Why would I buy it?
- Usable three row seating
- Comfortable to live with
- A good highway car
Why would I avoid it?
- Not a true-blue Safari
- Inconsistent quality
- Not the most fuel efficient
Agreed that without a rugged, body-on-ladder construction, without any sort of four wheel drive option, and being a front wheel drive only doesn’t give the new SUV enough cred to carry the Tata Safari torch. But, as a six or seven seater SUV for the urban world, this new Safari has almost every box checked! It’s usable, comfortable, drivable, feature-rich, and it has street presence. It’s not perfect, of course. And to be honest, the segment it steps into is going to have some great buying options soon. Plus, though good, the new Safari isn’t as outstanding to be your default purchase.
Engine and Performance
You only get one engine on the new Safari – the four-cylinder, 170bhp, 350Nm, and two-litre diesel that it borrows from the Harrier. And, even though it uses a Land Rover platform, there will be no all wheel drive for the new Safari. It will remain a front wheel drive. The engine itself meanwhile is decidedly quiet and refined at low revs for a diesel. And there’s enough grunt in the low end of the engine to keep things both calm and accelerating so one doesn’t need to rev it out. The Safari is slower than the Harrier, of course, given the added heft. But not by much.
As our test figures revealed, the new Safari was a little over a second slower to 100kmph from standstill compared to the Harrier. In the roll on or kickdown tests, a reflection of the SUV’s drivability, this difference dropped to under a second. This was in Sport mode where the throttle feels more alive and the engine is all perked up and ready to rev. There are two other modes – City and Eco. City is the default mode, while Eco, given how it blunted the Safari’s responses; we avoided it like the plague.
The new Safari comes with both a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic gearbox. We have the latter, and it behaves like a typical torque converter. But, thankfully not a lazy one. There’s some bit of off throttle freewheeling but it doesn’t get in the way of driving. This auto ‘box borrowed from Hyundai comes with a manual override function as well, but we never really felt the need to use it. You can pretty much get the ’box to do your bidding via throttle inputs alone.
Ride and Handling
The new Safari is literally generations ahead of the older one when it comes to handling. The comparatively lesser weight, stiffer monocoque, and more modern suspension make the new Safari surprisingly manageable around corners. The ride on the new Safari though doesn’t have the same smothering quality to it like the older SUV. It is plaint, yes, but not exceptional. The steering, meanwhile, is surprisingly quick. And there’s hardly any delay off center. Add to it the new Safari’s quick and precise turn-in abilities, and you have an SUV that feels lighter than it is. But once turned in, the Safari does tend to roll about a bit, but thankfully, never to alarming levels.
Ride quality like we mentioned is plaint if not plush. It can feel a bit stiff knead at slow speeds but things improve significantly as the going gets fast. The damping, especially for the rear is excellent. The Safari’s rear rarely kicks up violently even when negotiating a speed breaker at speed which can’t be said for most long-ish SUVs.
Braking is effective. Even with the additional weight compared to the Harrier, the Safari took the exact same distance to come to a stop from 80kmph in our test. And though there’s no question that the bite offered from the brakes is strong, these could do better in terms of feel and progression.
Interior Space and Quality
The new Safari is pretty much the Harrier on the inside. The same dashboard, same steering, same aircon vents, and a similar looking multimedia system. The quality levels are similar too, so it’s mostly good, but some places certainly need attention. The feature list, like the Harrier, is a handsome one, be it on comfort, convenience, connectivity or safety front. The big difference though is the addition of third row seating, which as it turns out, is not bad at all.
Accessing the last row of seats isn’t the most convenient, agreed. But, once seated, there are acceptable levels of head and knee room. Plus, the quarter glass between the C- and D-pillar gives the last row occupants a sense of airiness. Seats themselves aren’t very comfortable, being flat and close to the floor. But, one can still spend an hour to two in them without bother.
The seating in the second row is naturally way more comfortable. The optional captain seats are reasonably roomy while also being supportive and cushy. Plus, these adjust for fore and aft movement as well as for recline. There’s also enough head and elbow room in the second row, even for tall adults. It’s the same upfront, and the new Safari also offers a good driving position.
The boot space with the last row folded is more than adequate. One gets almost 450 litres of it. Put the last row of seats in place though, and the boot turns useless, especially for a family outing.
Features and Safety
We have the top spec XZ Plus trim here. And in terms of features, it’s pretty well equipped. There’s keyless entry and start, a steering that adjusts for both reach and rake, an electrically powered drivers seat, multi information system for the driver, and a single zone climate control system with vents for all three rows. It also gets a cooled box, cruise control, and a multimedia touchscreen system.
And on the safety end, apart from the mandated ABS and rear parking sensors, this top spec XZ Plus variant also gets rain sensing wipers and automatic headlamps, there’s tyre pressure monitoring, six airbags, and for driving convenience in difficult terrain, there’s hill hold, hill descent, and an ESP with selectable modes for city wet, and rough roads.
There’s connected car tech on board too that comes with location based services, vehicle diagnostics, remote commands, security features, and gamification. The latter gives you a driving score based on your driving pattern as one of the features.
Reclaim your life. Make your own road. These weren’t just tag lines that defined the Tata Safari as a product and as a brand, but these rang true and pulled at the heart strings of the enthusiasts. Sadly, that’s not the case with the new Safari.
Now don’t get us wrong, as a product, as an urban SUV, as a family car that can seat seven – and not just in a pinch – the new Safari works. It has comfortable seats; the ride is pliant if not plush; it comes loaded with features; it has decent visibility if not fantastic; and it feels planted and stable and completely manageable be it in the city or on the highway. So, it is a good alternative to the likes of the MG Hector Plus or the Mahindra XUV500 or even the Hyundai Creta and its own stable mate, the Harrier.
But does it deliver on the old Safari’s romance, spirit of adventure, and the choice it offered to go anywhere at will? To make your own road and reclaim your life? No, not unless you are reclaiming your city life, your shopping life, your get to work, go to the mall, and take your extended family out for a dinner kind of life.
Pictures by Kaustubh Gandhi