Mahindra is set to compete in the entry level luxury SUV segment with the SsangYong Rexton. It's not going to be a walk in the park for this SUV, but it has the merit to command a fair share of the pie
Ever since Mahindra and Mahindra bought controlling stake in SsangYong Motors, South Korea’s fourth largest car maker in February 2011, it has been a wait and watch game to see when those machines would finally make it to Indian shores. Korean cars have done well in India in the past and we, as a country, have been rather receptive of these brands, making the decision to bring SsangYong to India an inevitable choice for Mahindra. The wait is finally over and the Rexton is the first fruit from the Mahindra-SsangYong tie-up which is surely a fine way to start with a whole new line of quality products for the Indian market.
Incidentally Mahindra and SsangYong began their individual journeys on a rather similar note. Both companies first started out assembling jeeps, and thus formed their DNA. While Mahindra stuck to the basic layout for their product line up in the years to follow and established themselves in the UV and LCV market in India, SsangYong was quick to pursue a more contemporary and urban product under a technical partnership with Daimler-Benz. Now as the two companies come together, the best practices are bound to find their way into both company product line ups. For now, however, the Rexton will be the beacon of this new partnership and our first outing with it has definitely left us feeling that the future looks good for SsangYong’s Indian innings.
Exteriors: Soft and Subtle
All the way from the curved headlamps and the arc-grille laced with chrome to the sharply styled fog lamps and the long roof rails, the Rexton is one good-looking vehicle. If at first sight you think it isn’t too aggressive in character because of the soft lines, you’re not all that wrong! Having said that, you cannot but help notice the familiarity in design between the Rexton and the Mercedes-Benz M-Class. No doubt, the M-Class is a class apart, but SsangYong’s association with the brand in the past has left a bit of a hangover and that is clearly visible in the design.
The Rexton’s soft character extends to the rear as well with a smart set of vertical tail lamps. Black cladding all round the lower edge is a great way to disguise the SUV’s height and make it look sporty as well – enhancing those flared wheel arches. And then there is that very raked D-pillar line that slopes backward and gets even more accentuated by the wrap-around rear window. The spare wheel finds its place under the boot.
The Rexton is a big car and the vehicle’s proportions go well with its blunt, but attractive styling that sees a very tasteful dosage of chrome – unlike some other cars, the bling hasn’t been overdone. Those 16-inch wheels fill up the arches well and you might want to take note of that gaping ground clearance that’ll make sure the Rexton drives over anything! With a 252mm ground clearance the Rexton makes ingress and egress an easier affair courtesy this very sturdy looking running board, which neatly stretches all along the side of the otherwise elevated stance of this SUV.
The three column LED tail lamp looks chic and very much in sync with the vehicle’s overall classy demeanour and subtle yet sophisticated style quotient. The latest generation of the SsangYong Rexton gets the ‘W’ suffix and proudly displays it on rakish D pillar. Speaking about badges, the Rexton comes with a plethora of them on its tailgate. The most prominent of the five badges is the one that announces the vehicle’s variant of choice, in this case the top-spec RX7. Just below are separate stampings establishing the RX7 Rexton as an All-Wheel-Drive vehicle mated to an Automatic Gearbox, and the fact that Mahindra has taken the onus for manufacturing it here in India. On the far left upper corner is a more apparent proprietary SsangYong badge.
Engine and performance: Power to the People
Powering the Rexton RX7 is the XDi270 diesel mill which sports a 2696cc capacity and makes 186.5PS @ 4000rpm while torque peaks at 402Nm between 1600-3000rpm. The RX5 version gets a slightly detuned version of the same inline-5 cylinder engine and a 5-speed manual transmission. ARAI certified fuel efficiency isn’t too bad for a car this size either at a little over 11kmpl for the RX7, which is in line with expectations from SUVs in this particular segment.
The Rexton RX7 is mated to a 5-speed automatic gearbox which incidentally is a Mercedes unit; another element that points back to the technical partnership between SsangYong and Daimler Benz in the early 90s. The auto box is a torque converter type which seems a little outdated when compared to the dual clutch ‘boxes around today. The transmission takes quite some time before shifting to the next gear and that takes away from the driving experience. The shift lever gets a nice visual touch and when you slot it into manual mode as buttons on the steering wheel allow you to shift up or down, a la earlier Porsche Cayennes!
