Emotion! The Tata Safari is an emotion for crores of Indians including me. The first Indian SUV that introduced the big tall boy design in our country. My first acquaintance with the Safari traces back to 2000 when my dad’s friend got one and had called us over to get a look. I was a child back then and all I ever could do back then, was drool over the size and presence of the car. A family member also owned a Safari Storme and I could drive the car whenever I wanted. The sheer road presence, acres of space inside the cabin and commanding driving position were the three aspects which made the Safari an instant hit in our country. It remained the emotional king of SUVs in our country for the longest amount of time, and yes it still does! The production of the vehicle was axed last year and now I have the all-new Safari in my hand. All new? Let’s find out!
The new Safari is a Harrier with the addition of third-row seats and a few tweaks in the flesh. Sorry, I didn’t mean to be mean but it is what it is. The car looks striking and gets extremely contemporary design it looks futuristic like all the new cars from the Tata bandwagon. The three-pointed design elements on the grill, along with the thin chrome strip that runs from one end of the LED DRLs to the other, coupled with massive headlamp section gives the car an aggressive stance. Big wheel arches with 18-inch wheels and the slightly raised roofline over the C-pillar enhances the car with a lot of character. In spite all the facts in place, the tall boy look is missing and I miss the previous Safari for the kind of road presence it offered.
Step inside the cabin and you are welcomed by premium looking interiors. There is excessive use of soft-touch plastics which feel very good to touch while the dark black ashwood looking strip that nestles on the dashboard along with neatly inserted chrome embellishments around the AC vents, door handles and centre console aid the car a grown-up masculine feel. Captain seats feel tailor-made for lean people, you put someone above average size and they will start cribbing for the comfort in the car. Second-row seats could have been wider and the armrests could have been wider as well.
Tata deserves high praise for the way the engine and gearbox have been put together. The new Safari is powered by a turbocharged 2-litre diesel engine that develops a maximum power of 170PS at 3750rpm and a peak torque of 350Nm at 1750-2500rpm. The engine gets two gearbox options - 6-speed automatic and 6-speed manual. There is always more than adequate power sent to the wheels and carrying triple-digit speeds whole day long is a breeze. The car gets two driving modes as per performance and economy aspects - eco and sport. I drove the car from Pune to Satara and back, a total of 300km and the sheer ease this car delivers on road carrying triple-digit speeds without feeling strained is admirable.
For me, the Safari gets unarguably the best ride and handling set up in its segment. The car glides over everything while assuring you a tank-like feel. Inside the cabin, everything feels robust and built to last and the suspension setup coupled with the precise and direct steering wheel offers tones of confidence to carry speeds on rough roads. The suspensions soak up everything you throw at it and flattens most things on the road passing minimum discomfort inside the cabin. To make things easy on varied road terrains, Tata has equipped the Safari with electronically adjusted driving modes namely - City, Rough Road and Wet.
Do I really need to speak about the handling of a car that has been based on the Omega-Arc platform? The Safari handles like a car and magically masks all its weight to help carve corners with lightning alacrity. There is exceptional feedback from the steering wheel and it feels precisely weighted which lends the car a fast character which is not a familiar business for vehicles in its class.
The Safari is loaded with features to the brim. Tata has left no dark corner in this space. The SUV gets auto-hold feature to let it off from rolling and hill descent control as well. The car gets a massive sunroof to get things roomy inside the cabin, IRA connectivity, Safari branded roof-rails, JBL speakers, six airbags, projector headlamps, diamond-cut alloy wheels, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, tilt-telescopic adjustable steering wheel, 6-way adjustable seat with lumbar support, captain seats with a boss seat function on the co-driver side that lends you to adjust the co-driver seat in the front, 3rd row AC vents, automatic climate control with HVAC, rain-sensing wipers, cooled storage box and the list is endless.
Not all things about the new Safari are good though. The third-row seats are best suited for kids or someone with less height. To get to the third row in the case of captain seats, you have to squeeze yourself through the centre of both the seats. This is irritating. Even though the second-row seats are positioned higher over the first row, the theatre seating feel of the previous Safari is missing here. Ingress and egress are pretty much on the same level and the emotion of climbing over the footboard to get inside the cabin is gone. Seat height is also not as commanding as the previous Safari.
Design-wise, I personally feel that the Safari should have been taller, longer and wider at the rear. I never in my wildest of my dreams had expected the Safari to look like this, It’s disheartening. The rear seems a tight squeeze and half done considering the addition of a third row and it’s pretty obvious going by the same wheelbase it shares with the Harrier. Second-row captain seats is a major domain Tata needs to work on. The Safari was known for its sheer space and comfort and this new one sadly lacks.
The Safari misses out on the 4x4 which is a stab in the heart of the Safari loyalties and I am one among them. Really Tata? With the new mechanical underpinnings, the Safari sacrifices a lot. It sacrifices its soul and its heart-wrenching. The new Safari clearly feels and drives like any other softroader on the road and the off-road car we once knew the Safari for is gone. There are 99 reasons the new Safari feels better as a product over the previous one, albeit the few things it sincerely sacrifices - like the third-row seats, the commanding vehicle height and driving position and the size. But it loses its soul in the process and this is an extremely big loss to compensate what it now offers.
There was no reason I eagerly and wholeheartedly waited since the axing of the Safari Storme for the new Safari, only to realise that it shares so many of its underpinnings with the Harrier. I personally don’t accept this as the new Safari, it’s just an updated Harrier with the incorporation of the third row of seats for me. Someone please wake me up from this nightmare and tell me that the Safari Storme is yet to get a worth heir. To conclude, however good the new Safari would be in a lot of aspects, the older one still has my heart for all the things the SUV set its benchmark for.