New Rexton smooths out

the rough

AN epic drive covering more than 8,000 miles across the wilds of Asia, through Europe and on to middle England is enough to test any car to the limits yet for SsangYong's new Rexton SUV it was all in a day's work - well 50 days to be precise.

A convoy of five of the Korean 4x4 specialist's latest models made the journey from the SsangYong factory near Seoul across China, Kazakhstan and Russia following the famous Silk Trail then on through Poland to Germany for the Rexton's European premiere at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

From there, two of the long range Rextons went on through Belgium, across the Channel to arrive in Britain in time for the opening of the Blenheim International Horse Trials which SsangYong is now sponsoring.

We have just caught up with the pair - still carrying the dust from their Trans Eurasia adventure and wearing their Korean number plates - to sample the new Rexton's off-road credentials in the rather more sedate surroundings of the Weston Park estate in Shropshire.

Nevertheless, the grassy meadows, muddy tracks and a former limestone quarry within the grounds of the family seat of the Earls of Bradford - and once home to a stage of the RAC Rally - are a stern test for any vehicle.

Like its predecessor, the latest Rexton is heavy duty kit but is also now rather posh inside with quilted leather upholstery and smart inlays in the trim.

That's reflected in the price with the three model line up now starting from £27,500 and topping out at £37,500 for an automatic version in Ultimate specification and complete with a seven-speed automatic gearbox from Mercedes.

Powered by a 2.2-litre diesel developing 181ps but more importantly a hefty amount of torque, the Rexton remains as sturdy as they come and has a whopping 3.5 tonne towing limit.

Only the Land Rover Discovery is a match for that - and the Rexton is half the price.

It's compelling stuff for those who really need a 4x4 and who like a touch of refinement - something for which SsangYong may not have been known for previously.

This SUV is a sea change for the Korean brand and sees it moving upmarket and challenging new markets, just as it has done with the smaller Tivoli compact crossover.

With a proper chassis underneath the Rexton is rigid and sure footed and although sitting on road tyres it championed the slippery surfaces and muddy slopes around Weston with a superior feel.

In everyday set up the Rexton has an automatic 4x4 system which in the main drives the rear wheels.

As such, fuel economy on the top range model is rated at 34 to the gallon with emissions of 218g/km - on the high side but this is an SUV that weighs the best part of 2.3 tonnes and can accelerate 0 to 60 in 11.9 seconds with a top speed of 115mph.

On the road it has good manners, not too much roll for a car of such proportions and easy to drive. It is also exceptionally quiet inside - something which SsangYong has worked hard to achieve with improved aerodynamics and additional noise insulation.

We saw an average of 30mpg on the road and even when working hard off road it still clocked up 17 to the gallon - impressive given the conditions - and with a 15.5 gallon fuel tank the range will be nudging 500 miles.

Four wheel drive is engaged electronically and in high ratio gears can be done on the move. Shifting into lower gears has to be done with the transmission in neutral.

Hill descent control and hill start assist are other facets of the Rexton's off-road armoury and with all engaged it is a proper mud-plugger.

Manual changes can be done from a button on the side of the gear lever and the auto box is rapid to respond.

With some eight inches of ground clearance, an approach angle of 20.5 degrees, departure of 22 degrees and a breakover of 20 degrees it is up with the best and has genuine go-anywhere aspirations.

The new model is some four inches longer than the version it replaces and can be had as a seven seater in entry level EX and mid-grade ELX specifications.

The Ultimate is a five seater only and not only possesses masses of room inside, the boot space is enormous ranging from 820 to 1,977 litres. There's even a powered tailgate to keep life easy.

Standard kit on the Rexton Ultimate includes full connectivity, a 9.2-inch high definition sat nav display screen and a surround-view camera system which came into its own on some tight forest tracks during our exercise.

The layout of the controls is nicely logical and while the instrumentation looks as posh as the rest of the cockpit, it is also well put together and robust enough to withstand heavy duty treatment.

Safety aids include nine airbags, lane departure and blind spot monitors and rear cross traffic sensors while the cameras are also brought into play when reversing and hitching.

Make no doubt about it, the Rexton may be moving into a luxury territory but it is still very much hard core when it comes to all round performance.

Pound for pound it is an awful lot of car for the money and comes with the bonus of SsangYong's unlimited mileage five year warranty.

And anything which can travel overland from South Korea to the wilds of Shropshire has to have something about it. No wonder that back in its homeland it's known as the Korean Land Rover.

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