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'DNA' drive: The debut of Ssangyong Rexton

Friday, 19 October 2012 - 11:00am IST | Place: Mumbai
When Ssangyong was going belly-up a few years ago, M&M was one of the Indian manufacturers who jumped at the opportunity to buy it out.

It was only a year ago that Mahindra & Mahindra brought out the XUV to much fanfare and success, they’re hoping to recreate that same success with a slightly more upmarket sports utility vehicle (SUV).

You see, when Ssangyong was going belly-up a few years ago, M&M was one of the Indian manufacturers who jumped at the opportunity to buy it out. They gained full control of it, but took their own time in bringing the products to Indian soil. Waiting all this while was certainly a wiser move though, and with the XUV’s success, the company is certainly perceived as a manufacturer of upscale vehicles, but before all of that, let’s take a look at the product itself and see what it’s all about.

Looks
The Rexton has been recently updated and is known internationally as the Rexton W. The older car was quite the ugly duckling, but look at the swan that it had spawned! In terms of sheer numbers, the Rexton is quite large, but in person, it certainly doesn’t look the part. The new front end treatment with the swept back headlights, the new grille and lavish use of chrome on the front end mean that it certainly catches your eye, but it won’t be imposing.

Walk around to the back (and you’ll be walking for a while, the Rexton is a long car) and one of the first things you’ll notice is the wraparound rear glass. The kink produced in the C-Pillar as a result of this, helps a lot in hiding the visual length of the car. Behind the glass, there’s a hidden D-Pillar too, which separated the side windows from the tailgate. Overall, the Rexton won’t be winning any beauty contests, but it’s most certainly a decent looking car, especially after that facelift last year.

Interiors
Inside, you’re greeted with plush leather clad seats which are among the most comfortable we’ve sat in recently. From the driver’s seat, the steering wheel is quite intimidating, with so many buttons, but once you get used to them, it won’t bother you much. Although, we wish they were placed in clusters instead of all in a line. There are features galore on the top-end RX7 model we drove. It comes with everything from a touchscreen audio system with built-in GPS, to a sunroof and everything in between, including auto headlights, wipers, parking sensors, airbags, ABS, ESP and finally, an 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, too. There’s even soft touch plastics on the dash, which was a very pleasant surprise.

Apart from that, there’s also the lower spec version, called the RX5, which does away with some of the features, but even that felt like it was very solidly put together. Sure, the RX5 does with only fabric seats and manually adjustable seats and the lack of a few of those features, but it’s still got enough space on the inside. Now, coming to the space, it’s not as much as you’d expect, considering its external dimensions.

They call this a seven-seater, but really, five is where we’d draw the line. The second row of seats is decent enough, but could be better, but the last row is downright uncomfortable. Not even children would be comfortable there, we think. So, forget the fact that it’s a seven-seater and then consider the car.

Performance
For the longest time, Ssangyong had a deal with Mercedes-Benz which allowed them access to all that tech (albeit a generation or two old). So, this car is basically an older M-Class underneath all those Ssangyong and Mahindra badges! Cool, eh?

You’ll be glad to know that the powertrain is also a Mercedes-derived unit. The 2.7-litre engine is one of the odder configurations around, it’s an in-line five-cylinder engine. The same engine that did duty in an E-Class and M-Class a few years ago. So, you know you’re in good hands here.

The Rexton does weigh a good two tonnes, so you’re not going to get shoved back into your seat, but the engine is immensely torquey and with the well spaced ratios on the five-speed automatic gearbox, you can be sure that whatever speed you’re doing, the engine always has enough grunt on tap to power you through. The  gearbox is a little slow to respond, but the ratios themselves are very well spaced and complement the engine very well.

There is a major downside to this powertrain though, and that is NVH levels. Okay, the vibrations are well in control, but the engine noise — right from idle, the racket only gets louder as the revs rise.

We got to drive the top-end RX7 which is auto-only and comes with a more powerful 184 bhp version of the engine and it has permanent all-wheel-drive for good traction in all situations. The RX5 is manual only and comes with a switchable four-wheel-drive system and the 2.7-litre engine is only able to muster 162 bhp of power in this application. We didn’t get to drive the manual version, but we can assure you that the automatic is plenty powerful for normal use.

Ride and handling
Unlike the XUV from Mahindra, this is a body-on-frame machine, which lends it that bit of ruggedness required in an SUV, but at the same time, ride quality over broken roads isn’t the best you’d expect. Low-speed ride is good, but as the speeds rise, things get a little harsh and bumpy over broken tarmac.

The Rexton is no corner carver like marque SUVs — there’s too much body roll.  But if you do need to pull a drastic manoeuvre in an emergency, there is anti-rollover protection and ESP (Mercedes qualities again) to ensure the rubber side is down.

Verdict
The Rexton, with its great build quality, premium interiors and terrific pricing is a compelling option, despite a howling engine and slightly bumpy ride. It aims to go head-to-head with the Toyota Fortuner, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and the Ford Endeavour, and compared with those, is priced very competitively. Which makes it quite a bargain.

Spec sheet
Ssangyong Rexton
Price:
Rs17.67 lakh manual, Rs19.67 lakh automatic, (ex-showroom Mumbai)
Kitna deti hai? 12.4 kmpl ARAI test
Engine: 2696 cc, 5-cylinder diesel
Power: 162 bhp (manual), 184 bhp (automatic)
Torque 34.7 kgm (manual), 41 kgm (automatic)
Transmission: 5-speed manual/auto, torque on demand/ all-wheel drive
Dimensions in feet (L/W/H):  15.6/6.23/6.03
Wheel base: 2835mm
Ground clearance: 252 mm


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