Concepts and prototypes : MG Rexton (2004)

MG Rover was keen to obtain the rights to other manufacturers’ vehicles and re-brand them as its own. We had the CityRover, but we could have ended up with this MG-badged SsangYong Rexton had the time and money not run out.

Keith Adams tells the story of the car – and talks to Peter Stevens, the legendary Designer charged with creating it in days…

MG Rexton: The Land Rover rival that couldn’t

Photography: Steven Ward

It’s fairly common knowledge within the industry that, when BMW and Rover cut their ties in 2000, a certain number of conditions were imposed about the future use of certain marque names. For one, BMW decided to allow MG Rover to use the Rover marque name on its own terms – by licensing it to the British company.

Although, outwardly, this might seem like a strange decision, there was a sensible reason for it. In order to make its books appear to balance more favourably following its British adventure with Rover between 1994 and 2000, BMW decided that it couldn’t keep hold of Land Rover and so sold the Solihull company to Ford for a whopping £1.6bn.

In order to protect Ford from MG Rover producing a rival off-roader, one stipulation of the convoluted licensing deal involving the Rover marque was that Longbridge could not produce an off-roader or four-wheel -rive car bearing the Rover name. After all, customers in international markets might confuse a Land Rover 4×4 with a Rover 4×4 – and, if you think that sounds implausible, remember that, in the USA, most drivers call their Rangies ‘Rovers’…

However, the restriction did not deter MG Rover from looking at some alternatives during its five-year run. The main source of new metal for MG Rover would come from collaboration with other manufacturers – and producing MGR versions of vehicles already in production. This thinking clearly resulted in the CityRover and MG XPower SV, but could also have produced a number of other interesting vehicles.

Here are just seven cars that could have become MG Rovers – and those are the ones that we know about:

  • Matra M72
  • Renault Espace
  • Fiat Stilo
  • Proton Gen2
  • Fiat Multipla
  • Lancia Musa
  • A great little mid-engined Tata Indica with MG TF 180 running gear

Why the SsangYong Rexton?

Another car that was seriously evaluated at Longbridge was the SsangYong Rexton but, because of the no 4×4 stipulation from BMW, it would have had to be badged as an MG. Given that marque’s sporting heritage, there’s no doubt that an off-roading, Octagon-badged SUV might cause marketing problems. Considering MG is dependent on SUV sales these days, this car was remarkably prescient.

However, that didn’t stop Peter Stevens’ Stylists reluctantly agreeing to have a close look at the idea on behalf of Longbridge. It wasn’t the first off-roader to be evaluated by MGR, either, as the Test and Development Engineers who put miles on the aborted MG ZT-T 4×4 (using Freelander running gear) will attest to.

Peter Stevens recalls: ‘To try and keep the dealers on side, Kevin Howe had a plan to get them all up to Longbridge and show them how bright the future was – hence the mock-up of RDX60 that was done at the Dove Company in very quick time! However, at the last minute, he didn’t think that would be enough (too true!), so he asked me if we could take a Rexton and make it into an MG for next Friday.

MG Rexton rendering

Achieving the impossible…

‘Once again the great guys at the Dove Company did the impossible with my brilliant ‘right-hand man’, Ian Moreton in charge. This took just nine days and, I have to say, it had great wheels and tyres. Kev had heard that SAIC was planning to buy SsangYong and thought the vehicle would be a great idea.

‘You would think that, while doing something like this, he would have mentioned the idea to SsangYong. Well no, actually he didn’t.’

The MG version of the Rexton looks surprisingly good – much better than the car it’s based on – and may well have had potential. Three prototypes were allegedly built, although only one has been confirmed.

What happened to the prototype?

Interestingly, the Security Guards at Longbridge ended up using one of the prototypes on the site and MG’s parent company SAIC was apparently unaware of the existence of the project until the merger with NAC in 2008.

The car continued in service as a security support vehicle until Longbridge was wound down as a production site in 2016, when it was unceremoniously scrapped.

