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REX FACTOR

If nothing else, you gotta admire SsangYong's bravery.

The Korean car giant has entered the Irish market with more of a whimper than a bang, but there's a very cunning method behind this madness.

From the outside it just doesn't make any sense.

First, the market is so savagely competitive that nothing short of below-cost selling is going to get you off the mark.

Throw into the mix a range of vehicles with relatively high emissions and you're pretty much staring down the barrel of a gun.

A prime example of that is the Rodius people carrier, which on paper appears a good option for those looking for an extra-large seven-seater.

It's only when you see the €1,200-a-year road tax that it all begins to unravel.

Unperturbed, SsangYong believes there's a niche market among taxi drivers where road tax is €95.

LOOPHOLE

It's too early to tell whether this will be the case, but the figures bode well and year-on-year they, not Hyundai, are Ireland's fastest-growing car brand.

A classic case of slowly, slowly catchy monkey.

One rising star in the ranks, though, will be the Rexton SUV - not because of how it looks or drives but the price.

Again there has been a bit of clever number-crunching, and some cute hoor has spotted a loophole in the commercial paperwork.

The Land Cruiser-sized beast you see before you has achieved commercial status even though it comes with rear seats and electric windows.

In fact, the model we tested came with heated leather pews among a long list of luxury bits and bobs, convincing us that this was indeed a "passenger" model.

Ever so slightly facelifted, the W edition (which stands for World Wide not Warrior as Bill Cullen believes) gets a revised grille, Xenon-like headlamps, new front bumper and re-styled rear lights.

Inside it's simple and to the point, with wooden inlays in the leather steering wheel matching those in the door panels and centre console.

What it lacks in design it more than makes up for in technology, and standard kit is generous.

The long list includes 18-inch alloys, cruise control, daytime running lights, heated leatherette seats, privacy glass, side steps, parking sensors, Bluetooth, fog lamps, air con and height-adjustable driver's seat.

Powering the hulking 2-tonne body is SsangYong's very own 2.0 litre diesel engine twinned to a 5-speed automatic Mercedes gearbox.

And because the Rexton is an all-singing, all-dancing 4X4 capable of lugging up to three tonnes, it generates a decent 155bhp, but more importantly, 360 Nm of torque.

So it will pull a tractor out of a muddy field, but how does it handle day-to-day driving?

Not so good, I'm afraid, with a bouncy, wallowy ride and little or no feedback from the steering.

The automatic gearbox is less than precise, allowing the Rexton to roll backwards down steep inclines while engaged.

Waiting for gates to the underground car park to open, I found it slowly gathering speed as it slipped down the steep hill, coming to a standstill only once it reached level ground.

If refinement isn't top of your wish list, the Rexton does exactly what it says on the tin, and the clever marketing people have the commercial loophole to thank for that.

Apparently it's all about cargo space, not rear seats and windows.

Priced at €34,320 (the passenger 7-seat version costs €44,474 or €48,185 for auto) and with road tax of €333 (€1,200), it makes "commercial" sense to opt for this.

Now that is smart.

Audi remains Ireland's number one premium car marque, with 33.5pc of the market. Strong sales for the first seven months saw 3,636 cars sold nationwide with 753 in July.


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