SOUTH Korean car maker SsangYong is well-known for its rugged and uncompromising no-frills Rexton 4x4 which has always appealed to genuine off-road drivers because it was simply ‘cheaper and cheerful' when compared to the likes of more expensive Land Rovers .
But that's about to all change at the end of October when the fourth generation Rexton arrives as Ssangyong moves its big off-roader up market with a far more sophisticated and vastly better 4x4, loaded up with standard features yet still competitive prices.
With prices for the Rexton starting at Â£27,500 through to Â£37,500 bosses at Ssangyong are confident it can now break into the more premium 4x4 sector and although it's only talking about UK sales of hundreds for the first year they believe with the up-market standard package on offer they will attract new buyers.
Steve Gray, SsangYong's UK marketing boss, said: "This latest Rexton demonstrates our current progress of being specialists in making quality and value-for-money 4x4s and SUVs.
"Ssangyong has had over 60 years of making 4x4s so they know what they are on about," he continued.
"We're now moving our game forward and up market because this latest Rexton is now a prestige model and early next year we will be bringing in a posher pick-up model to compete in that niche sector.
"It's a long term development and will probably take us up to five years to become established in the same breath as the likes of Land Rover," he added.
This new Rexton is certainly a vast improvement of any of its predecessors.
It's better equipped with more quality equipment and all mod technology cons on board and when weighing up all these aspects against its rivals it's simply good value for the money.
There are just three trim levels - EX and ELX (both offered as seven-seaters) and top of the range Ultimate - while all share the same 2.2-litre 179bhp turbo diesel engine with either a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed automatic gearbox which is sourced from Mercedes-Benz.
This new powertrain is totally different from what's gone before. It's much smoother, responsive and certainly more capable with 3.5 tonnes towing capacity and with 420Nm of torque.
Out on normal roads it's a steady performer without being sport-oriented which many 4x4 drivers don't want and has more than useful features like auto emergency braking, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert.
The new Rexton really comes into its own off-road where standard features like hill descent control and hill start assist help to go up and down steep, muddy hill tracks with ease and where here the automatic box is preferable.
For the driver taking on off-road chores there's the old style 4WD hand selectable button down between the front seats with the expected choice of high range or low range and driving it over some quite transverse terrain it proved most efficient.
Suspension is decent enough too with the car sitting on a simple separate steel chassis with independent suspension at both end with steel springs and overall it gives a far more pliant ride.
Depending on which model there's a choice too of either 17-inch, 18-inch or 20-inch alloy wheels but all models come with nine airbags, a 9.2-inch nav touch screen, 3D ‘around view' monitor plus several high tech features like AppleCarPlay and Google Android Auto and more.
Overall it's an excellent 4x4 package whichever trim version is chosen whilst the cabin is far more prestige than ever before with this time around far more comfortable seats with the interior trim having some wood effect edgings with quilt leather, smart analogue dials plus the usual decent standard of switch gear.
The old Rexton was very much a basement bargain when it came to the interior but Ssangyong have also clearly moved their game upmarket with a posh cabin to compete on equal terms with some of their more illustrious (and expensive) rivals.
Whether 4x4 punters take this time will only tell because paying this kind of money for a SsangYong would have been unheard of only a few years ago.
In terms of boot space again this new model excels with the five-seater version having 820 litres increasing to 1,977 litres with those rear seats folded while the seven-seater (expected to be the best seller here) has a basic of 649 litres rising to 1,806 litres with the rear seats folded flat.
As a personal matter of choice the best version to go for is the top trim Ultimate (starts at £37,500) with that impressive seven-speed automatic gearbox which has a really good, smooth and responsive up and down gear change.
For those with a lower budget to buy should look at the ELX starting at £32,000 for the manual version which has as standard seven seats, sits on 18-inch alloy wheels, rear air conditioning, smart audio system with eight-inch screen, cruise control and all the standard safety kit on board.