Gallery: MG Rexton

Here's the original for sake of comparison...
Here’s the original for sake of comparison…

Keith Adams
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32 Comments

    • I went into the plant to get. that photo and I’m not credited for it. It was subsequently used by China Car Times when SAIC owned Ssangyong. Not that Ash Sutcliffe credited me either.

      • Fixed. It wasn’t you who sent it to me (I would have credited you), but dashed if I can remember who it was. If it’s uncredited, the person who sent it would have asked not to be. Could do with updating this page as Richard Truett and I have been given a tour around the factory in it… and now it’s been scrapped.

  1. Have to disagree that the MG version looks better than the Rexton – I never liked the latter but the MG looks like a pig. The frontal arrangement (unsurprisingly as it was made from eggboxes in 9 days) looks extremely disjointed.

    • Yes, hideous. Reminds me of the similarly mirror-threatening Pontiac Aztec as driven by Walter White in Breaking Bad.

  2. ” BMW decided that it couldn’t keep hold of Land Rover and so sold the Solihull company to Ford for a whopping £1.6bn.”

    This makes me wonder – Would it have been possible for BMW to sell Land Rover but keep Rover. Surely the funds deriving from the Land Rover sale would have allowed BMW to keep on track towards a successful Cowley, Longbridge, MINI, R55, R75. As far as I’m aware they were on the brink of this anyway. Falling 25 & 45 sales and an unfavorable exchange rate were key to the financial losses. Could a Land Rover sale alone not have seen BMW through these relatively short term problems and allowed the MINI, R55 & R75 plan to fully & successfully materialise?

  3. I did some contract work at longbridge roughly two years ago now and one of these rextons were abandoned in a corner with front end damage and flat tyres. It also shared its space with a battered looking prototype ZT (the fire response car)

  4. I really don’t think the MG badge on an off road vehicle would have worked to be honest. I’ve owned a Rexton, it’s a good vehicle, but performance and handling are definitely attributes that stand out as not being fitting for a sporty brand. Proton’s Gen 2 with a Rover drive train and interior would have been a far better bet as a replacement for the aging 400 series

  5. Personally, I think the MG version (albeit in its very rough format) looks worse that the original Rexton, but it’s hard to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Back in the early 2000’s I briefly owned a SsangYong Musso Sports (a misnomer if ever there was one!) pick-up, the vehicle on which the Rexton was based. On paper, it looked a good choice to tow my 16′ pop-top caravan, having the Mercedes 2.9 turbo-diesel, auto ‘box, 4×4 drive, seats for five and heaps of room in the tub (with a fibreglass raised cover) for the six 20-litre gerry-cans of fuel. Living in the far west of Victoria and planning long-distance trips around Australia, fuel availability can sometimes be an issue.

    Sadly, however, paper and practice were very different, in that the Musso didn’t like towing, as it struggled with hills and overheated badly when doing so. Combine that with ill-chosen suspension settings and with the fact that, above 40C, the aircon refused to work – and where I lived it frequently reached 45C and on one occasion a blistering 49C – this was patently a vehicle not fit-for-purpose. It was quickly replaced with a lightly-used automatic (they all were) Aussie designed-and-built Ford Territory, RWD, 4-litre petrol, DOHC straight-six SUV which, apart from the eye-watering 15.8 mpg average fuel consumption when towing (24.5 mpg when not), was a brilliant car. It barely knew the ‘van was there; it climbed like a homesick angel, was comfortable, never overheated and the aircon always pumped out heaps of nice cold air. For those interested, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Territory_(Australia)

    So, although UK customers were never going to experience the challenging conditions that Australia offers, I think that they were probably fortunate not to end up with an MG Rexton.

  6. I didn’t think that the Rexton was that bad I test drove one when I was looking for a large 4×4 it certainly was a rugged vehicle and the Mercedes five cylinder engine was surprisingly smooth,it seemed well built and was pretty comfortable as well,I did try the smaller Kyron as well which seemed quite satisfactory as well.The problem for me was that Ssangyong had a lot of problems distributing their products here in the UK there were several importers who tried to make a go of selling the cars here and failed.

  7. This article mentions “off-roaders”, as if any 4 x 4 is one.

    Question 1: what is a road?

