The Ssangyong Rexton ‘by Mahindra’ is the first product from the Korean car-maker in India, better known for its SUVs. The fact that it’s on sale in India now has everything to do with the fact that Mahindra today owns a controlling stake in the company. For those bewildered by M&M’s acquisition of the beleaguered Korean car company, don’t be; it may not be a ‘sexy’ brand like Land Rover, but it has potential, not just in developing markets like India, but in evolved automotive market places as well. While that might be a story for another day, let’s focus our attention on the big, brawny but not so beautiful Ssangyong Rexton.
Design & Engineering
There’s history (and pedigree) to the Rexton story. Ssangyong acquired the rights and the tooling to the first-generation Mercedes-Benz M-Class, which, after a bit of ‘Koreanisation’, was offered around the globe as the all-new Ssangyong Rexton. Which isn’t a bad thing.
For India, Mahindra is offering the Rexton in two very distinct trim levels; one is the RX5 MT, which features a five-speed manual transmission, with torque-on-demand AWD and limited features, and the other is the full-fat RX7 AT, which has everything you could hope for in terms of features, while sporting a 5-speed automatic gearbox and all-time four-wheel drive. We drove the fully-loaded RX7 AT. Both use the same Mercedes-sourced five-cylinder diesel engine, but in different states of tune.
Yes, a decade old design may have its limitations, but don’t for a minute think that the Rexton is ‘outdated’; at the core lies some very sophisticated hardware. Front suspension is by independent double wishbones, while at the rear, an independent five-link set-up has been used. Such a layout not only ensures competent off-road ability due to the high articulation, but also ensures good on-road performance as well.
Style-wise, the new Rexton has been substantially updated compared to the outgoing model. The front end looks much sharper now, with clean crisp lines which seem a bit Infiniti-inspired. This facelift has actually succeeded in making the Rexton a good-looking car, and thankfully done away with the earlier styling, which looked like a bovine rump.
The rear still seems a bit 90s though, and I wish Ssangyong’s or Mahindra’s designers could have done something about the shape.
Interiors & Comfort
Getting into the Rexton requires you to heave yourself up and into the car. This is something which isn’t very convenient for many people, yet for traditional SUV lovers, there can be no other way of getting into a car. If you’re used to the current crop of ‘soft-roaders’ or SUV pretenders, you’ll be surprised by just how high the Rexton is.
The interiors of the Rexton are the other giveaway to this car’s vintage, with dated looking controls and a rather insipid dashboard design. The steering wheel with its two rows of clunky buttons also looks and feels from a pre-historic era.
The seats though and plenty comfy, no matter which row you’re sitting in. In fact, this is one of the Rexton’s strong points – it is a true-blue 7-seater, with none of the usual compromises of the third row. Of course, you do lose luggage space with the third row seats in place.
The middle row can easily accommodate three adults comfortably, with enough head, leg and shoulder room for all. Getting into the third row is possible from either side, with a simple flip and fold mechanism which can be activated from the third row as well.
The RX7 variant we tested features leather upholstery, which is not the most convenient in our climate, I might add. You do tend to feel a little sweaty if you’ve been seated for longer periods.
Performance & Handling
The Ssangyong Rexton carries over the best bits from the original Mercedes-Benz M-Class, engine included. This in-line five-cylinder unit puts out a healthy 187 PS and 402 Nm of torque, both of which are plenty for this SUV’s heft and bulk. (The RX5 has 165 PS and 340 Nm from the same engine).
This engine has a lazy, long-legged feel to it, making max torque from as low as 1,600 rpm. The Rexton has no appetite for revs, but the strong mid-range means it is pointless to take it anywhere above 3,500 rpm in any case. The 5-speed ‘slushmatic’ gearbox makes a good companion to the Rexton’s engine, delivering the power to all four wheels in a fuss-free manner. The all-wheel-drive system in the Rexton has been set up for a 40:60 torque split front to rear.
While we didn’t engage in any heavy-duty off-roading in the Rexton, we did take it grass-tracking across some fields, while also fording a few gullies, just to get a sense of what it is capable of. I suspect not too many people will buy the Rexton primarily to go off-road, but if the need arises, the Rexton should be more than capable.
More importantly, it is the on-road behaviour of such a vehicle which matters. Driving on Indian roads, bereft of any traffic sense or consistent surfacing, means that you need a vehicle which is capable and secure. With the Rexton, I felt immediately comfortable behind the wheel. The high driving position means you have a commanding view of the road ahead, and while I was mindful of its girth, it actually proved pretty easy to steer in traffic.
On open highways and twisty roads, the Rexton likes to go around corners at a leisurely pace, and while the steering points the car faithfully in the direction you’ve pointed it, don’t expect much feel or response. Body roll is quite substantial too, and unless you want the interiors of your pride and joy to be covered in sick, it’s best to drive easy.
The best part about the way the Rexton drives is its ability to smother bumps. With a full complement of five passengers and a packed boot, it tracks dead straight and feels thoroughly planted at all times. As a highway car, there are few which feel as comfortable.
I had the Rexton for the better part of a week, during which I covered nearly 1000 kilometres across varying roads and terrain, and over the course of the test, the Rexton averaged nearly 12 km/l, 11.7 to be precise. While this isn’t a figure which will cause you to jump with joy, it isn’t shabby either. Of course, if you will use it more within city confines, then expect this figure to plummet.
Ssangyong hasn’t scrimped on the safety spec with the Rexton either, and while the RX5 gets two front airbags and ABS as standard, the RX7 adds side airbags and ESP as well. Further, three-point ELR seatbelts are standard in both variants for both the front and middle row occupants. The commanding driving position and vault-like build only help to enhance the feeling of safety.
Many questioned Mahindra’s strategy with the Ssangyong Rexton in India. But it’s proving to be a very sound strategy. The Rexton makes a very strong case for itself, especially when you consider the space and utility it has to offer, plus the high degree of specification. Features like projector headlamps, airbags and ABS, music system with pre-loaded navigation are standard on both variants. The RX7 adds a powered driver’s seat, automatic headlamps and wipers, a sunroof, leather upholstery and ESP. You can’t fault this big Ssangyong for not having enough kit.
The fuel efficiency isn’t bad either, and the Rexton proves very easy to drive despite its huge size. Sure, it isn’t the most involving to drive, but then for someone looking for a big family vehicle with a high dose of practicality and utility, cornering ability isn’t high on the list of priorities. It handles in a predictable and safe manner, which is what is important.
Ultimately, what really makes the Rexton stand out though, is the price. At Rs 21.5 lakh, ex-showroom Kolkata, it isn’t cheap, mind, but the amount of car you get for kind of money you’re shelling out, makes the Rexton a definite contender for anyone looking at a big, family SUV. Mahindra expects to assemble and sell 5,000 units a year, and word has it that production has been sold out already. Justifiably so.