AN advert being flighted on TV these days for the new Tata Xenon had me slightly puzzled.

AN advert being flighted on TV these days for the new Tata Xenon had me slightly puzzled.

How did they manage to get the vehicle perched so neatly on top of an impossibly high ridge that even a mountain goat would see as a challenge?

Did they use a helicopter or a hoist of some sort? And it was only after driving the vehicle for two weeks that I realised how they did it ... they simply drove it there.

You see, the Xenon is a 4x4 bakkie in the true sense of the term. It's not fancy or frilly and is more Diepsloot than Dainfern.

Tough, no frills and capable ... just as a bakkie should be.

And even by bakkie standards it is a large vehicle - 1860mm wide and 5125mm long and being a double cab it offers the owner plenty of room and options.

I must admit, though, the first few days of driving it on the congested roads of Jozi were not altogether pleasurable.

Trying to park it in a normal parking bay is like trying to fit a Putco bus into a phone booth and attempting to make a three-point turn gives your biceps a better workout than an hour in the gym.

But where the 2.2litre diesel turbo-charged Xenon comes into its own is obviously when you venture off-road and, also surprisingly, on the open highway.

Heading north on the N1 to Polokwane in Limpopo the bakkie cruised along comfortably at the national speed limit and had plenty in reserve for overtaking and the long uphills.

The recent rains in the region might be great for the farmers but the rural dirt roads leading to our destination - Pontsho Disability Care Centre for a CSI project - had turned into a quagmire.

No problem for the Xenon, though.

With a high ground clearance (200ml) and imposing 16-inch tyres, the vehicle was a match for the harshest terrain.

When the conditions did get particularly treacherous it was simply a case of switching to 4x4 mode and inching our way forward.

But just because it is a workhorse doesn't mean it doesn't come with suitable extras, and these include ABS braking, side impact beams, crumple zones, air conditioning, central locking and a tiltable steering wheel.

So how does it measure up to some of its competitors?

Well, it's definitely not as attractive looking as say the Toyota Hilux or the Nissan Hardbody, but what it lacks in style it more than makes up for in terms of capabilities and also price-wise.

At R211 995, you are getting great bang for your buck and as a workhorse the Tata Xenon scores highly.