|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
In order to understand what makes the Xenon so good, you have to first look at where it’s made in. In India, driving is a continuously strenuous exercise. To the outsider looking in, it’s absolute chaos. There’s constant weaving-in-and-out of gridlock traffic, total disregard for lane markings, and of course, the generous honking; the type where it’s buy one honk, get ten honks free. Given this sort of environment, you bet Indians drive tanks to work. This certainly isn’t the case for one reason alone: the chaos I’ve been talking about? It’s totally normal for Indians. And in fact, it’s totally normally for Filipinos as well. This is the sort of environment we live in 24/7, and the sort of environment the Tata Xenon’s built for.
Let’s not mince words here: the Xenon’s not pretty. It looks like a pick-up truck straight from the early to mid 2000’s. But my goodness, try knocking the body to check the gauge of metal they use and you’ll be surprised: the Xenon feels as if it’s armored. This isn’t Iron Man Mark VII or VIII armor here, this here is Iron Man Mark I—the terrorist frying, bunker busting armor Tony Stark invented in a cave. With a hammer. Yes, the Xenon feels impervious to door dings, scrapes, and in the Artic White color, any sort of scratches. And did I mention it’s got a standard rear bull bar? Adding even more toughness to the Xenon’s looks is a pseudo-cage that protects the rear glass from loading long, sharp objects on the bed. Personally, if Death Race 2000 happened right now, I’d jump right into the Xenon and feel perfectly safe.
Inside, the Xenon carries the same indestructible character. For a brief moment, all you could do is gripe about the hard plastics used to cover just about every surface from the dashboard to the center console to the doors. But then, let’s see how your “soft-touch plastics” survive extreme heat. With the exception of blow torching the Xenon’s dashboard, I don’t see it warping or deforming ever. There’s little need to use Armor-All or any of those dashboard protectants. UV rays be damned, the Xenon’s interior feels like it’s built to withstand a nuclear war without any need of TLC.
Thankfully, the Xenon’s got more going for it other than a tough wearing interior; it’s actually got more style inside than outside. Realizing drivers (and their passengers) would care more about creature comforts than exterior style, the Xenon nicely echoes its corporate logo on the center panel. Trust me, you don’t see it at first, but once you do, you cannot unsee it. Of course, the symmetrical dash design probably has to do more with left-hand/right-hand switchability (even the power window switches are located just aft of the shifter), but it creates a nice atmosphere. The swathe of silvery plastics on the steering wheel, center panel, and shifter uplift the otherwise predominantly gray cabin too. The Xenon’s also respectfully loaded too with a lockable glovebox, full-featured audio system (with USB input), a neat Swiss-watch inspired instrument cluster, and a bone-chilling air conditioning system.
Given how everyone drives in India or the Philippines for that matter, the Xenon’s designed to provide the least stress when driving. In fact, I’ve got to hand it down to Tata, the Xenon’s one of the easiest pick-ups to drive straight out of the box. First up, the driving position is upright giving an unparalleled view around the pick-up. The glass area is huge and the side mirrors equally so, eliminating blind spots in the process. This actually makes the Xenon easy to dart in and out of traffic, India-style. Secondly, the gearbox and clutch pedal are very easy to master. It’s no sports car, so don’t expect flicking through the gears; but it’s the most forgiving set-up I’ve tried towards mis-shifts, non-shifts, and lazy shifts. There’s absolutely no excuse to stall the engine under any circumstance. I’d bet you make me wear three-inch heels, I’ll still be able to modulate the Xenon’s clutch perfectly. And finally, you’ve got the engine. The Tata 2.2-liter DICOR (Direct Injection Common Rail) generates only 138 horsepower and 320 Nm of torque on paper, but the way it delivers the goods is stunning. With peak torque coming in from as low as 1,700 rpm and short gearing, the Xenon feels surprisingly responsive; like it’s packing more power under that hood. In fact, the Xenon keeps on going like a locomotive from first to fourth gear only to be balanced out by an ultra-tall fifth gear (for that 160 km/h top speed, I’d bet).
At this point, I do have to let you know that the Xenon’s got one big chink in its armor. Since it’s engineered to be a simple-minded hauler of a pick-up, the ride could certainly be better. This ain’t a lifestyle pick-up, ‘yo. It hauls and hauls well, but drive it through a rut, a bump or just uneven pavement, and it will massage your innards whether you asked it to or not. At lower speeds, the jiggling and the shuddering won’t be noticeable, but any speed beyond 50 km/h, and it will shake your booty like Beyonce. In other words, for the love of God, don’t ride the Xenon when you just had eat-all-you-can buffet for dinner; it’s not a pleasant experience. Of course this is all true when the Xenon’s empty. But once you load the Xenon with five passengers or the generous bed (1,430mm x 1,410mm x 400mm) up to a ton or tow up to 1,800 kilograms, the ride sorts itself out. Plus, fear no incline as it comes standard with Limited Slip Differential (LSD) enough for a maximum climbing gradient of 41 percent.
I’ve seen and experienced how Indians drive first hand, and I certainly have to say that the Tata Xenon does well under those circumstances. And though our country is some 8,000 miles or so apart, the traffic conditions are no different. Yes, we don’t honk our horns as much, but a majority of drivers still weave in-and-out of traffic and have a complete disregard for land markings. Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we need a car that can ultimately provide the least stressful driving environment possible. Surely, we can go for something like a uber expensive European car, but can you imagine darting traffic in one? Getting a ding would be more painful than a stab to the heart. On the other hand, the Tata Xenon is built exceptionally well for the task of being one tough Mo-Fo. At P 805,000 it may seem a bit expensive, but give the Xenon a shot. It’s an experience best savored in the driver’s seat.
2014 Tata Xenon 4x2
|Ownership||2014 Tata Xenon 4x2 DLE M/T|
|Body Type||4-door + 1-tailgate pick-up|
|Engine / Drive||F/R|
|Under the Hood|
|Aspiration||Common Rail Direct Injection, Turbocharged|
|Layout / # of Cylinders||I4|
|BHP @ rpm||140 @ 4,000|
|Nm @ rpm||320 @ 1,700-2,700|
|Fuel / Min. Octane||Diesel|
|Dimensions and Weights|
|Curb Weight (kg)||1,980|
|Suspension and Tires|
|Front Suspension||Independent, Double Wishbone|
|Rear Suspension||Semi-Elliptic Parabolic Leaf Springs|
|Front Brakes||Vented Disc|
|Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS)||Yes|
|Traction / Stability Control||No|
|Steering Wheel Adjustment||Tilt|
|Steering Wheel Material||Urethane|
|Folding Rear Seat||Yes, Bench-Type|
|Power Door Locks||Yes|
|No. of Speakers||4|
|Steering Wheel Controls||No|