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SsangYong Rexton 270 SPR Auto

Click to view picture gallery“MotorBars CD editor bagged
  the range-topping Rexton for a quick
  700-mile weekend jaunt to Wales
  and back. On her own. She not only
  returned safely in one piece — but
  was suitably refreshed. And she
  suffers from a bad back. Says it all
  really, doesn
t it. Oh yes, Rexton
  prices start at just 20K
...”

I WAS SPEAKING TO A WEALTHY MAN RECENTLY — not quite Sunday Times Rich List but undoubtedly not short of a bob or two — who turned out to drive a Rexton. For the record, he also has an Enzo that, apart from his wife and family, is the love of his life. But ask him why he runs around in a brand new SsangYong and he'll tell you, with steely-eyed frankness, that "cars don't make money".

But he's right about that. Motorists collectively spend a fortune buying cars that impress their neighbours, office colleagues — and even their teenaged kids. One of the positive benefits coming out of the current credit crunch has been to make people question if they really do need to be spending as much each month to keep that designer-badged car on their drive as they do on the mortgage. For many, the answer is a resounding No.

Which is exactly where the Rexton comes in. Just re-launched in the UK, it is now under the control of a totally new company — Koelliker UK, part of the Italian Koelliker automotive group. At present there are about 35 dealers in the UK but by the end of 2008 this should have almost doubled to around 60. Currently the easiest way to find the nearest dealer to you or book a test drive is by visiting the SsangYong website.

The new three-model range consists of vehicles benefiting from physical makeovers and substantial specifications but still at prices that offer value for money: the Rexton (large SUV), Kyron (mid-sized SUV) and Rodius (large MPV). Tested here is the range-topping 270 SPR spec Rexton with comprehensive standard kit and a price that significantly undercuts its rivals.

All three new SsangYong Rexton models have all-wheel drive and a 2.7-litre common-rail turbodiesel engine for big towing capacity and off-road capability. The Rexton line-up starts at 19,995 for the 270 S. This, incidentally, is a 2,600 reduction on the lowest price of the previous model. Yet it comes complete with ABS with EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution), Electronic Stability Programme with Active Rollover Protection, Hill Descent Control, auto climate control air conditioning and a Kenwood sound system. The Rexton S features a manual transmission with torque on demand four-wheel drive. Like other Rextons, it will happily tow up to 3.2 metric tons — more than enough for most caravan, boat and horse owners.

Next up the range from the 270 S — for only 1,500 more — is the 270 S Auto. This has cruise control and is fitted with the Mercedes T-Tronic transmission. Heading up the Rexton line-up is the 24,995 270 SPR. What's it got? Easier to say 'You name it and it's probably got it' — the only extras are a rear roof spoiler and a Kenwood touch-screen audio and navigation system.

Koelliker UK see the Rexton as squaring up against the likes of the Mitsubishi Shogun, Land Rover Discovery and Jeep Cherokee. The Rexton's core selling point is its appeal to motorists looking for a well-equipped, immensely practical vehicle, who want value for money rather than paying the premium prices demanded by other brands. They are also particularly suitable for anyone with a regular or occasional need to tow.

MotorBar's CD editor bagged the Rexton for her weekend trip to Tregaron and back to catch The Storeys playing on their home ground (those of you who don't know their music may have seen them in the recent hit film The Bank Job starring Jason Stratham). Wales is a great place for music and a great place to test the Rexton — up hills, down into the valleys and along narrow winding roads.

Critics have been quick to disapprove of the Rexton's similarity to the Mercedes M-Class but who cares — the Rexton looks good. Proof of this was that, at almost every stopover en-route to Wales, other motorists went out of their way to come across and have a good look. Without exception, they all went way impressed and approving of its contemporary lines. On a more practical level, the model's durability is already established and the mechanical technology likewise proven. More good news is that much of the drivetrain comes from Mercedes — albeit a few years behind their current products.

Pop open the Rexton's bonnet and you'll find a version of Mercedes' previous-generation 2.7-litre five-cylinder diesel. In SPR guise, this comes mated to a Mercedes Tiptronic five-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode and shift buttons on the multifunction steering wheel.

On the move, this TDI unit serves up smooth acceleration with clean up and down changes from the standard-fit Merc auto 'box (a 1,500 option on lesser models) and while not hot-hatch fast, it nevertheless feels suitably well endowed with enjoyable performance. For the record, the top speed is 121mph with 0-62mph acceleration taking 11.6 seconds — not bad when you consider its 183bhp and 296lb ft of torque has 2.1 tonnes of metal to move along. And during a week's hard testing (954 miles), our automatic Rexton returned a not bad at all 32.9mpg. Official figures are 25, 30.7 and 35.3mpg respectively for urban, mixed and extra-urban. Needless to say, Maggie was keen to get back quickly from Wales to catch up with her work, so wasn't hanging around!

