In most, if not every category of vehicle today, technological advancements see more comfort, performance and luxuries being added on at lower price points. In the world of pickup trucks, these things were almost deliberately withheld, barring a few exceptions, in the interest of not only keeping costs low, but to keep things decidedly utilitarian. Buyers are evolving however and becoming more and more demanding. For example, SUVs themselves were initially created as workhorses but today they are tall limousines with champagne flutes in the rear.
To Sri Lankans, the name Ssangyong has long meant affordable SUVs/pickups of moderate quality, famously powered by Mercedes Benz powertrains, with the 2.7L turbodiesel and 5G-TRONIC transmission being the highlights. However, with the Korean manufacturer limelight mainly on Kia and Hyundai, and while no one was watching, Ssanyong grew. They are the fourth largest South Korean vehicle manufacturer and have learnt a few things along the way. The vehicle you’re looking at here is a case in point and caught us a little by surprise. How so? Read on…
Rolling into the car park of our test venue, the Rexton Sports Pickup (called the Musso in some markets), supplied by Advanced Car Diagnostics looked the business – the 20 inch wheels on our test vehicle lending it a very 2000s Escalade EXT feel. The entire design is a clear copy-paste-edit job from the Rexton SUV, but given that the latest generation Rexton has, in my eyes at least, given many Jap SUVs a run for their money, this is good thing.
The vertical front end adds to the on-road presence afforded by its size and the swept back LED/Xenon headlamps give the pickup an air of sophistication. Looking at it from the side, the flat, bulging wheel arches visually raise the vehicle’s side profile and give it a unique appearance where nearly every other pickup on the road today employs aftermarket looking wheel-arches to add width. I’d have opted for slightly smaller wheels to make it look more purposeful but the 20 inch variants do have the benefit of making the vehicle look at home around even an office.
The rear is where most pickups lose their identity and the Rexton Sports Pickup is, unfortunately, no exception. There is only so much one can do with a flatbed visually but manufacturers are yet to get into the groove of designing interesting looking rear light clusters like those we see on cars and SUVs. That said, the Rexton Sports Pickup’s exterior is one of the smarter/better looking ones of a pickup in 2020.
Mechanics and Technology
Under the bonnet is no longer a Mercedes-Benz powertrain, but Ssangyong’s very own 2.2 liter turbodiesel. The engine is good for a healthy 184bhp and 420Nm of torque courtesy of direct injection that is now commonplace among diesel units. Putting power down to the road is through a Japanese AISIN six speed automatic gearbox and switchable four wheel drive. A manual mode for the transmission is available but gear changes are via a rather unintuitive toggle switch on the gear lever itself so its best left in auto.
Suspension is impressively sophisticated for a vehicle of its class, with double wishbones all round and a multilink affair at the rear. Leaf springs can be had as an option – something that all manufacturers should be considering, rather than it being your only choice. Steering is via an electric rack and disc brakes all-round help bring this behemoth to a stop, aided by ABS and EBD. Other tech includes premium car-rivalling toys like lane departure warning, blind spot assist and hill descent control.
While the use of their own engine may have the uninitiated concerned about refinement, this could not be a lesser warranted concern. Settle into the electric driver seat and power it on. Right from the second the engine settles into idle, it is scarcely believable that it is in fact a four cylinder diesel. This is not just with the windows up either – roll down the windows and give it a rev and it genuinely sounds like your average petrol engine.
Slot the six speed Aisin ‘box into D and the refinement continues – Ssangyong really seems to have put some effort into keeping things smooth and quiet with other diesel pickups feeling like tractors in comparison. The Pickup rolls away with luxury car like ease and settles into its torque band effortlessly. Gear shifts too are smoother than expected though perceptible.
The figures mentioned in the preceding paragraphs and tech specs will tell you that this is no performance monster and 100km/h comes up in 11.5 seconds (claimed). I wish I could tell you that the torque has you feeling like you’re travelling much faster but, surprisingly, 420Nm doesn’t. Perhaps we’ve just grown accustomed to even higher outputs nowadays? This is likely also to do my driving style – I’m a bit (read: very) rev-happy and diesels rarely respond well to this. The Ssangyong’s peak torque is available from a long-distance-load-lugging 1,600-2,100 rpm, which is the part of the rpm band you will use 90% of the time and there it does the job perfectly well.
