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SsangYong Rexton: Namaste, Gangnam style!

Murali Iyer/ 15:20 , Dec 11, 2012

So since the time Mahindra completed the takeover of the struggling SsangYong in 2011, one was waiting with bated breath as to what products would come to Indian shores. The 2012 Auto Expo in Delhi in January gave us a sneak peek into the SUVs on the anvil.

Korean automobiles and electronics have been popular in India for years now, and the reliability of the various machines from their stables has been well established. So since the time Mahindra completed the takeover of the struggling SsangYong in 2011, one was waiting with bated breath as to what products would come to Indian shores. The 2012 Auto Expo in Delhi in January gave us a sneak peek into the SUVs on the anvil. However, neither was SsangYong a brand well known here, nor had it invested into R&D for a long while. Moreover, while this lack of investment in product development made SsangYong’s product portfolio dated, Mahindra has been enjoying stupendous success with the launch of the XUV 5oo last year. This resulted in heightened expectations from every launch.




The DNA of SsangYong and Mahindra is more or less the same – both started assembling jeeps and now have moved into more evolved products. The difference is that while SsangYong was on the move very early with contemporary products in a technical collaboration with Daimler-Benz, Mahindra stuck to its core knitting and marched on to emerge as a rugged manufacturer of UVs and LCVs. Only over the last decade has it started to flex its muscles, and display ambitions to be a global player. Nevertheless, with the launch of the Rexton, Mahindra has opened a beachhead for SsangYong products for the Indian market. Moreover, judging by the looks of it, the Rexton is signaling the start of a good innings for SsangYong, and by extension Mahindra’s Korean sojourn.


Figure 1: Technical Specifications
Variant Rx5 MT (TOD) Rx7 AT (AWD)
Powertrain
Engine, Gearbox XDi270 XDi270 XVT
Fuel Type Diesel
Number of Cylinders 5
Displacement (cc) 2696
Max Power (BHP@rpm) 162@4000 184@4000
Max Torque (Nm@rpm) 340@1800-3250 402@1600-3000
Transmission (no. of gears) 5
Transmission MT E-tronic AT
Drivetrain Torque on Demand All Wheel Drive
Emission BS IV
Dimensions
Overall length (mm) 4,755
Overall width (mm) 1,900
Overall height (mm) 1,785 (1,840 with roof rails)
Wheelbase (mm) 2,835
Ground Clearance (mm) 252
Turning Circle Radius (m) 5.7
Tyre Size P 235/75 R16
Tyres Hankook

Technical Specifications (Contd.)
Variant Rx5 MT (TOD) Rx7 AT (AWD)
Seating 7 (2+3+2)
Fuel Tank Capacity (ltr) 78
Steering Rack and Pinion (Tilt only)
Bulk
Gross Vehicle Weight (kg) 2760
Kerb Weight (kg) 2000 1986
Brakes
Front Ventilated Disc
Rear Disc
Variant Rx5 MT (TOD) Rx7 AT (AWD)
Suspension
Front Double wishbone with anti-roll bar
Rear 5-link with anti-roll bar
Performance Data
Max Speed (kmph) 180 194
Fuel Consumption (km/l – per ARAI) 12.4 11.18
Colours Satin White, Volcano Black, Moondust Silver, Opulent Purple
Source: Company, IIFL Research

Initial pictures of the Rexton that were available on the net, the prototype that was presented at the Delhi Auto Expo, and sneak pictures of the UV being extensively tested across India showed us a large UV, looking unwieldy, and sporting a Mercedes-lookalike large grille. The second-generation Rexton’s looks seemed a ‘disaster’, and one would have been surprised if Mahindra designers had not gone through the Rexton with a fine toothcomb. What it has introduced now is the third-generation Rexton – the W, which was launched in South Korea a few months ago, and not the outdated RIII. True to expectations, the Rexton W is handsome and commands road presence. However, could one judge a book by its cover? Read on…


Looks and design – refined, subtle

One look at the Rexton and one can only call it handsome. It looks contemporary, up-market, and sober, rather than being overly aggressive and fierce. To that extent, it oozes a certain sense of softness about its demeanour. Dollops of chrome abound, but the bling and design elements are not as overdone as in the XUV. Once again, the design geeks at Mahindra have put a premium on styling. For starters is the arc-shaped, chrome-laden grille, which is now different from the Benz look-alike in the second-generation Rexton. The three horizontal chrome slats adorned by a chrome lip are given relief by the SsangYong logo in the middle. The grille itself adorns the purposeful snout, which carries four vertical creases on top.


