control
Special winter mode for slippery conditions.
Central armrest flips open to reveal a cavity big enough to swallow a good variety of articles
The instrument panels is rather basic for such a feature-rich car. We missed a trip computer.
High seat height and ground clearance means that this nicely finished footboard comes very handy
Speakers in the tail-gate
Displacement cc 2696
Power (PS@rpm) 186PS @4000rpm
Torque (Nm@rpm) 402Nm @1600rpm
Transmission Type Automatic
Front Suspension Independent Double Wishbone with anti-roll bar
Rear Suspension 5 link independent with antiroll bar
Front Brakes Ventilated disc
Rear Brakes Disc
Tyres 235/75 R16
Overall Length (mm) 4755
Overall Width (mm) 1900
Overall Height (mm) 1785
Wheel Base (mm) 2835
Ground Clearance (mm) 252
Kerb Weight (kg) 1986
No of Doors 5
Images by: Amit Chhangani & Deepak Dongre