Mahindra-SsangYong launch Rexton, their first SUV in India. Hormazd Sorabjee test drives it on Britain's roads

Mahindra having acquired SsangYong, now plans to introduce the Korean company's models in India. The first model to reach our shores will be the Rexton, SsangYong's old-warhorse which has served the automaker well for over a decade. Launched in 2001, the Rexton has been updated over the years, but the underpinnings are still very much from the first-generation Mercedes M-class (W163) it was originally based on. The chassis is a traditional body-on-frame design with a rugged multi-link live axle bolted on to it at the rear, and double wishbones suspending it at the front. The Rexton is likely to come with just one engine — an old Mercedes-sourced 2.7-litre, in-line five-cylinder, DOHC engine that is longitudinally mounted and develops a modest 165bhp. The car I drove was mated to a five-speed automatic transmission (also Mercedes-sourced) which should be available in India too, but it's likely that the five-speed manual will be the mainstay of the range here.

The on-demand all-wheel-drive system has a low-range transfer case which, along with the generous 230mm ground clearance, should suit the off-roading needs of most Indian customers. With a 4.72-metre length, there are only a handful of SUVs in India that are bigger. That leads us to the biggest weakness of the Rexton — its styling. The styling has some oddball elements that are hard to miss. In fact, it looks dated. This could be the biggest challenge for the car when it comes to India.

The interiors don't stand out either, but fit and finish are reasonably good. The plastics, though not oozing quality, have a nice feel with reasonably soft texture. The dashboard looks pretty simple with straight lines and simple surfaces. The large steering wheel boss is lined with buttons, which points to the equipment the Rexton comes with. No doubt, this is a fully-loaded car and like most Korean brands, SsangYong believes in pampering customers to the hilt.

Like most body-on-frame cars, the seats are mounted on a high floor and it's quite a step up into the cabin. But once you've made the effort, you are rewarded with a superb view from the driver's perch. The seats are a bit hard and not particularly comfortable, though there are enough adjustments to help you find the perfect driving position. The middle row is pretty spacious and three average-sized adults can be accommodated easily. The Rexton comes with a seven-seat configuration. Luggage space without the rearmost seats is huge and with the middle-row seats flipped down it's unbelievably big. Within the first 50 metres of driving the Rexton, you realise that it's going to have its work cut out. It's cumbersome to drive in town and definitely not easy to park. The steering lacks feel and the ride is not quite settled. In fact, even on Britain's roads, the Rexton felt bumpy. The suspension is just too soft and on an undulating, winding road, the Rexton feels like a drunken whale. But the good thing is that the suspension works quite noiselessly and there's no sense of harshness at any point. The 2.7-litre engine is another disappointment. It feels lethargic in most conditions and the sluggish auto box doesn't help matters. Be it in city or on the highway, you never feel you have a surplus of power because the engine needs to be worked hard. It feels quite noisy too. The five-cylinder Mercedes engines of yore were not the quietest. Overall refinement levels are average.

Mahindra is likely to assemble the Rexton in India at lower costs. But how much will it be priced and where will it be positioned are important. Looking at the size and spec of the vehicle, it will clearly be slotted in the rather sizeable gap between the XUV500 and the Toyota Fortuner, so expect it to be in the Rs. 6 lakh - Rs.18 lakh range. It's a spot that doesn't have much competition and, given Mahindra's reputation for making the most of an opportunity, the Rexton could carve a happy niche for itself.

Technical Data:

Price Rs. 16-18 lakh (est)

L/W/H4720/1870/1830mm

Wheelbase 1540mm

Engine 5 cyls, 2969cc,

Common-rail turbo-diesel

Installation Front, longitudinal, AWD

Power 165bhp at 4000rpm

Torque 34.6kgm at 1800-3250rpm

Gearbox 5-speed auto

Tyre size 255/60 R18

Kerb weight 2099kg