Flanking the grille on either side are two huge curved Eagle-eyed lamps riding high, with twin-barrel projector headlamps wrapped in the Rexton emblem. That is a neat touch. The L-shaped parking lights are integrated with the headlamp unit as a smoked screen LED unit, adding a touch of elegance. A honeycomb grille adorns the lower end of the massive front bumper. The turn indicators are lower down on the front bumper adjacent to the sharply styled fog lamps. The skid plate under the front bumper, and the black cladding all round the Rexton add to the sporty look, and will come in handy during off-roading action (though this is more of a softroader despite the AWD). The black cladding also makes the large flared wheel- arches look more pronounced, under which are the ten-spoke 16" alloy wheels with 235/75 R16 Hankook tyres. Though the 16" wheels fill up the arches well, the Rexton W launched abroad sports 18" wheels, and one wonders why India was not provided with the same.


The cladding also does a great job of masking the height of the Rexton – make no mistake, it is a big car. The massive ground clearance of 252 mm ensures that the Rexton can go over almost anything. The flared wheel arches flow on to the bumper too, making them look beefy. From the side, one can see the protective cladding all around the body, while the beltline is flat. LED turn indicators are integrated into the large ORVMs. The Rexton comes with stylish stainless steel side footstep with rubber inserts that provides easy ingress and egress. These are much better than the ones that you get to buy with the XUV as an after-market option. In many ways, the Rexton W will remind you of the Mercedes ML class, and it is the rear three-quarter view that accentuates it a lot. While the Mercedes is in a league of its own, the design familiarities are a hangover of the past association with the famed three-pointed star from Stuttgart.


The sharply raked D-pillar is very different (slanting backwards), and it is emphasized even more given the fact that the rear windscreen is a wraparound. The W badging is proudly displayed on the D-pillar. The roof slants to the rear, and is accentuated with the silver roof rails. The electric sunroof (available only in the AT) is wide but is accessible only from the front row. For a car of this size, it could have been wider, although my kids (and their friends) had loads of fun standing on the seats and letting the wind play with their hair as I buzzed the car on the sea face and on the sea link bridge. The antenna stands like a sentinel at the rear of the roof, just above the roof-mounted rear spoiler with integrated brake lights. The boot is enhanced by the three-column LED tail lamps, with the rear fog lamps present in the cluster too. The tail lamp looks chic, gelling well with the overall demeanour of the Rexton. It could have been mounted higher, but for the wraparound rear windscreen. Four parking sensors are embedded into the rear bumper, while under the black cladding is the sole exhaust. The spare tyre finds space under the boot, although had it been mounted on the tailgate, it would have added a dash of machismo to the Rexton, and accentuated the likeness to the Mercedes design.


The boot per se is bland and the loading bay seems higher. The waterfall design from the rear windscreen to the space for the registration plate of the car would remind some of the Hyundai Santro. There is a plethora of badges adorning the tailgate to make up for the relative blandness. The upper left hand corner is to announce the SsangYong name, while the upper right hand corner is for the variant (in my case it was the top-end Rx7). Below that are the smaller badges establishing the variant I was driving as an AWD (all-wheel-drive) mated to an AT (automatic transmission). Then stenciled into the bodywork and running across the width of the boot (and forming part of the bumper) is the name of the car – Rexton. In addition, just so that people do not forget, there is a small legend that says “by Mahindra”. Maybe it is to assure the Indian buyer that despite the fact that the SsangYong name is unknown here, they have the reassurance of the Mahindra brand behind it – if someone missed the point that the SsangYong models will be sold only through Mahindra dealerships.


Interiors and comfort – pleasant and ergonomical

The key provided for the Rexton here seems pretty basic as opposed to the key for the XUV, and is a lot lighter too. Click on the button, open the wide door, and the beige cabin looks refreshing, rich, and inviting. The Rexton-monogrammed matting speaks class while the scuff plate is similar to the one seen on the XUV. Ingress and egress is an easy affair despite the high stance of the Rexton – one could either use the sturdy running board or just slide in behind the wheel. Moreover, the driver’s seat envelops you in a pleasant way. The front seats (with Rexton monograms) are well padded and comfortable, and give support at the right places. There is a lot of headroom, elbowroom, and under thigh support, while there are acres of legroom. The dead pedal is so wide and huge, that even a size 12 Bigfoot will be comfortable there!



