More and more 4x4 vans are coming onto the market. Citroën has developed a van version of the C-Crosser while Mitsubishi has done the same with the Outlander. Land Rover has launched a commercial version of the Freelander 2 — admittedly not the first time a Freelander van has appeared — while SsangYong has introduced van variants of its Kyron and Rexton. Moving away from car-derived 4x4s, Ford has just announced the arrival of the long-awaited four-wheel drive Transit AWD.
While Freelander boasts remarkable off-road ability, most of the foregoing vehicles should be classed as soft-roaders rather than off-roaders capable of tackling really demanding terrain. For the most part they don’t have the necessary ground clearance, and not all of them have a low-ratio set of gears either.
That said, they’ll certainly get you up an icy country lane or across a damp field, just so long as it isn’t really deeply rutted; and that’s all many of the customers likely to buy this type of vehicle require.
So why are so many 4x4 cars starting to appear in 4x4 van guise? Maybe because the manufacturers concerned are struggling to sell the former in the current economic climate and calculate that they’ll be able to bump up their registrations if they transform a few of them into the latter.
With van sales in the doldrums too at the time of writing they may have miscalculated, but What Van? is not complaining. After all, it means that van fans have more choice.
Having tested Kyron the other month, we decided we’d get to grips with its handsome and more powerful Rexton stablemate. The five-door Rexton C-S is marketed with one level of trim and one engine choice; a 2.7-litre five-cylinder common rail diesel married to a five-speed manual gearbox. An automatic ’box is on offer as an alternative. Top power of 165hp kicks in at 4,000rpm while maximum torque of 340Nm bites at 2,400rpm.
The suspension employs a double wishbone set-up at the front and a rigid five-link arrangement at the back, with coil springs fitted all round. Our demonstrator’s 16in alloy wheels were shod with Hankook DynaPro HP 235/75 R16 tyres. Disc brakes are fitted all around — ventilated at the front — and ABS, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Electronic Stability Programme, Anti Rollover Protection and Hill Descent Control all come as standard. So does power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering.
Four-wheel drive engages automatically using a TOD (Torque On Demand) system that switches power to the axle with most grip in slippery conditions. Most of the power is routed to the back axle when the going is easy. A twistable switch on the dashboard allows you to change from a high to a low ratio set of gears.
Gross weight is 2,760kg while maximum gross payload capacity is a more-than-respectable 740kg. Rexton C-S can tow a braked trailer grossing at a, very generous, 3,200kg and is capable of being fitted with a digital tachograph.
Access to the 2.2m3 cargo area is by means of a hinged rear door on each side plus a rear hatch-type door with a heated window and a wash-wipe system. Four load tie-down points are fitted along with a 12v power outlet. Our test van also boasted a half-height steel bulkhead topped off by a mesh-type grille for a total price of £254; all prices quoted here exclude VAT.
A comprehensive selection of plastic mouldings and panels protects the load bay’s opaque sides and the wheel boxes against minor scratches and scrapes. A tailored carpet covers the cargo bed although from the viewpoint of practicality we’d rather see a tailored rubber mat deployed instead.
Open either of the side doors and you can gain access to a space under the cargo floor that looks like a good place to conceal power tools; always attractive to the light-fingered. Rexton C-S’s passenger car heritage is betrayed by the variety of storage areas for oddments to be found in the back. They include pockets in both the side doors plus a net pocket above the offside wheel box.
Maximum load length is 1,676mm. Maximum width is 1,220mm narrowing to 1,066mm between the wheel boxes, while maximum height is 1,028mm. Rear loading height is 774mm. The side door aperture is 914mm high and 660mm wide, while the rear door’s dimensions are 895mm and 1,066mm respectively.
While some of the fixtures and fittings look a little cheap and flimsy, there’s no denying that the cab is well-equipped and offers a comfortable driving position. Both the steering column and the seat are height-adjustable and the seat features lumbar adjustment too. The deal includes a highly effective climate control system, electric windows and electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors. Hit a button and the mirrors fold in.
Driver and passenger airbags are fitted too along with a Kenwood RDS radio/CD player with, alas, doll’s-house-size buttons that are difficult to see. Happily the finger-tip-operated remote controls on the steering wheel are more sensibly scaled and easy to use. A heated windscreen forms part of the package as well.
Adequate rather than generous, the stowage facilities for all the bits and bobs drivers carry around with them include a lidded bin between the front seats, a lidded glovebox and pockets in both the front doors. We especially like the flip-down sunglasses holder positioned just above the windscreen close to the courtesy light.
SsangYong must assume that van drivers are continually thirsty given how many cup-holders it provides. The line-up includes one in each of the cab doors, two more in the centre console just ahead of the gearstick and yet another one that pops out of the base of the aforementioned bin.
Rexton’s diesel pumps out more than sufficient power and it’s quietly and smoothly delivered. The dependable gearchange makes it easy to get the most out of what the engine has to offer, but it’s a little disappointing that a six-speed ’box isn’t fitted.
Wind and road noise aren’t issues — the cabin is quite well insulated from such external intrusions — and the suspension seems quite capable of coping with the ridges and potholes that litter Britain’s collapsing highways. Unfortunately the way it is set up does the handling no favours. Rexton wallows through corners and the twitchy, over-light steering is of little help.
Off-road the story gets better, with all the torque on tap making it easy for the driver to slosh through clinging mud and Hill Descent Control making life a lot simpler when you’re coming down steep inclines. Avoid big boulders and really deep ruts, however; you may end up grounding your vehicle. During the test period our Rexton demonstrator averaged 31mpg.
Remote central locking, an alarm and an immobiliser come as standard, and it is worth remembering that you have to dip the clutch pedal before you can start the engine. Our demonstrator was finished in metallic silver for an extra £500 and came complete with colour-coded bumpers and mirror housings. Good to see front fog lights and roof rails.
Service intervals are set at a, rather too short, 10,000 miles and the van is covered by a three-year/60,000-mile warranty. It falls into insurance group 12A.
A handsome looking vehicle, SsangYong’s Rexton C-S 4x4 van boasts an impressive diesel engine, a user-friendly gearchange, is well-insulated against intrusive noise and features a well-equipped cab. Access to the cargo area could scarcely be bettered, the towing limit is remarkably generous and Rexton is likely to prove a useful off-road performer for somebody not planning to tackle really demanding terrain. On the downside it handles poorly, the steering provides insufficient feedback and some of the cab’s internal features look and feel a little flimsy. These drawbacks have to be balanced against the competitive price, however; especially given today’s tough economic climate.