Bargain-priced range from India.

Tata is the world's fourth-largest commercial vehicle maker and the owner of Land Rover. This giant multinational company didn't get that way from making rubbish, but the Xenon will appeal to those wanting a basic ute, not a frills machine. Pricing is very, very good.

tata xenonLike its Mahindra countryman the Xenon will attract market attention because of its very keen pricing: $25,990 for a 4WD single cab/chassis; $27,990 for a ute and $29,990 for a crew-cab ute. Our test vehicle was fitted with an optional nav screen and reverse camera, for an extra couple of grand.

The Xenon single cab/chassis and crew-cab sit on a 3150mm wheelbase and the single cab ute is shorter, on 2825mm. All variants have a 2.2-litre common-rail-injected, turbo-intercooled, Euro V diesel, with modest outputs of 110kW at 4000rpm and 320Nm in the 1500-3000rpm band. The only transmission offered at launch was a five-speed manual, with two-speed transfer case, but a six-speed auto is due for release in 2014.

Underpinnings are as strong as it gets, as you’d expect from a vehicle whose Indian buyers blithely ignore gross mass ratings, so the stated gross mass rating of only 2950kg and payload of 970-990kg are decidedly on the conservative side. A sturdy torsion bar front end is matched by taper-leaf rear springs with massive helper springs and the assembly looks capable of handling much more than three tonnes all up. The suspension works fine, but would benefit from beefier dampers front and rear.

Towing capacity is limited to 2500kg by engine torque of only 320Nm.

tata xenonOff road traction is so-so, because a limited-slip rear differential struggles to maintain grip, given stiff rear suspension that limits wheel travel. In 2014 traction and stability control electronics are scheduled and that should make a difference.

At 32 grand drive-away we had to cut the latest Tata crew-cab 4WD ute some slack. Its weird ergonomics don’t compare with the control layouts of mainstream utes, but you can buy two Tatas for the price of one fully-loaded, top-shelf established brand ute.

So, while you’re struggling to see the speedo and tacho, because the tilt steering wheel rim is in the way, or trying in vain to get the Bluetooth dashboard button make your phone work, or sliding around a bit on the flattish front seats, or squeezing long legs into a cramped rear-seat space, you can have the warm feeling of having saved plenty.

There’s also no cruise control but there is plenty of urge from a state of the art turbo-intercooled diesel and the five-speed manual box has an excellent action. The 4WD system works promptly from a knob control.

We'll check out the Xenon again, when the better equipped models are released.

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