30th Mar 2009 7:00 am
Catering to lifestyle statements over pure utility Catering to lifestyle statements over pure utility
Back in ’80s, there was nothing better at conquering dirt tracks from Bombay to Bihar than Tata Motors’ Tatamobile. In 2005, Tata transformed their old workhorse into a modernised racehorse with the 90bhp TL. Now with the Xenon, Tata hopes to rekindle the old Tatamobile’s ‘anywhere-goes’ appeal.
Designed by the UK-based Concept Group (who penned the Sumo Grande) with muscular flanks, a 140bhp and a 2.2-litre DiCOR engine from the Tata Safari, it shares little resemblance to the original Tatamobile. In fact, it looks more similar to the Grande from the front with its bulging wheel arches. Running on 205 rubbers, Tata could have done justice to the car just by giving it meatier-looking tyres.
Based on a thoroughly modified TL chassis, the Xenon is longer than the Audi Q7 and wider than a BMW X5. Being the extended cab version, it gets four doors and a load bay that is designed to carry 500kg, but ‘officially’ manages only 220 kilograms. With the body on a ladder frame chassis, a live axle at the rear, load-lugging leaf springs and a proper set of low-range gear ratios, it’s clear to see that the Xenon is no car posing in an SUV’s clothing, this is the real deal.
Those familiar with a Tata SUV will feel right at home in the Xenon; that’s to say that the switchgear works and the hard, cheap-feel plastics come in a familiar shade of grey.
The only difference comes in the form of even dashboard panel gaps with a much neater fit and finish. The front seats are comfortable, they have good bolstering and though they don’t adjust for height, you have a good view out. The dashboard is uncomplicated, with three large knobs to control the air con and a tiny, scroll button near the driver’s knees to control the Borg-Warner 4WD system. Interior design is not exceptional, but there’s a certain hard-wearing character to it that goes well with this car’s image.
The rear seats are surprisingly spacious, but the backrest is a tad too vertical and can’t be adjusted. Thigh support is efficient, but there’s no place to rest your arms, thanks to the weird door-pad design. The engine starts in true Tata fashion. Engage first gear on the extremely rubbery gearshift and you have to be careful not to stall the motor. This engine demands a few revs on the dial before it’ll get the Xenon moving. This especially comes into focus on hill starts. Once past 1500rpm, the DiCOR engine gets into its stride. It’s noisy but peppy and there’s a nice surge as the needle approaches 2000rpm and all the way to 3500rpm where power finally fades out.
With the same power as the Safari and 310kg less to lug around, the Xenon 4x4 has a real pep in its step. Part-throttle responses are good despite the tall gearing, and though there’s a lot of whooshing and whistling from under the hood, you’ll be happy with the resulting power.
The Xenon acts in true Pick-up truck manner as the ride gets better with increased loads. When unladen, the long travel suspension is absorbent but vertical movement in the cabin is very much prevalent. The SUV dislikes sharp bumps, and crashes through them – with the kind of crash that makes you wince. You’ll wish the drive-train was more refined too. The engine is way too audible in the cabin and the driveline ‘clanking’ every time you get off the clutch and just as in the Safari or a Sumo, a pitching motion sets in at high speeds over uneven surfaces. This often forces you to take your foot off the gas. The steering is improved though – there’s still some vagueness, but it feels more connected at high speeds.
Due to its massive size the vehicle’s seems inapt in town conditions; the tail of the Xenon often sticking out in most parking slots after a precise, painstaking reverse. This is surely a ‘get-out-of-town free’ car. The outdoors is truly where it belongs. It’s good off-road – the four-wheel-drive system is easy to engage, works well and the suspension seems to be able to take all the abuse you can throw at it. At 200mm, ground clearance is good and the only things you have to worry about are its tyres not getting enough traction in the slush, as the engine’s torque easily overcomes the grip available.
Despite the improvements there is absolutely no feel to the brakes, and they lock up very easily. This is by far the scariest part of this car. A set of wider tyres would have helped immensely.
The Xenon doesn’t come cheap, being priced at an estimated Rs.9.4 lakh (on-road, Mumbai) for the 4WD version, with the basic equipment including power windows, power mirrors, power steering and an air-con.
As an everyday car, this car is not a sensible option, but if you need the utility and you like to do things in style, the Xenon will be right up your alley.