There is a fitness of purpose for nearly everything. But some continue to baffle most - like the Segway, for instance. It doesn’t offer any logical reason for its existence - you can always walk, sprint or cycle instead. The same holds true for the iPod Touch at this point in time, where its higher price over the regular player is unjustified. Such irrelevancies however exist for the sole purpose of breaking through clutter, to stand out in a world of me-toos and someday maybe get credit for doing something path-breaking way before its time.
Tata’s new Xenon XT then belongs to the same mould. Or so it insists. This “lifestyle” pickup can rival a Tata 1612 medium commercial vehicle in length, can do the equivalent of an oil-tanker taking three-point turns in the middle of the ocean and has a pointless load bay - unless you are carrying the coming month’s rations for a family of three. If you intend to buy the Xenon XT, expect to be stopped at every octroi post for bewildered officials to check out your personal kayak and water scooter in the load bay. You will stand out among a sea of cars even before you tack on the lakh-plus rupees worth of accessories available at your local Tata dealer. Irrelevance has a new partner in crime.
Penned by the same team that put together the Sumo Grande, the Xenon XT is as clean a design as it gets. Unlike the top-heavy appearing Grande, there is a fair amount of balance in the workmanship by Concept Group, UK. There are some influences, especially those that point in the direction of Holden, Toyota and Nissan pickups. The large square headlamps have been rounded-off well to merge with the bonnet and bumper. There are few creases or lines to mar the simplicity of the overall design.
You can, of course, trace the lineage back to the TL 4x4/Tata 207, and Tata Motors have cleverly kept the design brief to one that lends the Xenon a modern look, yet keeping it simple enough to assemble with less complex stampings. The 207 lineage also means this one is long. Measuring at 5.25 metres, it is longer than even the long-wheelbase versions of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class or the BMW 7 Series, and - get a load of this - the wheelbase is a tad longer than even the Hyundai i10! You just can’t miss this when viewed in profile, where a couple of Nanos can hide in its shadow. But the best view of is reserved for the rear-three quarters where the tail lamps, bumper and tailgate fall neatly in place. And the Toyota-inspired embossed Tata logo on the tailgate completes the picture.
A couple of blue UN stickers on it, and it would be perfect. And who knows, given Tata’s aggressive export plans for the Xenon, you might just find it a regular sight on CNN!
Tata’s first effort at a lifestyle pickup, the TL 4x4, was developed in an era when the company was still learning how to instil some quality into their vendors. And this was as recent as three years ago! Thankfully, Tata Motors have made some significant leaps over the hard-edged plastics of the TL. But it isn’t much. The interiors are still plasticky. Some sharp edged parts on the dashboard remain, but the situation is much better than the ‘hold me, cut me, drill me, miss me’ TL. You get the usual raft of features like airconditioning (that is rather powerful), power everything and seating for five.
The front seats offer very good support and are thoughtfully designed but you can’t say the same about the rear seat that resembles a bench - and the rather vertical backrest makes matters difficult. Like the TL, the Xenon has just about the same amount of interior room, with cramped legroom at the rear - that’s because it’s a double cab. Where Tata Motors have added some colour is with the number of accessories it offers at the dealer level, such as roof lights, a fibre-glass enclosed canopy for the load bay, side steps, boot lid covers, bed liners and chrome rear guards, all for not much more money just to make your Xenon look even more butch.
POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE
The time loss can be primarily pinned to the way the Xenon accelerates as insufficient traction on the rear wheels, due to the lack of weight, prevents the truck from launching itself cleanly. Our test vehicle also seemed to fall out of the power zone every time we tried to launch it and therefore had to raise the revs beyond 3000 rpm to ensure it didn’t fall into the turbo lag zone. Despite that, its time of 16.5 seconds to 100 kph is commendable. Even the passing speeds are decent, with 80-120 kph coming up in 16.4 seconds and 100-140 kph numbers registering even better than the Safari’s. A top whack of 161.6 kph is some 7 kph better than the Safari Dicor too.
In city driving, the Xenon acquitted itself well by keeping up with traffic - the heavy clutch, a slightly notchy second to third and a cabin enveloped in engine noise being the only causes for complaint. High speed stability even under hard acceleration is decent and it’s only when you apply panic braking that you do feel the need for ABS.
RIDE & HANDLING
The problem with trucks is that they behave best only when some load is placed on the rear axle. The Xenon is no different either. Even with a full complement of passengers, the Xenon tends to be nose heavy and feels bouncy when the road surface is anything but perfect. Move over hard edges and the Xenon will transmit the entire impact to the occupants. Despite use of higher profile rubber and new suspension units at the front and rear, the Xenon can’t isolate road undulations well. It’s only when the loading bay is “loaded” that the pogo-ing tendency reduces, but some of that hard edge still remains.
With the kind of dimensions that the Xenon possesses, it’s a wonder that it handles decently. Decent for a vehicle its size, but it could get better. There is good grip on offer in 2WD mode on the Borg & Warner transfer case (same as the Safari) on flat surfaces. And if you want to get frisky, the Xenon will oblige and send your vehicle sideways on a dust patch even before some serious opposite lock comes into play. It’s when you go off-road that you need to dial in the four-low mode - sometimes even in soft surface situations that otherwise could be tackled in most SUVs in four-high mode. Despite 200 mm of ground clearance, the Xenon is good for the kind of off-roading novices usually go through, but it’s still some way from becoming a proper mud-plugger.
India is not new to “lifestyle” trucks, with both the TL 4x4 and Mahindra Scorpio Getaway finding a few hundred homes across the country. The Xenon takes the game a bit forward, but for Rs 8.78 lakh ex-showroom Mumbai for the 4x4 variant, it finds it hard to justify the price tag - especially given that overall refinement and build quality could do with some more work. It looks the best among the trio and has good performance, and that should be reason enough. But if you are still looking for the perfect under 10 lakh-rupee lifestyle pickup, I suggest waiting for a little longer.