Foton Tunland TK 2013 Review
Foton, a division of China's giant Beijing Automotive, gets a lot of it right with a dual-cab ute that is priced between the entry-level Great Wall and more established models
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The Indian Tata brand has thrown a Myna bird among the cheap Chinese pick-ups. It relaunched in Australia this week with a six-model ute range from $22,990 drive-away for a cab-chassis to $29,990 drive-away for a four-door crew-cab ute.
The starting price bravely pitches the Tata at a premium. The Chinese utes start at $17,990 drive-away while the mainstream Japanese brands regularly have deals on cab-chassis models at $19,990 drive-away or thereabouts.
The warranty is three years/ 100,000km and the service intervals are 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Roadside assistance is also free for the first three years.
ENGINE / TECHNOLOGY
The Tata Xenon range is available with one engine -- a 2.2-litre turbo diesel -- and one transmission, a five-speed manual -- with a choice of 4x2 or a 4x4 drivetrains.
The first 400 vehicles to arrive this year do not have stability control but they do come with anti-lock brakes. The stability control equipped cars begin to arrive in January. Payload capacity ranges from 880kg for the dual cab to 1080kg for the cab-chassis models. Towing capacity is 2500kg for all models.
There are only two airbags available as standard (as with the Chinese ute rivals) and it is unclear when or if side impact airbags will be added. The back seats do not have adjustable head rests (and there are only two fixed head cushions) and the centre seat has a lap-only belt.
A rear camera, built-in sat-nav with touchscreen and Bluetooth audio streaming are available on all models in a $2400 accessory package, while Bluetooth and USB audio input are standard across the range.
The highlight of the new Xenon is the Euro V compliant 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine designed and engineered in-house by Tata with expert help from key suppliers. On a preview drive in Melbourne this week ahead of the Xenon’s showroom debut the engine proved to be a smooth and efficient operator.
Compared to other diesel utes -- from mainstream as well as emerging brands -- the Tata Xenon has almost no power delay from low revs and was relatively refined and quiet, with good pulling power all the way through the rev range.
It is a genuine highlight of the car and bodes well for the future, when it eventually gets installed into an all-new architecture. The five-speed manual had a sturdy, direct shift action. The brakes were sound.
Economy is an impressive 7.4L/100km and acceleration was better than expected partly because the Xenon is smaller (and therefore lighter) than its newer rivals. The interior is a little squeezy by modern standards but not dissimilar to the previous generation utes from the mainstream brands.
Rear end grip is dicey in the wet and stability control can’t come soon enough. But, off-road, the Xenon’s ruggedness and excellent wheel articulation means it can clamber over obstacles that would leave some utes stranded.
The Tata Xenon will probably find most favour on the farm at first, which is why the dealer network is initially focused on regional and rural areas.
HISTORY AND RIVALS
Tata vehicles have been sold on and off in Australia since 1996 after a Queensland distributor began importing them mainly for farm use. There are an estimated 2500 Tata heavy-duty pick-ups on Australian roads already. But there are many more Indian-made cars on Australian roads, albeit with foreign badges.
More than 34,000 Indian-made Hyundai i20 hatchbacks and more than 10,000 Indian-made Suzuki Alto small cars have been sold in Australia over the past four years, since 2009.
But other, Indian-branded vehicles have not been so successful. Australian sales of the Mahindra range of utes and SUVs have been so weak the distributor is yet to report them to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.
The original Mahindra ute scored a poor two stars out of five in independent crash tests and was later upgraded to three stars following engineering changes.
The Mahindra SUV launched with a four-star rating at a time when most vehicles are awarded five stars. There is as yet no star-rating for crash safety on the new Tata ute range.
However, the new distributor for Tata vehicles in Australia believes the origin of the vehicles will be a competitive advantage. “There is no tougher place on earth to test vehicles than on the tough and demanding roads of India,” said the newly-appointed distributor of Tata vehicles in Australia, Darren Bowler, of Fusion Automotive.
Tata Motors -- India’s largest automobile company -- acquired Jaguar and Land Rover from the Ford Motor Company in June 2008, in the grip of the Global Financial Crisis.
The acquisition gave Tata access to Jaguar and Land Rover designers and engineers but Tata is yet to release an all-new model with their input.
The Tata Xenon ute was released in 2009 and is also sold in South Africa, Brazil, Thailand, the Middle East, Italy and Turkey. The Australian versions of the Xenon ute released this week are the first right-hand drive models fitted with dual airbags and a Euro V compliant engine.
Tata Xenon pick-up
Price: From $22,990 drive-away
Engine: 2.2-litre turbo diesel (Euro V)
Power: 110kW and 320Nm
Payload: 880kg to 1080kg
Towing capacity: 2500kg
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service intervals: 15,000km/12 months
Safety: Two airbags, anti-lock brakes (stability control arriving next year, can't be retro-fitted)
Safety rating: No ANCAP rating yet.
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