Fleet News

First drive: Tata TL double cab 4x4

They gleam with chrome and stainless steel, they shine with metallic paint and they come with enough stylish extras to sink the ark.

But there is nothing fancy about the new Tata TL double cab pick-up, including the rock bottom price of £11,357 ex-VAT.

While the likes of Mitsubishi, Toyota, Ford and Isuzu aim for the ‘hairdresser’ end of the market, the Indian manufacturer is looking to tempt the buyer who wants practicality rather than looks.

The new model is being imported under an arrangement with MG Rover’s owners and single-cab and double-cab 2x4 and 4x4 versions are on offer. All feature a 2.0-litre intercooled turbodiesel powerplant offering 89bhp at 4,300rpm and 140lb-ft of torque at 2,500rpm and all have a one tonne payload.

Warranty is three years/60,000 miles.

Outside

The UK’s van press were invited to Longbridge at the back end of last year to view the new TL pick-up models. Some of Tata’s top executives flew in from India and we were all left impressed with the gleaming models on show. They looked the business, with chunky wheels and silver metallic paint, and the speakers on the day told a convincing fleet story.

And indeed, when the test model arrived at my house, it didn’t look half bad either. It has that chunky macho styling of other models such as the Mitsubishi L200, Nissan Navara and Ford Ranger and features large plastic protectors on the wheelarches and a massive chunk of metal under the front bumper to protect all the four-wheel drive gubbins underneath if the going gets really rough.

It’s not until you get close up that the problems start to show up...

In the front

Opening the door is courtesy of central locking (not remote) and it is then you’ll discover that the door panel is paper thin and flimsy in the extreme.

Once inside, the interior looks cheap and tacky and all the knobs and switches feel as though they might snap off at any time.

The driver’s seat is surprisingly comfortable with good lumbar support but there isn’t enough travel on the chair to give adequate legroom to anyone over about 5ft 8in. As I stand over 6ft in my bare feet, it was torture driving this vehicle.

On the plus side, there is a good quality Clarion stereo radio/cassette player and a fair amount of legroom for rear seat passengers. Add-on extras include a towbar at £102, navigation system at £723 and fire extinguisher at £18 (prices ex-VAT)

In the back

If the front is flimsy, there is certainly nothing lacking at the business end of this vehicle. It feels hugely strong, with a massive tailgate that slams shut like the gates of Fort Knox, and there are six load-lashing eyes and a tubular protection frame behind the cab. Load area measures 1,500mm in length and 1,410mm in width.

A range of Truckman tops are available to cover the load area at between £894 and £1,088 ex-VAT and a load liner at £132 is indispensable in my view.

On the road

It is when you start up this truck that the full extent of its problems become apparent. I should have suspected something was amiss when I spied a sticker on the dashboard advising the driver to leave the engine idling for at least a minute on start-up before driving away and again before switching the engine off after a journey. Can you imagine any fleet driver bothering to do that?

The deafening diesel clatter and huge cloud of black smoke took me back to my younger days. I thought diesel engines like this had been consigned to the scrapheap years ago. Driving off was even worse. The gearchange is so clunky that it almost takes two hands to move the stick and there is an audible transmission whine from the gearbox while under way.

The power steering is so vague that it’s almost impossible to keep the vehicle in a straight line and acceleration is virtually non-existent. This truck is reported to have a turbocharger but you could have fooled me.

If you do manage to reach 60mph (it will take a long time), the whole vehicle vibrates – reminding me rather of youthful days aboard my trusty Triumph Bonneville.

I managed just 10 painful miles in this vehicle during my test week and I reckon that was nine miles too many.

Verdict

The question has to be: is this vehicle a credible fleet alternative to the established players – and the answer has to be a resounding no.

For £14,109, a fleet could buy a Mitsubishi L200 GL double cab, which is a good looker, a superb performer and a star in the residual value stakes.

The TL, on the other hand, is a relic from the 1950s that, while probably still cutting a dash in India, fails in every area in the UK. And try selling it three years down the line.

In fact, any fleet buying these vehicles would probably end up with a riot on its hands when the drivers first climbed aboard.

Fact file
Model TL s/c 2x4 TL s/c 4x4 TL d/c 2x4 TL d/c 4x4
Engine (cc): 1,948 1,948 1,948 1,948
Power (bhp/rpm): 89/4,300 89/4,300 89/4,300 89/4,300
Torque (lb-ft): 140/2,500 140/2,500 140/2,500 140/2,500
Payload (kg): 1,280 1,280 1,030 1,030
CO2 emissions (g/km): 255 255 255 255
Max speed (mph): 77 77 77 77
Price: £7,495 (ex-VAT) £8,995 (ex-VAT) £9,357 (ex-VAT) £11,357 (ex-VAT)

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