by Huw Thomas
SSangYong in Korean means two or “twin dragons” – deriving their strength, legend has it, from an inseparable relationship. one of the two founder companies (Ha Dong-hwan) started in 1954 and the other (Dongbang Motor) in 1962, merging in 1963. The current name came with a takeover by the SsangYong group in 1986. So, oldest Korean automotive company and it has well-honed 4×4 expertise: Jeeps for the US army in the 1960s together with trucks and buses (military as well as civilian). a licence agreement in 1991 allowed SsangYong to produce Mercedes engines and transmissions under licence. First result of that tie-up, 1993 Musso, was replaced by the 2001 Rexton. Three iterations later and a new Rexton is imminent. The Mercedes connection did not solve SsangYong’s problems. Daewoo took over from 1997 until that company failed in 2000. In 2004 China’s SaIC took a majority share but that unravelled and it went into administration in 2009. In 2010 however a bid by India’s Mahindra & Mahindra was accepted with completion in February 2011. SsangYong launched a compact SUV-like crossover, Korando, in 2010 (revised 2013) followed by a slightly smaller Tivoli in 2015 (and longer Tivoli XLV in 2016). These are contemporary front-wheel drive models with an on-demand 4×4 option. The Rexton on the other hand retains a separate chassis (body-on-frame), transfer box, high/low ratio gears, manual gearbox option and a mechanical handbrake. The current Rexton was revised in December 2015 with a Euro VI compliant 2.2 litre 4-cylinder Diesel engine replacing a 2.0 unit. Economy and Co2 results are improved. Power and torque though are up – now 178ps and 400nm. Model range is SE, EX, ELX: £23,500-£28,000. Manual SE and EX have a rigid rear axle albeit coilsprung, EX/ELX with the new 7-speed Mercedes autobox have independent rear suspension with a multi-link back axle. Maximum braked trailer weight went up to 3.5t this year. IRS or not however, current Rexton’s on-road dynamics are poor. Ride quality is oK but body-roll on corners is evident and passengers can feel ‘thrown-about’ if pressing on. Toyota’s (body-on-frame) Land Cruiser does better – if at a higher price. But this is a lot of 4×4 for the money, it’s “easy to live with” and will return 30 mpg day to day. new Rexton, shown at the Seoul Motor Show in March, will arrive in the autumn. as a welcome change from current trends it retains a separate chassis, manual gearing and high/low ratio 4×4 via transfer box. The 2.2 Diesel is carried over together with the 6sp manual gearbox and 7sp Mercedes auto. a 2.0 turbo petrol unit driving through an aisin 6sp auto-box will be an option elsewhere but not here. These 4-cylinder engines, by the way, are SsangYong’s own unlike some Mercedes-derived 5 and 6-cyl units still offered abroad. next year’s new Musso pick-up will use this chassis so all variants of the new Rexton will have IRS. Longer, wider but lower slightly, much work has gone into improving chassis dynamics. Similarly, improving fit and finish and cabin quality has been a major priority together with ‘on-board tech’, connectivity, large touchscreen, etc. The handbrake though has been a casualty. as all too often nowadays it’s been replaced by an electric switch. otherwise, pre-driving impressions are promising. The Rexton needed to catch up and, if SsangYong has been able to do that while retaining its highcred 4×4 credentials and keen pricing it should prove attractive.