The driver’s seat gives you a very commanding view ahead, with the wide expanse of glass and a serene blue tint at the top to protect your eyes from mild sunlight. And if there is any mismatch here, fret not. What you get is an 8-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat (available only in Rx7 – the Rx5 gets manually adjustable), with three separate preset memory options so that you can slide in behind the wheel, press your option, and start driving. But whatever the seating position one chooses, once the engine is switched off, the seat comes down to a preset position making egress that much more easier. The three preset memory options also exist for the ORVMs, which are heated to aid visibility in the monsoon and winters. The ORVMs can be adjusted and folded electrically, but unlike the XUV, the ORVMs do not fold in when you lock the car. The inside rear view mirror can be adjusted for night vision.


The second row seat can comfortably accommodate three people. Floor hump is minimum and hence movement in the second row is easy, while once again legroom and under thigh support is good. Seats do recline, but if the front seat is pushed back fully, then the legroom at the rear gets a little cramped. The second row is split 60:40, are tumble down seats, and have a centre armrest (without cup holders). The tool kit finds space under the second row. However, the third row is a disappointment (although my kids have a different view here). The seat has a good backrest, but the floor is too high here and the seat base is flat. It is almost like sitting on a divan at home – sitting with your legs folded unless you are a kid or a midget; there is not much of a view either. The backrests of the second row will impede any view ahead, while the glass on the side gives you a narrow worldview.


The boot opens upwards and the space available with all the three rows up is adequate but is not much. The presence of a raised platform for storing knickknacks cuts down the luggage space a little more. However, once the third row is folded down, the luggage space is ample. Moreover, it is further accentuated with the proper use of the tumble down 60:40 second row. All three rows get dedicated AC vents, but the best is reserved for the third row – independent blower settings on the adjustable twin vents, though the blowers are present only to the right-hand side. The vents on the second row have foldaway cup-holders appended to them, but they have an old-world feel about them.


Upfront is a mix-n-match of the old and the new. The huge steering (only tilt adjustable) of the Rexton sports a host of buttons controlling all aspects of the touch-screen audio system. The four-spoke steering is a combination of leather and black wooden trim, and has a large horn space. Nevertheless, surprisingly, the horn is best used from the centre, and the rest of the expanse feels vacant and light. While the steering feels light for a car of this size, the horn is also a tad ‘meek’. And oh, before I forget, the steering has clearly been shifted from left-hand-drive mode to Indian conditions, given the fact that the turn indicator stick is to the left, while the wiper stick is to the right. That is lazy, Mahindra!


The two top buttons on either side of the steering wheel are for manual gearshifts. The manual gearshift can also be done via a tiny lever (tiptronic) on the side of the gear lever. The gear knob feels good in the hands – leather wrapped with chrome and black grain finish. A glance at the instrumentation behind the steering wheel and you will be disappointed because what you see is in fact basic in modern terms with a big speedometer in the centre flanked by a tachometer on one side, and the fuel and temperature gauges on the other. Gear status is given out by a tiny digital readout, while there is the usual odometer and tripmeter. The XUV had oodles of lights that lit up like a Christmas tree, but here it is bland. While the bright colours look fresh, Mahindra designers should have worked on this a little more.


There is nothing eye-catching about the rest of the dash facia, as it was in the XUV. However, it is simple, has been kept minimalistic, and is yet elegant. It has a nice dual-tone feature with the beige being horizontally split with black, and being vertically split by the elegant centre console. The black wooden trim makes its way around the centre console, as it does to the door pads as well as the steering. The AC vents in the middle flank a digital clock. The cruise control lever is placed to the right of the steering, behind it, but is available only in the AT variant. There is a 6.1" touch screen infotainment system with the usual accompaniments. However, the GPS on offer (Mahindra’s name makes an appearance here as it is switched on) is a tad better than what is available in the XUV, with 2D images of buildings at quite a few locations coming up. The centre armrest is quite wide with storage underneath and a pop-out cup holder; there are two fixed cup holders in front of the gear stick.


The overall fit-and-finish is very good. There are three 12V power outlets – one dashboard-mounted, one in the passenger footwell and one in the boot. Speakers are present in all four doors and the boot, while there is felt lining in the illuminated glove box. The switchgear feels a lot better than the ones on the XUV. The electric sunroof (with sunblind) opens smoothly via a switch on the roof, just above the rear view mirror, alongside the front cabin lamp, and a sunglass holder. The Bluetooth hands-free mic is placed on the roof above the driver, while the driver and co-driver front visors come illuminated and with side extensions. Nice touch – acknowledging that ladies are driving large cars nowadays, and they will need the illumination to touch up the lipstick before a meeting!


