SsangYong is a brand that has not had the best reputation in the Philippines. From a multitude of different groups handling the brands, to questionable 2000’s styling, the Korean brand’s reputation took hit after hit in the eyes of the Filipino before the implementation of their modernization plan that ended up with the SUV that is the subject of my article today.
For those of you unfamiliar with SsangYong, I really cannot blame you. It may be large as a Korean brand, it pales in comparison with its larger domestic competition such as Hyundai and Kia. You should be aware that SsangYong is currently undergoing court receivership in the Seoul Bankruptcy Court. We did reach out to the local distributor, and SsangYong PH said the parent company has enough funds to keep operating for a few more years. And there are supposedly already bidders to be SsangYong’s new owner.
That being said, and with eyes wide open, let us consider the 2021 Rexton as a purchase. The Rexton is the latest push for the brand in the Philippines, the highest end of the now SUV-focused marque in a market already dominated by much more established names. At P2,260,000 as tested in top-of-the-line 4x4 trim, it undercuts its competitors while allegedly offering better features for the price. So just how does it stack up? Read on to find out.
The new Rexton finally throws SsangYong’s reputation for just plain weird design choices out the window in favor of a more generic, but much more handsome design language. It now has the trendy large front grille, which complements the more chiseled lines of the SUV.
It looks purposeful, strong, and at some very specific angles, German in design. That being said, the head and taillamps look a bit off, a bit too rounded as compared to the angular points of the body lines. Questionable lighting aside, the car, while not a standout in any way, looks thoroughly modern, and is a huge step over SsangYongs of yore.
Open the door and you are greeted with a decidedly high-end looking two-tone black and brown leather interior in this top-of-the-line Rexton. In terms of look and feel, this is definitely a strong point for the SUV, as it easily stands up to the quality and bits found in the modern Korean brands. Some may not like the cross-stitching of the leather, but personally, I find that it adds a good sense of character to the interior that allows it to stand out in a market flooded with modern leather interiors. The buttons feel quite nice to the touch, and nothing in the switchgear feels cheap…
Except the steering wheel. For some odd reason, SsangYong equipped the Rexton with a non-traditional somewhat oblique-shaped angular steering wheel. The angles all feel wrong, the stitching is sharp to the touch, and overall, while nice to look at, when you are using it it feels as if you are driving with sandpaper wedged between your fingers. It almost completely destroys the driving enjoyment of the SUV. It is as if the person who designed it never took the car out for a long drive to see just how the angles and pointy bits hurt your hands after any length of time while manning the tiller. In short, I’m not a fan.
The Rexton is equipped with a 2,157cc turbodiesel engine mated to a 7-speed automatic gearbox. Power and torque come out at 179hp and 420Nm, respectively. These numbers, as well as the well-tuned butt-dyno, left an impression to me that power in the Rexton was… adequate. The car was not lacking in power, but also, provincial road overtaking needed some thought put in before hammering on the throttle. It could have been better, but it also could have been much, much worse.
Then, there is the issue of the noise the engine makes, and yes, “noise” is the proper term for this as the engine clatters at high revs that is unbefitting of the upscale interior of the SUV. At cruising speed, it is manageable, but when flooring it and revving out the motor, it just sounds rough, as if the car is unhappy with your choice of wringing its neck.
Ride and handling
This is where the Rexton flops as an SUV. The spec sheet says that it utilizes a double wishbone/five-link setup. But from the way it rides, you would think you were bouncing around on unladen leaf springs. The oscillations were so bad, they caused a time rift that reminded me of the first-generation Fortuner’s suspension setup. SsangYong engineers really need to re-examine the setup of this car, as the way it is set up now, it just is not a pleasant place to sit when going out of town.
At least the Rexton has a great array of features. At this price, it is the only vehicles that comes to mind that features seat air-conditioners, a blessing in our tropical climate, especially for vehicles with leather seats.
Apple CarPlay is standard in the infotainment system, as are smart proximity key entry, an automatic tailgate, cruise control, and automatic headlights and wipers. All in all, for the price, it has a lot of features that more expensive cars could only dream of. It also has an electronic shifting four-wheel drive system, and although we were not able to test it off-road, it at least shifted easily when we flipped the switch.
For its price and features, the Rexton offers a compelling package compared to its more mainstream competition. The interior definitely feels more upscale than its contemporaries. The SUV is only let down by a terribly bouncy ride and a disappointing steering wheel.
SPECS: 2021 SsangYong Rexton
Engine: 2.2-liter turbodiesel
Power: 179hp @5,000rpm
Torque: 420Nm @1,600-2,600rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Drive layout: 4WD