What also can't be denied is that the Rexton is usefully space-efficient. For a start, there's a very large boot with an easy loading height. A luggage blind and cargo nets are provided, and an enormous load bay (flat but on two levels) is only a one-shot 60:40 folding rear seat away. Leg and foot room is more than adequate in the back, as is the headroom, and the large rear seats are especially accommodating with a big comfy centre rear armrest. Front occupants are equally well catered for when it comes to space, enjoying masses of room in all directions. Front or back, all the doors shut with a quality feel.

Inside the Rexton, trim materials are of decent quality with good fit and finish; the creature comforts — 6-speaker Kenwood CD/radio (with USB), leather upholstery, cruise control, electrically-adjustable and 5-stage heated seats (driver and front passenger) with three memory settings and a powered easy-access facility for the driver, auto climate control A/C, sunroof, electric windows, electrically-adjustable and heated door mirrors with power-fold (with auto-tilt for easier parking), auto lights and rain-sensing wipers, reverse parking sensors, privacy glass (rear doors, quarter and tailgate), auto-dimming rear-view mirror, etc — all confer welcoming 'premium' character.

The fascia wouldn't look out of place in any of its rivals. Dials are crisp and clear with large white graphics. Up front there's plenty of stowage compartments including a drop down glasses holder in the roof console. There are four electric windows — although only the driver's is fitted with one-shot auto up/down. However, the electric sunroof does have a one-shot open/close facility along with one-shot tilt open. In addition, there are three memory settings for the driver's seat as well as a powered easy-entry/exit facility (you can, if you wish, turn this off). There's good built-in lumbar support to both the well-shaped front seats, with manual adjustment for the driver. Welcome, too, is drive-off central locking. Thanks to the amount of powered seat adjustment, the height-only adjustable part-leather, part-laminated steering wheel doesn't prevent you achieving a decent driving position.

From behind the wheel the most noticeable aspect of the Rexton's dynamics is its steering feel. Actually, there's not much feedback as the speed-sensing power steering is very light at the helm — but that didn't prevent it being driven confidently down tight Welsh lanes. The commanding driving position and good visibility out makes it very easy to place this quite big SUV accurately on the road.

Refinement levels weren't the low-rent standard that some press reviews had led us to expect. Given that 'our' 270 SPR was running on 18-inch alloys shod with pretty wide 255/60 Bridgestone tyres, road noise was not an issue and the Rexton cruised motorways quietly. And, wherever we found ourselves driving, the air conditioning was first rate; fast-reacting and with a strong outpouring of refreshingly cold air.

True, the Rexton's ride is nowhere near as 'sporting' as that of many of the seriously more expensive SUVs on the market, and yes there is some body roll (the suspension errs on the side of comfort and the Rexton is a tallish vehicle with an obviously higher centre of gravity than the average car), but that doesn't mean that it's not smooth to travel in. In fact, most of the time it's unexpectedly cosseting; you're made aware of bad road surfaces but they're not unsettling.

While you won't be doing any Bourne Ultimatum-style driving — it would do the pundits good to reflect on the fact that not everybody wants to drive an SUV that's faster than a speeding bullet and can out-handle a world rally car — there is ESP to keep it all tidily together and the Rexton's nose pointing in your chosen direction. The brakes — discs all round; ventilated at the front — do a first-rate job of stopping the Rexton without any fuss as Maggie found out when a Welsh rabbit darted across the road in front of her! And it's no exaggeration to say that there's a very easy driveability to the Rexton.

Some might claim that the highly-spec'ed but 'bargain'-priced Rexton misses the point by actually being so well specified. We'd go the other way and say that offering so much for comparatively so little is just what a growing number of 'down-pricing' — but not down-sizing — buyers are looking for. Particularly when it means that for a lot less money they can drive a comfortable SUV well-stocked with all the essentials and still have money in the bank.

Without doubt the Rexton fills a gap in the market left as the price of many SUVs climb ever upwards. There's a demand for cost-effective but well-spec'ed vehicles that can do the school run, the weekly shop, play the workhorse on 'activity' weekends and move the family unit en masse. And, as our CD editor reported: "The Rexton took me from Kent to Wales and back and it was as brilliant driving down narrow country lanes as it was eating up the miles on the M4. I did in excess of 700 miles on my own in two days and I still felt reasonably fresh once I got home again." For some people the SsangYong name won't have the 'right' ring. But more canny motorists would see it as being the answer to having the best of two worlds: a new car and a house. — MotorBar

SsangYong Rexton 270 SPR Auto
| 24,995
Maximum speed: 121mph | 0-62mph: 11.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 32.9mpg | Power: 183bhp | Torque: 296lb ft
CO2 233g/km | VED Band G 400 | Insurance group 14