Engine, ride and handling – powering on all fronts

Under the hood is something that a lot of Indians are by now familiar with. The Rexton has been launched in India equipped with two powertrains, both oilburners – the automatic transmission (AT) and the manual transmission (MT). The Rx7 AT (AWD) sports a 2966cc XDi270 XVT diesel mill. It has a max power on tap of 184 BHP (@ 4000 rpm), generating peak torque of 402 Nm (@ 1600-3000 rpm). It has an E-Tronic 5-speed automatic transmission, which has been developed in collaboration with Mercedes-Benz. The other option is the Rx5 MT (TOD), which gets a slightly detuned version (XDi270) of the same 2966cc in-line 5-cylinder diesel mill. This has a max power on tap of 162 BHP (@ 4000 rpm), generating peak torque of 340 Nm (@ 1800-3250 rpm).


The Rx5 sports a 5-speed manual transmission, while TOD (Torque on Demand) splits the power between front and rear axles as required. The AT variant has a default torque split of 40% to the front, and 60% to the rear. While Mahindra claims 11.2 kmpl fuel efficiency for the Rx7 (12.4 kmpl for the Rx5), my back-of-the-envelope calculations suggested that I got more like 8.5kmpl in city conditions, while highway driving with a light right foot got me into double digits. The engines are essentially derived from the earlier technical partnership between SsangYong and Daimler-Benz.


Crank the ignition… oh, wait! The Rexton W launched abroad has a start/stop button, and once again, we have been deprived of it. Ignore that… slot the gear lever into drive mode, gently release the brakes, and the Rexton rolls forward like a refined beast. One is greeted with a whoosh and turbo whine, and there is ample torque on offer. Give the right foot some exercise and the five-cylinder motor is willing to propel you past the century mark fairly easily. However, it hangs on to gears for a bit too long, and does not seem as alert as modern dual-clutch units, being more of a torque converter. The lack of feedback and involvement is more obvious when you shift it into manual mode (I did not get a chance to test the manual). When you slot the gearshift lever into manual mode, the “thumbs-up” buttons on the steering wheel allow you to shift up or down. Nevertheless, I found that very uninvolving – possibly the gear reading on the dial upfront was not very good, or it was slow on the uptake, or I was missing a trick here!


However, this is no slowcoach, and despite the tardiness of moving through the gears, I managed a top speed of 190 kmph on the Pune Expressway, something not recommended and definitely not needed on our roads. While the ground clearance is high at 252mm, and it comes equipped with a host of features, it is no off-roader, but it can still tackle some rough surfaces with a fair degree of poise and control. The underpinnings and powertrain are borrowed liberally from the Daimler-Benz association. Despite the bulk that the Rexton carries (more than 2 tonnes), the ladder-frame chassis lends robustness to the car, but there is a lot of body roll. This is obvious to you when cornering at 3-digit speeds. In addition, while I was doing it (even with my heart in my mouth), the other occupants of the car were saying a silent prayer; they were grimacing as it is due to the high speeds that I was hitting on long stretches.


The car seems to hold its own in the 120-150 kmph range fairly effortlessly, and you do feel that there is a lot more that the car can offer from here. Braking is sure, and the disc brakes do a pretty good job of bringing the 2.7 tonne mass to a standstill fairly quickly, and in a straight line. Even in panic braking situations, the Rexton didn’t lose its poise.


The steering feels light for a car of this size, but it does turn in well and precisely. Moreover, the ride quality was superb. Despite the body roll (the pitching and diving on bad roads made me feel as if I was in a steamer on choppy high seas), the soft-sprung suspension ensured that even passengers in the third row very comfortable. Given the fact that road conditions in India are not exactly designed like autobahns, and many of the Rexton’s customers will want to be seated on the second row, it is good that Mahindra has kept comfort as their top pick. Also, the Rexton comes equipped with a host of features like automatic headlamps and wipers, automatic climate control, and safety features like hill descent control (on the AT), ESP (on the AT), anti slip (on the AT), active rollover protection (on the AT), ABS, and airbags (two upfront and two on the sides). The side airbags are available only on the AT.


So…not a walk in the park, but no pushover either!

Ever since Mahindra made the SsangYong acquisition, discussion has centered on the viability of the investment, the RoIs, and also the saleability of the unknown Korean brand in India, where so many global auto brands jostle for attention. In an ultra-competitive entry-level luxury SUV environment like this, the key question was whether the customer would be willing to pay a sticker price of Rs20.6 lakh (on-road Mumbai) for the Rx5 and Rs22.5 lakh (on-road Mumbai) for the Rx7?


