SsangYong lacks the brand recognition of Kia or Hyundai, but it’s much more than a motoring curiosity.
Founded in 1954 and turned into SsangYong in 1986, the South Korean carmaker has taken a couple of cracks at Australia – first at the hands of an independent distributor, and more recently as a factory-backed operation.
It’s come a long way from rebadged Daimler four-wheel drives and the home-brand E-Class that was the first-generation Chairman sedan.
The 2021 SsangYong Rexton Ultimate you see here is a rival to the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport with a list of standard features longer than War and Peace, a polished diesel engine, and the same off-road equipment as its adversaries from better-known brands.
Should it be on your shopping list? Yes, but with one hefty caveat.
How much does the SsangYong Rexton Ultimate cost?
The three-model Rexton range has been cut to just two with SsangYong’s recent update.
The range-topping Ultimate on test is priced from $54,990 drive-away, while the entry-level ELX starts at $47,990 drive-away.
That puts it up against the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport GLS ($53,740 drive-away) and Toyota Fortuner GX ($49,080 before on-roads), and sits it between the Ford Everest Ambiente and Trend rear-wheel drive models ($50,990 and $56,990 drive-away).
What do you get?
Even the base Rexton ELX is generously equipped.
It packs an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, ventilated and power-adjustable front seats, keyless entry and start, tyre-pressure monitoring, automatic high-beam, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Moving to the range-topping Ultimate gets you a surround-view camera, leather seat trim, wireless phone charging, a heated steering wheel, a powered tailgate, a single-pane sunroof, backlit door sill plates, and 20-inch alloy wheels.
Is the SsangYong Rexton Ultimate safe?
The Rexton hasn’t been crash tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP.
All 2021 Rexton models come standard with the following safety features:
- Nine airbags
- Autonomous emergency braking
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Lane-departure warning
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Front and rear parking sensors
What is the SsangYong Rexton Ultimate like on the inside?
You don’t necessarily associate ute-based four-wheel drives or low-volume Korean carmakers with the word plush, but that’s exactly what the Rexton is.
The driver and passenger sit on well-stuffed, heated and cooled leather thrones, and the flat-bottom steering wheel feels great in your hands, even if its buttons are a bit fiddly.
SsangYong has clearly set up the Rexton for people spending long stretches at the wheel. It’s seriously comfortable, and there’s plenty of storage for phones, wallets, snacks, and drinks up front.
Points to SsangYong for using regular buttons for climate control instead of touch controls.
The infotainment system is simple but effective. Apple CarPlay takes up the whole screen, and all the animations are smoothly rendered. The instruments are also impressive given the price, with a range of displays and options.
SsangYong hasn’t gone to the trouble of reorienting the home button for right-hand drive though, which would make it better again.
Some grey nomads will lament the lack of factory navigation, given CarPlay and Android Auto’s effectiveness is limited in areas with no reception. The screen is almost impossible to read in direct sunlight, too.
The second row is similarly spacious to the first, with plenty of headroom for tall passengers and legroom for leggy teenagers, along with air vents and USB device power.
With a tall window line and sunroof, there’s heaps of light back there. There are ISOFIX points on the outside rear seats, and top tether points for all three.
Access to the third row comes courtesy of seat backs that fold forward, creating a narrow gap to thread through. It’s not the easiest space to access, although kids will be fine. The side airbags also cover the third row, which is a plus.
Legroom is child-friendly back there, not adult-friendly, but that’s par for the class. There are air vents built into the side of the space, so cold air can get back there on hot days.
Folded into the floor, the seats create a two-tier load space. It has 641L of space behind the third row, expanding to 1806L with the second and third rows folded flat.
What’s under the bonnet?
The 2021 SsangYong Rexton is powered by a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel producing 148kW of power and 441Nm of torque.
It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and selectable four-wheel drive.
Those outputs are up 15kW and 21Nm on its predecessor, and the eight-speed transmission has one more gear than before.
Claimed fuel economy is 8.9 litres per 100km, up from the pre-update car’s 8.3L/100km.
We saw 8.0L/100km on a highway run, and around 10L/100km in the city.
How does the SsangYong Rexton Ultimate drive?
The pre-update Rexton was already a quiet achiever. The facelift has only made it better.
For starters, the engine is smooth and torquey. It fires with a hint of diesel clatter, but it settles almost immediately into an even, smooth idle.
There’s very little noise in the cabin when you accelerate, and it revs smoothly through the mid-range. There’s a hint of lag off the mark, but all 441Nm comes on strong at 1600rpm and gives the Rexton a firm shove down the road.
Add into the mix the fact it’s quiet and almost vibration-free at a cruise, and you’ve got an excellent engine for lugging a family up, down, or around Australia.
It feels stable and planted on the open road, and doesn’t skate around on gravel or rutted, washboard surfaces with nothing in the boot and no passengers in the. back.
With relatively light steering and excellent visibility, it can do more than just highway driving. It’s a big brute of a car, but a decent (not outstanding) reversing camera, parking sensors, and chunky mirrors make it friendly enough for the school run.
Its weakness is the ride, at least relative to Rexton ELX on 18-inch wheels. It’s sharper over city lumps and bumps, without the same cushy, floaty feeling as the base model on smaller rims.
As for off-roading? Like its rivals, the Rexton is rear-wheel drive by default, but can be flicked into high- and low-range using a small dial on the transmission tunnel.
There’s no ugly mechanical clunking and grinding when you flick into four-wheel drive, but there’s also very little to tell you what’s going on.
There’s a small light that flashes in the top-left corner of the digital dashboard, but a bigger display to let inexperienced off-roaders know the car is switching would be helpful.
Ground clearance is 203mm, while the Rexton has approach and departure angles of 20.5 degrees, and a breakover angle of 20 degrees.
Braked towing capacity is 3500kg, well up on the 3100kg you get in the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Toyota Fortuner.
Our off-road testing was relatively limited, but the Rexton waltzed through an axle-deep water crossing without breaking a sweat. It did lose its front numberplate, but it’s far from alone in that regard.
It handled our wet log climb in 4H, and crept through the offset moguls without traction control kicking in thanks to the rear limited-slip differential. It engages when there’s a 100rpm difference in the speed of the rear wheels, and clunked into action as you’d expect.
Some owners will prefer having the option to manually engage a rear diff lock, however.
How much does the SsangYong Rexton Ultimate cost to run?
The 2021 SsangYong Rexton is covered by a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
The Rexton requires servicing every 12 months or 15,000km.
Each of the first seven services will set you back $375 under SsangYong’s capped-price service program.
CarExpert’s Take on the SsangYong Rexton Ultimate
The Rexton offers a huge amount of equipment and performance at a seriously sharp price.
The updated model has been meaningfully refined compared to its predecessor, and the backing of a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty is worth its weight in gold.
What’s the catch? SsangYong head office is in a perilous financial position.
It filed for bankruptcy in December 2020 on the back of more than US$280 million in debt, and recent reports claim the company has sold its factory in Pyeongtaek, South Korea to pay back its loans and sweeten the deal for a potential new owner.
More recently, reports of a buyout from an American company have arisen.
The company is still alive and kicking in Australia, but it’s hard to recommend the Rexton without also noting the state of SsangYong.
If you’re comfortable with the brand’s situation, and not afraid to have the car looked after by a third-party in the event it all goes sideways, the Rexton is a winner.
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MORE: Everything SsangYong Rexton