Vehicle Style: Dual-cab 4x2 utility
Price: $25,990 (before on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 110kW/320Nm 2.2 turbo diesel 4cyl | 5sp manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.4 l/100km
Budget utes have found a slot at the lower end of the 'work-horse' market. They are inexpensive, that's the whole point, and pretty raw and spartan inside.
But spartan fittings and looks aside, a ute is mostly about getting a job done. And if that job is going knock things about a bit - muddy boots, rubble and brickie's sand - why not get a cheaper ute, especially if it 'can get the job done'?
Chinese, Korean and Indian brands all now compete here for the pickings from this cheaper end of the market.
The Tata Xenon, from Tata in India (who incidentally owns Jaguar), is a relative newcomer, having launched here in 2013.
It got a safety update in September last year (which saw stability control become standard-fit and the factory warranty extended to four years/100,000km), but the Xenon itself has been around since 2007 overseas.
And it feels it. Sure, there is lots to moan about, especially as far as creature comforts go, but the Tata Xenon is what it is, just a basic work-horse.
- Power windows and mirrors, air conditioning, cloth upholstery, central locking.
- Infotainment: AM/FM/CD stereo, USB audio input.
- Tub dimensions: 1430mm long, 1410mm wide, 400mm high.
- Max payload: 1020kg.
There’s no escaping it, this is a very dated interior.
Plastic quality has an 80s look to it, and we would question the durability of much of what we see here.
The ergonomics are also not what they should be in a modern car.
Not only are there no steering wheel-mounted audio controls, but the horn pad is so close to the rim that we found ourselves inadvertently honking when going from lock to lock. Awkward.
The cup holders are nested into the base of the centre stack which leaves them useless for holding anything taller than a can of drink.
Small bottles could conceivably be jammed into the door pockets, but you’d need to reach down to your feet to retrieve them.
The Xenon’s interior shortcomings also include a small glovebox, centre-mounted window switches, inconsistent gaps, unsupportive seats, thin upholstery and a non reach-adjustable steering wheel.
The shift knob is also comically oversized (but that’s a minor gripe).
Also a gripe is the tub space.
At 1430mm long, 1410mm wide and 400mm tall the Xenon’s tub is slightly bigger than a Ssangyong Actyon’s, but measurably smaller than a Mahindra Pik-Up - not to mention more mainstream dual-cab utes like the Mazda BT-50 and Nissan Navara.
The Xenon’s total payload is 1020kg and peak towing capacity is 2500kg. Both are useful numbers, but certainly not at the top of their category.
ON THE ROAD
- 110kW/320Nm 2.2 litre turbo diesel inline four
- Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
- Independent front, leaf-sprung live axle rear suspension
- Front disc brakes, rear drum brakes
- Braked towing capacity: 2500kg
The Xenon’s 2.2 litre turbo diesel engine is surprisingly happy to rev - not that you really need to, given peak torque arrives between 1500 and 3000rpm.
It’s reasonably tractable, and happy to pull from low down, It is also linear in how it delivers its power and pulls smoothly enough when put to the task.
The five-speed gearbox is heavy and clunky though with a top gear that’s a little too short for highway duty.
It’s a shame no automatic option is available as yet, but Tata Australia will rectify that later in the year.
Steering is off the pace. There’s at least an inch of play in the steering at dead ahead, which can make maintaining a straight line on highways a frustrating exercise.
The lack of cruise control will also make highway drives more of a chore.
On road, we found the suspension to be quite unsettled, especially unladen. The leaf-sprung rear is much firmer than the coil-sprung front, and ride quality is poor as a result.
As far as utes go, the Xenon isn’t the sharpest thing dynamically.
ANCAP rating: 4/5 Stars - this model scored 27.27 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD and brake assist are standard on the Xenon dual-cab, but the only airbag protection is from dual front ‘bags. Side/head airbags aren’t available even as an option.
The centre rear passenger also gets saddled with an inferior lap-only seatbelt.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Without looking at used versions of mainstream utes, there’s still plenty of choice in the dual-cab diesel budget ute space. In terms of what’s preferable to the Xenon, we’d be directing our money Ssangyong’s way.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
It isn't easy to fairly score a budget ute like the Tata Xenon. It looks and feels at least two generations removed from its Japanese competitors.
The problem it has at the moment is that both Nissan and Mitsubishi are heavily discounting their current Navara and Triton models and offering sharp drive-away deals.
Right now, though still cheaper, the budget Tata is not so significantly cheaper that it 'buys itself' on outstanding value. This one will be nudging $29,000 by the time you've got it on road.
That's barely shy of the driveaway deals Mitsubishi dealers are offering on the Triton.
Hence our 2.5 Star rating.
Safety equipment is also another sticking point. The absence of side airbag protection and a lap-only centre seatbelt is regrettable. The Xenon isn’t alone in this regard, but that’s besides the point.
That said, the Tata Xenon comes with a reasonably generous warranty, roadside assistance and capped-price servicing scheme.
However, at this budget end, the Ssangyong Actyon is a better bet.
- Single-cab chassis 4×2 (alloy tray included) - $22,990
- Single-cab chassis 4×4 (alloy tray included) - $24,990
- Single-cab pick-up 4×2 - $22,990
- Single-cab pick-up 4×4 - $24,990
- Dual-cab pick-up 4×2 - $25,990
- Dual-cab pick-up 4×4 - $28,990