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Reasonable and rugged workhorse.

The past few months have seen a resurgence of new offerings in the pickup segment, with the likes of Nissan, Toyota and Ford coming out with all-new models representing the best of what the segment has to offer.

Yet often missed by consumers is the Tata Xenon, which, at P830,000, costs P50,000 to P100,000 less than even the barest models from its more popular competitors, with more features to boot. Does the Indian marque have enough to hold its ground against the rest? That's what we're here to find out.

EXTERIOR

Admittedly, style is not one of the Xenon's strong suits, but only when compared to the updated, more expensive competition. On its own, the Xenon carries a certain nostalgic charm that is far from being unattractive.

Make no mistake, the Xenon looks decidedly rugged, with bold flares at the wheel arches, a tough-looking rear bulbar and a hefty skid plate. Its toughness goes beyond looks as its body seems near-indestructible, made with heavy-duty steel, ready to withstand anything you can throw at it -- hard work, flying debris, or the kitchen sink. The finish of the paint is also remarkably good, given the Xenon's pricing.

INTERIOR

The Xenon's interior design is definitely spartan, but highly appealing to those not looking for the flash and flair of a modern interior and the confusing clutter that sometimes accompanies it. The center dash has your two air-conditioning vents found above a single-DIN sound system (easily replaceable with aftermarket options), with air-conditioning controls at the bottom. The center island houses two cup holders, the shift knob, power window controls and the handbrake lever.

Interior space is limited for rear passengers and your belongings, with a small lockable glove box barely able to store more than the owner's manual. Despite that, the seating position is commanding, with an excellent view of not only what's ahead, but all around you as well. The hard plastics used inside are tough and durable, echoing the "ready for business" nature of its exterior. Owners can rest easy after a day of mud, gravel and extreme heat, as every inch of the Xenon's interior is made to last, and easy to clean.

DRIVE

One of the best aspects of the Tata Xenon lies at its heart: the 2.2-liter DiCOR (Direct Injection Common Rail) engine. At 150 hp and 320 Nm of torque, it easily holds its own against pickups with the same displacement, and nearly matches even Toyota's new 2.4-liter diesel in the Hilux. Peak torque is available extremely early in the power band at 1,500 rpm and carries through until 3,000 rpm, making this one of the easiest pickups to drive, and an extremely capable tower as well. The Xenon 4x2 is able to tow up to 1,800 kg (the 4x4 variant can tow up to 2,200kg).

The manual transmission allows for easy gear shifts, letting you shift the happy-revving engine from one gear to the next without missing a beat. The leaf-spring suspension at the rear is admittedly old-school, with modern pickups sporting coil spring rear suspensions for a softer ride. Yet the leaf-spring has been a mainstay on trucks for decades for a reason -- they're capable of holding a great amount of weight equally spread across the vehicle, while being considerably easier to repair -- exactly the characteristics you'd want in a workhorse.

VALUE

We previously mentioned that the Tata Xenon's affordability was one of its strong points. Putting them side to side with base model offerings from bigger-name brands, the Xenon already comes with ABS, dual air-bags, central locking, keyless entry, power windows and side mirrors, an auto-leveling headlamp, and a very capable engine. You'll be hard pressed to find those features on other pickups below the P1-million mark.

The Tata Xenon makes perfect sense as an industrial vehicle, capable of withstanding the punishment of hard labor while not breaking the bank. And for most people looking for a solid workhorse pickup that gets the job done, the Xenon checks all the boxes and more.

CAPTION(S):

Tata takes a no-frills approach to its Xenon's design. Broad fender flares, all-terrain tires and a high clearance allow it to get right to work after rolling off the showroom. (Photos by CHRIS VAN HOVEN)

The Xenon's rear features a dual-purpose bull-bar and step board and a steep rear departure angle.

The Xenon keeps its interior simple but very functional and durable.
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Title Annotation:Motoring
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Date:Sep 24, 2015
Words:741
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