Ssangyong doesn't feature in conversations about the biggest, most influential car brands in the world, but it has been steadily refining its product over recent years. A focus on design and premium materials, along with the decision specialise in SUVs, has given the manufacturer a new lease on life. It latest step in the long walk to relevance is the new Rexton, unveiled at the Seoul Motor Show.
The Rexton is just one step in a much longer plan for Ssangyong. Even though they're big and inefficient, body-on-frame family four-wheel drives are still immensely popular, forcing the likes of Volkswagen and Subaru to jump into the segment. Along with the new Rexton, Ssangyong will be using this platform for more family SUVs and, eventually, a mid-size pickup. It would want to be good, then.
On paper, it sounds like the Rexton has the right stuff. Power will come from a 2.2-liter diesel, hooked up to a seven-speed gearbox borrowed from Mercedes. The company says the engine delivers punchy performance from down low, but hasn't released power outputs or acceleration figures. A turbocharged four-cylinder petrol will also be offered in tandem with a six-speed automatic.
One of the biggest areas the new Rexton looks to improve over its predecessor is on-road refinement. Although it was unquestionably effective, the outgoing car lagged behind its Japanese and American rivals when it came to interior quality, road manners and overall refinement. The interior is a huge step forward, with upmarket leather trim and a 9-inch touchscreen replacing the cheap vinyl seats and ugly center console from the old car.
It should also be much safer than before, courtesy of a stiffer new chassis and a full suite of active safety features. Along with auto-emergency braking, there's lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alerts and blind-spot warnings. Anyone nervous in tight spaces will also be happy to know an around-view monitor is also standard, making it easier to see where the corners of the car are.
We're going to go out on a limb here and say it's good-looking from the outside, something you certainly couldn't say about previous Ssangyong offerings. It doesn't really stand out from the crowd, but the creased flanks and strong shoulder line mean this isn't a car you want a paper bag over your head to drive. Say that about the last Rexton with a straight face.
The new Rexton is on show in Seoul, and will be on sale in the first half of 2017 in Korea. International markets can expect the car to arrive before the year is out.