    Question 2: what are the requirements of an “off-roader”?

    Does “road” mean only one with a tarmac/bituminised/asphalt/blacktop ‘all weather’ surface? What about compacted graded gravel? What about compacted graded hard earth?

    Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas have thousands of miles of gravel roads which everyday two-wheel drive cars have no difficulties in using. Those continents have thousands of miles of hard earth roads that present no difficulties to everyday two-wheel drive cars in dry weather, yet can become slippery and deeply rutted after rain when four-wheel drive and high ground clearance are distinct advantages.

    I would say a genuine “off-roader”:

    1. Has high ground clearance for its floor and exhaust system, and for all its under-body running gear.

    2. Is able to negotiate very rough ground and rough tracks, whether those tracks be earth, mud or rock. And has the suspension to do so without damage to the vehicle or its load.

    2. Has very short overhangs before its front wheels and behind its rear wheels.

    3. Has gear ranges and engine power to allow it to climb very steep gradients, and the ability – using gears only – to safely descend steep gradients.

    4. Is very stable, to enable it to traverse cross slopes safely.

    5. Has a body designed to do a certain job, whether that be passenger or load carrying, or some specialised task.

    6. Has a trendy, tough-sounding name!

    Giving a car four-wheel drive does not make it an off-road vehicle. The first 4 x 4 car I knew was a Daihatsu; ideal for someone living in a rural part of the UK, where icy/snowy tarmac roads and muddy farm tracks could present traction problems. But hardly an off-roader.

    The 4 x 4 Jeep Wagoneer I drove in Lesotho was a lumbering monster when it came to negotiating sharp turns, blind summits and steep ins and outs at incised stream crossings. Two-wheel drive Toyota Hi-Aces and VW Combis made a much better fist of such obstacles.

    Or are there differences between an “off-road vehicle” and an “all-terrain vehicle”? What would they be? How “all” is “all-terrain”?

    • Valid questions, thinking of the David and Goliath tests between Fiat Panda 4×4 vs Range Rover, off road in extreme conditions the Panda was 98% of the Range Rover at a fraction of the purchase price, the most unlikely off-roader? The veritable mountain goat/desert camel , the Citroen 2CV

  8. Somewhat ironically SAIC went on to sell the Roewe W5 which was a rebadged Ssangyong Kyron SUV – see the 6 part SAIC history on China Car News. At least MGR didn’t import/rebadge the somewhat notorious ICML Sonalika Rhino with its Rover G series diesel engine…

  9. The alterations to the grill are feeble, MG cars have grills with vertical slats, “waterfall grills”, if they started with strips of balsa wood they could have mocked up several new grills in no time

  10. As appealing as a great little mid-engined Tata Indica with MG TF 180 running gear sounds (X120 Midget or a separate sportscar project?), there was already the 2000 roadster and 2001 coupe bodied Tata Aria concepts by I.DE.A that could have easily served as an Indica based Midget of sorts.

  11. Like with the Indica/CityRover you have to ask how much they would have tried to sell Rexton for and what would market have thought of it. You can see how City Rover was meant to replace Rover 100 but where was Rexton supposed to fit? And going from manufacturer to living on slim margins by rebadging other people’s products was likely not viable in long term anyway. Sadly I think MGR was clutching at straws at this point.

  12. The Chinese MG has seen its sales soar after a very shaky start with the MG6 by moving into crossover and SUV territory. Sales are up massively, the dealer network is much more extensive and they advertise their cars on peak time television. The new MG ZT is similar looking to the Nissan Qashqai and from all accounts is a decent car to drive with a reasonable price tag,. Perhaps the Rexton of 2004 was ahead of its time as MG has been reborn as a producer of lowish priced crossovers and SUVs.
    Of course to most of us on AR Online, MG will always mean sports cars and sporting saloons, but there is little money on such niche products, unless they are made by a premium brand so MG have done the right thing and given the market what they want at the moment

    • A very positive view until you realise that it has taken 10 years for MG to get their UK market share to ‘soar’ to a similarly dismal level as that to which MG Rover had sunk to in 2004, and which was a major factor in finishing the company off.