As with other offerings from Mahindra, this too is a bit of a price warrior. The pricing is aggressive (unlike its looks), and the automatic is a good Rs200,000 cheaper than the Toyota Fortuner, while the manual is the cheapest in this price bracket (even though it misses out on quite a few features to the AT), making life that much more tough for not just the Fortuner, but also the Ford Endeavour, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport (they dropped prices to under Rs25 lakh just around the launch of the Rexton), Chevrolet Captiva, Mitsubishi Outlander, Hyundai Santa Fe, et al. Although these are the priciest Mahindra products in the market (the AWD version of the XUV is priced at Rs18 lakh on-road Mumbai), the pricing is very competitive for a car that is good looking, has robust underpinnings, and has so many features (although some vehicular dynamics are average). Mahindra must be lauded for always getting the looks, features and pricing right for their offerings in recent times, as opposed to say, Tata Motors.


Most premium car/luxury SUV buyers will be definitely pleased with what they get (more so in the AT). And it sure is a value-for-money car, even from a premium buyer’s perspective. On the flip side is the unknown brand equity of SsangYong as opposed to the others jostling for attention in the Rs20-35 lakh bracket. The assurance of the Mahindra name, comfort of sales from the same extensive dealer network and after-sales service is an important aspect though.


On top of it is the fact that Mahindra has taken the right steps by not rushing the Rexton into a fast-growing Indian UV market via the CBU route.


They have created a manufacturing and assembly operation at their Chakan plant. This has helped Mahindra cock a snook at competition. The competitive pricing stems from the 30% localization. And the proof of the pudding is in the eating – in the month since its launch on October 17th (and that too in just two cities), Mahindra has managed to log more than 500 bookings.


The Toyota Fortuner sells 1,300 units/month, while the next best car on sale in the same category and in that price bracket has been the Chevrolet Captiva with 40-50 units/month!


With a capacity of 5,000 units/annum, Mahindra had said at the launch that it hopes to sell 500 units/month, and they have managed to achieve those numbers effortlessly. For sceptics who thought that Mahindra had missed a trick with its pricing considering that this was an unknown brand, this must be galling, for the pricing has indeed been the trump card for the Rexton’s initial success. For all stakeholders, this is sheer music to the ears… So let us say: “Namaste Rexton”, Gangnam style!


Figure 2: Rexton – competition

Ssang
Yong
Rexton

Mahindra
XUV 5oo

Toyota
Fortuner

Ford
Endeavour

Audi Q3

BMW X1

Nissan
X-Trail

Renault
Koleos

Honda
CR-V

Hyundai
Santa Fe

Chevrolet Captiva

Mitsubishi
Pajero
Sport

Mitsubishi
Outlander

Variants

MT, AT
(AWD)

MT, MT
(AWD)

MT,
MT (AWD)
, AT

MT, AT,
AT (AWD)

AT (AWD)

AT

MT, AT

AT

MT, MT
(AWD),
AT (AWD)

MT, MT (AWD),
AT (AWD)

MT, AT (AWD)

MT

MT

Fuel

Diesel

Diesel

Diesel

Diesel

Petrol, Diesel

Petrol,
Diesel

Diesel

Diesel

Petrol

Diesel

Diesel

Diesel

Petrol

Engine Displac
ement (cc)

2696

2179

2982

2499, 2953

1984, 1964

1995

1995

1995

1997, 2354

2199

1991, 2231

2477

2360

Max Power (bhp@rpm)

162@4000, 184@4000

140@3750

169@3600

141@3500,
153.9@3200

208@5000,
174.3@4200

150@6400,
177@4000

150@
4000

147.5@
4000

141.1@6000,
158.8@5800

194.3@3800

148@4000,
186.5@3800

175.6@4000

167.7@6000

Max Torque (Nm@rpm)

340@1800
-3250, 402@1600
-3000

330@1600
-2800

343@1400
-3400

330@1800,
380@2500

300@1800,
380@1750
-2500

200@3600,
350@1750
-3000

320@
2000

320@
2000

190@4200,
218@4200

420.7@1800-2500,
436.4@1800-2500

326@2000,
424@2000

400@2000
-2500

226@4100

Seating

7

7

7

7

5

5

5

5

5

7

7

6

5

Price (Rs Lakh)*

17.75, 19.75

13.19, 14.26

21.15,
22.32,21.90

18.20,
19.56, 21.20

27.21,
32.60

22.40, 30.40

22.50, 26.84

22.99

23.23,
24.77,25.57

23.51,
25.69, 26.67

18.75,
24.60

22.56

21.44

 



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