One thing is certain and that is the fact that the Rexton RX7 cannot be termed a slouch, even after accounting for the slow shift timings between gears. As per the company, the SUV has a claimed top speed of 194 km/h which is more than you will ever need on Indian roads.
Performance for an SUV isn’t just limited to tarmac and the Rexton does boast of a host of gadgetry on board which includes Hill Descent Control and All-Wheel-Drive. Don’t expect it to go boulder bashing, but it can handle its fair share of dirt with élan.
Keeping the occupants safe, the Rexton comes fitted with ABS, two front airbags, and side airbags, plus a headlight leveling system to aid the driver for better visibility at night.
Ride and Handling: Life is a Roller Coaster!
While the tech specs on the engine are impressive, the Rexton isn’t our first choice in the handling department. Thanks to its soft suspension set up, body roll is more than evident and can be unnerving at times especially when the Rexton is thrown around a corner with aggression. All that it lacks in the handling department isn’t helped by the large 235/75 R16 tyres either. While the tyre rating itself seems fine, the Hankook rubber could have worked better and that’s probably the biggest issue we have with the Rexton – especially when put to urban use.
On the flip side though, ride quality is awesome for the suspension just soaks up road undulations and passengers don’t have to bear the brunt of our Indian roads. Keeping in mind that most Indian roads aren’t designed for high speed driving and comfort takes precedence over handling, the Rexton isn’t such a bad deal.
Interiors and Ergonomics: Simple and sorted
Ergonomics on the inside are well-sorted and the driver’s seat gives you a commanding view of the road ahead. The RX7 gets an 8-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat with a 3-preset memory function too which also remembers ORVM settings. The seats are well-padded, comfortable and provide the right support at the right places.
The Rexton sports a huge steering wheel which gets an endless array of buttons that control almost every function you can think of on the touch-screen audio system. The dashboard layout is simple, yet elegant with a nice dual-tone vertical split and the centre console follows the same theme of simplicity. The beige interiors offer an enhanced sense of luxury but keeping in mind the Indian environment and the penchant for everything to attract dust and dirt, the carpets should have been a darker shade.
Instrumentation is in fact bare basic in today’s terms with a big speedometer in the centre flanked by a tachometer and a fuel and temperature gauge. A tiny digital readout displays gear status and the usual odometer and tripmeters. While the light green backlight looks fresh, one can’t deny that the instrument console could do with a lot more flair.
The auto roll up / down feature on the power windows is available only on the driver’s side window though we would have liked to see that feature on all four windows, ORVMs are electrically adjustable and foldable, while there is also an easy access to the 3 preset memory on the driver’s side door itself.
All three rows get dedicated AC vents, though the most impressive ones are those for the third row passengers – Twin adjustable AC vents with their very own blower settings. Front row vents straddle a digital clock, while the central AC vents overlook a neat set of foldaway cupholders.
The Rexton RX7 gets a tinted sunroof, though it is slightly small in comparison to the vehicle’s proportions and only accessible to the front row passengers. A sunglass holder located just behind the map lights adds to the occupant’s convenience. There’s adequate storage space even with the third row upright, and just keeps expanding as you fold the third and middle row down. The best part is that it is more or less a flat floor which allows for easy storage of excess luggage should the need arise.
Conclusion: A mighty fight in the making
To put the new Rexton into better perspective for its eager Indian buyers, here’s a vehicle that carries a lot of bulk, but that being said is one rather soft at heart. There’s a sense of light-heartedness in every aspect of the vehicle’s engineering, be it the suspension setup, the design quotient or even its overall level of comfort. Set to compete against the likes of the Toyota Fortuner, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Ford Endeavour, the Rexton does have a solid uphill battle to fight against some of these more established players.
No doubt, the Rexton will benefit from Mahindra’s extensive dealer network across India and expertise in the UV/MUV/SUV segment. One thing is certain though, and that is that Mahindra has taken the correct steps in ensuring that the Rexton gets off to a good start, firstly, they didn’t rush into launching it as a CBU and have worked at setting up the manufacturing of the Rexton at their Chakan facility, and the second aspect, which is a direct take off from the first, is the pricing. At Rs. 17.67 lakh (ex-showroom Mumbai) to 19.67 lakh (ex-showroom Mumbai), depending on the variant, the Rexton is a value for money package and that is definitely going to be its trump card in what is slowly growing into a cutthroat entry level luxury SUV market.