Mahindra’s facelifted SUV Rexton makes a statement with its style, size and features. Nikhil Bhatia has the details

The SUV segment, always close to the heart of Mahindra & Mahindra, has another addition. The Rexton is a big, body-on-frame SUV and will be sold through Mahindra’s existing dealer network.

In facelifted form, it looks a whole lot better than the earlier model. For those not in the know, the Rexton is not the newest of SUVs on the block and is actually based on the first-generation Mercedes-Benz M-class. That chrome-rich grille gives the front plenty of flash, the headlamps with their projector pods are smartly detailed and those heavily flared wheel arches give the design some much-needed muscle. Even the front bumper is well-styled and comes with black plastic cladding on the lower portion to camouflage some of the Rexton’s bulk. The same cladding extends along the length of the car and wraps itself around the rear bumpers as well. Further back, the wraparound rear windscreen looks quite neat and injects much flair to the tail section. The recent makeover’s also brought with it attractive jewel-effect tail lamps and a restyled tail gate with the Rexton name embossed on it.

Plush cabin

There’s more good news right from the instant you open the Rexton’s doors. The cabin looks plush, everything appears solidly put together and the leather seats with their soft cushioning and smart stitching are really inviting. Perched on the comfy eight-way-adjustable powered driver’s seat, we study the cabin and find it every bit as good as it looks. Panel fit is excellent and the soft-touch plastics on the dashboard top feel like they’re from an expensive German saloon. Even the piano-black wood finish on the dashboard, steering and doors is convincing. It’s also quite practical, with bottle-holders on the front door pockets, a large box between the front seats and five cup-holders elsewhere in the cabin. The felt-lined glovebox is another bit that shouts quality.

The Rexton’s smart centre console, while not standout in design, neatly integrates the Kenwood touchscreen interface for the audio system, DVD player, Bluetooth telephone function and navigation system. The Rexton in its automatic RX7 form comes loaded with features, including a sunroof, climate control, rear parking sensors, automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control and steering-mounted audio controls. The stack of buttons on the rake-adjustable steering also includes controls for the gearbox.

It’s when we move to the back that the Rexton’s cabin loses some points. For starters, the slightly low-set seats and high floor compromise the seating posture to some extent, though it’s still better than in an Endeavour. The cabin also isn’t as roomy as the large exteriors lead you to believe. For their part, the middle row seats are comfortable and the centre armrest is well positioned. As for the last row of seats, access through the rear door is poor, that thick D-pillar limits visibility.

Internationally, SsangYong sells the Rexton with three engine options, but the car for India will be available with a single 2.7-litre turbo-diesel motor. The engine comes mated to a Mercedes-sourced five-speed automatic transmission. A five-speed manual version is also available. The engine is tuned differently for the two gearboxes. As a manual, the engine, called RX270 XDi, has a power and torque rating of 162bhp and 34.7kgm and comes with a torque-on-demand system and low range for more serious off-roading. On the automatic, this engine (RX270 XVT) produces a far more substantial 184bhp and 41kgm. This is the version we drove, and power output apart, it also differs from the manual in its use of a full-time all-wheel drive which channels engine torque to the front and rear axles in the ratio of 40:60. We felt the benefit of the system while testing the car’s performance, where the added grip allowed the Rexton to get off to a clean start and post a quick 0-100kph time of 10.92 seconds. That’s a faster time than the automatic variants of the Fortuner and Endeavour.

Drive and refinement

While that’ll surely win Rexton owners some bragging rights, they’ll also have to contend with quite a few of the powertrain’s weaker points. Topping the list is the engine’s average refinement. Vibrations are well-contained but it’s a pretty noisy motor that gets progressively louder as revs rise. You can change gears manually via buttons on the steering wheel and also a switch on the gear lever, but then the gearbox is slow and you’ll probably just want to slot it back into full auto mode. In auto mode, the gearbox will shift up as high as 4000rpm if you keep the throttle mashed to the floor, but lift-off has the engine quickly upshift to the highest gear in the interest of fuel economy. Going by the Rexton Auto’s 11.18kpl ARAI-tested figure, it has the makings of being quite the diesel guzzler. On a more positive note, power delivery is nice and linear and for relaxed driving in the city or highway, the engine should cope well enough.

At Rs. 19.75 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the Rexton Auto is a few thousands more expensive than the Endeavour 4x2 Auto and a full Rs. 2 lakh cheaper than the Fortuner Auto. The lesser-equipped RX5-spec manual Rexton is an even more appealing proposition with a price of Rs. 17.75 lakh, which makes it the most affordable SUV in this class, by far.