The aforementioned suspension really is a winner – this specification of the Rexton Pickup sacrifices a bit of its carrying capacity in the interest of occupant comfort, ditching the leaf springs and opting for more conventional shock absorbers. Hard-core workhorse-seeking buyers would be disappointed with this but it massively broadens the scope of potential buyers for the Rexton Sports Pickup. What has kept more mainstream buyers away from pickups for years has been juddering flatbeds and near vertical rear seats – comfort was never a priority. Now more than ever, all categories of vehicles need to make business sense for manufacturers and I think this is a step in the right direction. Comfort, even on the larger rims was truly impressive for a pickup with only the roughest of surfaces sending vibrations through the cabin. Our only gripe about the drive was that the steering, as it weights up at higher speed, can catch you a little off guard as suddenly being a tad too heavy. This was under relatively aggressive driving though and is very unlikely to be noticed under regular driving.
Living with the Rexton Sports Pickup
Inside this vehicle is a comfortable place to be. Electric, heated and cooled leather seats, and manual climate control with rear AC vents tell you that this was made for more than just lugging loads (cooled seats add immensely to comfort in a tropical country like ours and we wish more vehicles would just junk the heated seats and offer these instead). Head and leg room is plentiful, given its dimensions, and ergonomics left nothing to complain about. We struggled to find a cheap-feeling surface to the touch unless being properly pedantic.
While losing some of the more luxurious options of its big brother Rexton SUV, like quilted leather and ambient lighting, the Pickup can be specified to look very welcoming, particularly with lighter shades of leather. An intelligent key, push-button start and all the usual automatic comfort features (barring automatic climate control) add to the experience.
Front and centre on the dash sits a very responsive touch screen paired with 360 degree cameras complete with on-board recording, eliminating the need for a dash cam. The recording functionality extends to the radio too, bringing a nostalgic feeling of being able to record radio music live off the air and replay it at your convenience – quality does drop slightly though. Phone integration is there as well and you get plenty of power and charging ports in the front and rear to satiate the power needs of your digital lifestyle.
Carrying luggage? Well you’ve got a large cargo bed to carry it in but if you plan to use this as your primary or family vehicle, fitting a sealed, lockable luggage cover will be one of your priorities to keep your things safe and dry. Apart from that, you’ve got the usual mix of pockets and cubbies for your odds and ends.
Fuel Economy and Price
Pricing is the ace up the Pickup’s sleeve. Being offered at just Rs.9.5mn, you get a brand new, diesel pickup loaded with tech and enough comfort to not leave you wanting. Throw in the 7-year warranty and the case becomes even more compelling. The Rexton Sports Pickup really is a lot of car for your money, but it isn’t sheer size that it’s got going for it – the features, gadgets and super smooth engine make it a proper contender even if you’ve got a budget of ~Rs.12-14 million and wouldn’t mind putting some of that away in the Bank.
We did not have the vehicle long enough to gauge fuel economy but we estimate a respectable 10km/l in the city, judging by how it performed, and around 15km/l on the highway, depending on your driving style.
With disc brakes all round, traction control, six airbags and the lane departure warning system mentioned earlier, the Rexton Pickup has its passengers covered. An interesting and more technical feature of its gamut of safety tech is its use of ultra-high strength steel, featuring nearly 80% high density steel, which makes it stiffer than competitors. The Pickup also features impact absorbing elements in the steering column to minimise injuries from a frontal collision.
The Rexton Pickup really did surprise us. Its looks, suspension and tech showed us that pickups too can be comfortable, well-appointed family haulers for those who need some serious cargo space. Its pricing is probably its strongest plus point and beats out many competitors, both in and outside of its category, on this. Even if a pickup was never on your radar as your next vehicle, we’d encourage you to visit Advanced Car Diagnostics in Pannipitiya and give this a drive – it might just change your mind.
Direct Injection, Turbo
184bhp @ 4,000rpm
420Nm @ 1,600-2,100rpm
Tiptronic on shifter
Four wheel drive
Front Double Wishbone
Front Vent. Disc
Wheels & Tyres
255/50R20 all round
0-100km/h in 11.5s
Top Speed 180km/h
Kerb Weight 2,165kg
Fuel Tank 75L