It really isn’t that long since anyone looking for a car to carry more than five people was faced with buying a small van or an MPV.
Most brands offered at least one big boxy people carrier with seven seats and some offered more than one. But times have changed and the inexorable rise of the SUV has more or less wiped out the MPV segment.
The market is now awash with seven-seat SUVs, from the Skoda Kodiaq and Seat Tarraco to the Toyota Highlander and Kia Sorento.
Korean budget brand SsangYong is no different to the crowd, ditching its ageing and ungainly Tourismo MPV in 2017 and replacing it with a brand-new version of its Rexton SUV, complete with a seven-seat option.
For 2021 the Rexton is now seven-seat as standard and has had some midlife cosmetic and technical upgrades.
Visually, the most obvious change is a bolder, more aggressive grille flanked by new standard-fit LED headlights. The new front certainly isn’t subtle but the Rexton gets away with the toothy, chrome-laden look simply by being such a big vehicle.
LED lights are also standard at the rear but apart from that the Rexton looks much as it always has - big, imposing but slightly anonymous in a world of big imposing SUVs.
Inside, changes are similarly limited, with a minor redesign of the centre console and the addition of a sharp 12.3-inch digital instrument display the only real differences. The Rexton’s cabin was already thoughtfully laid out and user-friendly and the slight changes to the controls don’t spoil this.
The interior also maintains the trick of managing to look and feel more premium than the car’s low entry price would suggest. It’s not going to worry the likes of Volvo or Audi but a simple mix of solid plastics with the occasional chrome-effect or high-gloss trim is attractive and effective.
Ultimate-spec cars like ours feature a 9.2-inch touchscreen in the centre of the dash while entry-level Ventura cars get a seven-inch version that ditches the TomTom-based sat nav. It’s a fairly basic system but easy to use and most drivers are likely to take advantage of the standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay anyway.
The interior changes haven’t affected the car’s practicality. There is a massive amount of space in rows one and two and acceptable room in the third row of seats, which fold up easily from the boot floor. With those seats up there’s around 240 litres of luggage space but in five-seat mode boot space is more than 800 litres.
The bigger updates to the Rexton are beneath the surface where both the drivetrain and chassis have been upgraded.
Engine, performance and driving
Power still comes from a 2.2-litre diesel, delivered via an eight-speed auto and switchable four-wheel-drive but both engine and transmission have been revised. The engine now offers 199bhp and 325lb ft - up from 179bhp and 309lb ft - and the seven-speed Mercedes-sourced gearbox has been replaced with an eight-speed from fellow Korean brand Hyundai.
That’s the only drivetrain option and all models feature a low-range transmission option that helps make the Rexton impressively capable in more serious off-road conditions. The low-down torque also makes towing a breeze, and the Rexton is rated for a trailer of up to 3.5 tonnes.
The engine isn’t the last word in refinement but the slightly old-fashioned diesel rattle fades away pretty quickly and, at a cruise the Rexton is impressively quiet.
The Rexton shares its underpinnings with the Musso pick-up but for 2021 its suspension has been upgraded with a new setup designed to better suit Europe’s roads. The gains aren’t huge but ride refinement, control and comfort are all improved. It’s not always a match for the best in the segment but actually better than you might expect given its body-on-frame construction.
Specification, equipment and price
Ssangyong keeps specifications simple on the Rexton. You can have the Ventura edition priced from £37,995 or the tested Ultimate at £40,665.
Both come well equipped with a full suite of driver assistance systems and creature comforts like heated seats in rows one and two, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, and auto-dipping headlights. Ultimate cars add a handful of extras including a 360-degree camera system, Nappa leather seats and a handy powered tailgate.
That high spec combined with the relatively low price and massive practicality are the Rexton’s key strengths. For overall refinement and quality, it’s not quite a match for something like a Kia Sorento or Hyundai Santa Fe but undercuts such models by several thousand pounds without feeling particularly low-budget.
SsangYong Rexton Ultimate
Price: £40,665; Engine: 2.2-litre, four-cylinder diesel; Power: 190bhp; Torque: 325lb ft; Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive; Top speed: 114mph; 0-62mph: 10.7 seconds; Economy: 32.9mpg CO2 emissions: 225g/km