        • Clearly more than you do!

          MG Motor UK current (March 2020) market share is now around 2%. MG Rover went down to below 3% (around 120000 vehicles) in 2004 at which point they went bust.

          MG Motor topped 30000 UK sales in 2021. Even if they double it in 2022, they are still effectively behind where MG Rover were in the UK market in 2004. Heck, even in 2005 when production ceased only a quarter of the way through the year MGR still achieved more than forty five thousand UK sales.

          MG Motor are doing OK, but I cannot see any way the maths can be interpreted as some kind of massive resounding success in the UK whilst it has taken them so many years to still be behind the level that nailed the lid on the coffin of MG Rover.

          • Lol – the Uk market is almost irrelevant to Mg today, they are a global business for goodness sake selling 000.000 of cars. Comparing MGR UK market share in 04/05 to MG Saic in context of success or not defines a complete lack of understanding of their business model. Have a look at their global figures.

  13. A friend has taken delivery of his MG SUV, ordered June 2021, for October 2021 delivery, during September, MG advised could not supply and rescheduled for March 2022, car delivered in March , recent announcement from MG, all of the 2022 quota for UK pre-sold by February 2022 , MG will not take any further orders. spoke to a friend in car retail, business booming, all used stock appreciated by 25%, and the chip backlog is predicted to last for several years.

    • The reports that I have read all state that it is the the EU/UK imposed quota for sales of petrol engined cars that has been reached; substantially as a result of SAIC/MG selling a significant lump of their carbon credits to VW.

      • The question is how will the PCP scheme deal with the general shortage of new cars? The PCP schemes rely on a immediate supply of new cars, at the end of the agreed term of the PCP many drivers hand in the keys of the old with the expectation of a same day driveaway of a new car upon a fresh PCP. If the driver cannot afford the “buy the car” lump sum, where will he stand? How are the dealers offering as a solution for cars with 6 to 9 month delivery backlogs?

        • Extensions to the original plan are being offered (i.e. make the same monthly payment for 3 months, 6 months more), thus to “plug the gap”.

  14. Yep, I can cincure with that my BMW 3 Series bought March 2020 just before lockdown is now worth £3,000 more than i paid for it, but I couldn’t get a replacement for a decent price with the silly low mileage on it.

  15. The lockdown has seen prices of used cars surge as so few cars were sold in 2020 and the early months of 2021 and dealers were offering much better trade ins to sell new cars. I managed to get £ 1000 more for my Skoda Fabia when I traded it in last summer as the dealer stated they had been through the biggest slump in new car sales ever, at one stage in the first lockdown sales of both used and new cars were down 95%,Yhen the semi conductor shortage has hit the supply of new cars.

  16. I have noticed more than the grill received attention in the studio, roof bars, upper half of doors, lower half of the front bumper, wheels, have been painted in black. Can anyone see any chages I may have not spotted?

  17. Just in case anyone is not aware of MG Motors owner SAIC, some headlines scraped from Wikipedia:
    State owned by Chinese government.
    200,000 employees.
    5.4 million vehicle output in 2021
    Joint ventures with GM and VW
    Also owns Maxus, formerly LDV

    Don’t be fooled by the sales patter though, our ‘beloved’ MG is just being used as a tool to open up markets particularly in English-speaking territories. All this nonsense about it being an ‘iconic brand’ and ‘dating back to 1924’ is just so much marketing guff and spin.
    But that said, the products are OK and MG Motor is one of the very few car brands increasing market share over the last couple of years.

    • The Chinese have a habit if taking over well known British brands. Bush and Hoover are two that come to mind, once huge players in their respective fields and trading on a historic British brand name, even if their products are about as British as Jackie Chan. MG is just another example of how the Chinese try to play on iconic names from the past. Also I notice the Baird brand, familiar to anyone who rented Radio Rentals televisions in the last century, is a big brand at Brighthouse stores, again made in China.

  18. Sorry, I really wouldn’t go near any of the new MGs. It’s not because they’re bad, or because the brand is being mis-used. It’s because they come from a country with little in the way of democracy and a poor human rights record.

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