First drive: SsangYong Rexton W

Meet SsangYong's third generation Rexton. It's essentially one of the most basic SUVs on the market and one of the cheapest seven-seat 4x4s on offer right now.
The revised Rexton - which will be re-badged as the Rexton W - features a number of exterior and interior upgrades and is offered from just £21,995.

In other words, if you're looking for a large yet basic 4x4 with extreme towing capabilities that's also happy to venture into the muddy stuff, this could be the car for you.

What is it?

First introduced in 2001, the Rexton was seen as an old-fashioned, budget off-roader that looked increasingly dated and felt cheap in comparison to other vehicles in its segment. For 2014, the all-new Rexton has been given an intensive makeover, but it still retains the unique elements that appealed to customers in the first place – space, practicality and affordability.

What's under the bonnet?

The Rexton W comes with a brand new engine – but this is your only option. It's now powered by SsangYong's 2.0-litre turbocharged e-XDi diesel unit, which was first seen in the Korando. Depending on your style of driving, you can pair the unit with a six-speed manual or five-speed, Mercedes-Benz T-Tronic automatic gearbox.

What's the spec like?

As you would expect, the Rexton's interior remains relatively sparse and basic, only now it features new chrome-effect finishes and soft-touch materials on the dash. Overall, it's certainly a big improvement on the outgoing model, but the build quality still feels a little cheaper and bland in comparison to rival SUVs. You can't complain about space or legroom, because the Rexton still has plenty of it. Every model comes with seven seats as standard, but you can opt for five if you prefer. Jump into the top-spec EX model and you'll notice that a comfortable driving position is easily achieved thanks to its fully-electric adjustable leather seats. If there isn't a need for six passengers, the third row of seats can be folded completely flat into the boot floor, leaving you with an extremely large boot space that will happily swallow a bike, tool boxes and even a few bales of hay. On the outside, revisions include new headlights, a brand new grille and a new front bumper. Keeping in rhythm with the brand's mantra of providing value for money, the entry-level SX comes equipped with standard gadgets such as cruise control, air conditioning, electrically operated and heated door mirrors and 18-inch alloy wheels.

2014 SsangYong Rexton W
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First drive: SsangYong Rexton W

Any rivals?

It's very difficult to find a capable off-roader that also seats seven people in this price bracket. The Mitsubishi Outlander is perhaps the closest nemesis, but at £1,700 more expensive, it doesn't quite offer the same value for money. Saying that, Mitsubishi has done a much better job at fusing off-road reliability with comfort and build quality. The all-new Toyota Rav-4 is also a very attractive proposition: stylish, spacious and comfortable, it ticks nearly all of the boxes apart from passenger-lugging abilities.

What's it like to drive?

Anyone thinking of taking this hardy SsangYong for a test drive must keep in mind the exact reasons for its being. Producing just 153bhp, it's not the pokiest 4x4 on the road, but that aside, it's surprisingly quiet and refined. The cabin suffers from little noise intrusion and the engine creates little vibration through the steering wheel – even though the 2.0-litre has to work hard to move its two-tonne kerb weight. Sadly, this impacts on the average fuel consumption, which is just 36.2mpg on the combined cycle. The auto gearbox looks set to be the best seller, but the manual offers the better driving experience. With just five gears, the auto box feels very sluggish and tends to hold onto each gear for a long time. As you'd expect, it's not agile in the corners and you won't get much driver feedback through the steering wheel, which remains slack the entire time. Take the Rexton off-road and the story changes. It's more than capable of tackling hill climbs or even sliding back down them into deep muddy puddles – the responsive hill descent control makes steep declines much easier to tackle. Even on standard road tyres, wet inclines are also tackled with ease.

The AOL verdict

The Rexton's biggest selling point is its price tag. Starting from just £21,995, you can't really go wrong. Unlike many of its rivals, its AWD system means it can actually perform off-road and is capable of digging itself out of a muddy hole. But while it offers heaps of boot and passenger space, it's not particularly comfortable or efficient to drive. But if you simply want a 4x4 that you can run into the ground, the Rexton will get the job done.

The Knowledge

Model: SsangYong Rexton W
Price: £25,995
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged e-XDi diesel
Power: 135bhp
Max Speed: 109mph
0-62mph: 11.6 seconds
MPG: 36.2mpg (combined)
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