Why would I buy it?
- Comfortable and spacious cabin
- Strong performance
- Third-row usability
Why would I avoid it?
- Inconsistent steering response
- Quality isn’t up to the segment standard
- Low boot space with all three rows up
We have to admit that Tata Motors has pulled off a great product with the new Safari. As such, we strongly suggest one opts for the automatic version as all the glitches associated with the manual can be avoided. Sure, the new Tata Safari doesn’t have the off-roading calibre that its predecessor flaunted, but even then, it’s not like the original was beating the Mahindra Thar at all the mud-plugging activities either. So the new Safari stacks up well by offering great comfort and style, a strong motor with decent dynamics, a long list of features, and a thoroughly usable third row. Considering this segment is going to get crowded soon, the company did well to plug it earlier on.
Engine and Performance
Straight off the bat, I can easily say that driving the manual is nowhere as pleasant as the automatic, and you can read more about the automatic variant here. Moving forward, insulation is quite impressive, and the only way you can hear anything intrusive is if you keep the throttle pinned. Which isn’t necessary either, as the peppy nature of this 170bhp/350Nm, two-litre four-cylinder diesel motor doesn’t require one to wander at the rev-limits to depict its true potential.
What’s also commendable about this mill is that it is a smooth, and quick one. By the latter, I mean the strong midrange can make driving this SUV actually quite entertaining (despite the size), especially when the turbo goes on-boost at about 2,000rpm. Better still, there’s not much turbo lag until it does too. Just for the record, our VBox recorded the manual Safari’s 0-100kpmh run in a rather dignified 11.65 seconds (auto- 11.48 sec)
In fact, the ample torque and flexibility from this engine means you can drive around in third gear at city speeds without the motor nudging you for a downshift. To put things in perspective, the 20-80 and 40-100 runs in third and fourth gear, a measure of its drivability and overtaking, is dispatched in 8.74 and 11.43 seconds (auto- 6.37, 8.19 sec).
As for the fuel efficiency, this manual Safari returned 11.3/18.9kmpl (city/highway), which seems quite reasonable for an SUV this size. But after spending some time behind the wheel, I really felt that a shorter clutch travel would have made driving a whole lot easier since one can anticipate the clutch’s bite-point better. Not to forget that there’s some slack in this six-speeder’s shift action which makes going up-and-down the gears feel finicky.
Now, as is the case with the automatic, this iteration also gets the Eco, City and Sport modes. I stayed away from Eco-mode’s subdued responses not just because I wasn’t running low on fuel, but because by then I was already smitten by the City-mode which is good enough for most driving situations. Interestingly, activating Sport-mode when you are partially on the throttle, vaguely resembles the feel when NOS goes on-boost in a racing car. Nice!
Ride and Handling
The steering, on the other hand, is a mixed bag overall. Sure, it’s quick with just 2.5 circles from lock-to-lock, which thoroughly reduces one’s arm-work while manoeuvring. But, unlike the Harrier, this steering feels oddly heavy at slow speeds and gets too light as you go faster. Couple this weirdness to the already progressive response off the dead-centre, and you’re left steering with constant corrections like an anxious dog sniffing feverishly from right-to-left.
Not surprisingly, you’re caught attacking corners and driving this SUV like it isn’t one. Thankfully the Land Rover credentials kick-in at the right time by lending an assuring chassis-balance and promising grip, along with just the right amount of controllable lean too. What’s more, the tremendous bite from the discs at all four corners makes even emergency braking situations feel like a cakewalk. It would’ve been perfect, though, had the response at the pedal felt better.
Having said that, my favourite has to be the Safari’s ability to gulp everything you throw at it, at higher speeds. Yes, the ride quality can get slightly stiff at slower speeds, but with so much power and dynamics on tap, the only time I actually drove slowly was in serious traffic. This SUV was built to devour speed breakers; be it at speed or not, it simply doesn’t matter. And if you miss spotting one, there’s hardly any rear-kickback too, which dials down a lot of driving-related stress.
Interior Space and Quality
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Harrier so it’s only obvious that even my sub-conscious self can spot the differences, or additions. To start with, sadly, some of the same flaws as with the Harrier exist, namely the quality, fit and finish, and rough edges at some spots. And so is the case with the odd vertically-slanting stalks. Besides, we seriously feel it’s time for the boring steering wheel to get upgraded to what's offered with the likes of the Tiago/Altroz. On the brighter side, some fresh grey trim can be seen complementing the dual-tone soft-top dashboard that’s already highlighted by lots of thick silver-trim running from end to end.
You just have to admit that it’s a bold step to opt for the white trim around the cabin and seat upholstery. This undoubtedly, along with the huge panorama sunroof, makes the cabin look super cool and airy. And while at it, the JBL speakers continue to rock at displacing quality decibels to your lug-holes.
Functional add-ons include an extra USB port inside the arm rest (Harrier gets one), a new electronic hand-brake switch that’s beautifully integrated where the aircraft-style brake-lever existed, and a snazzy ‘Boss-mode’ lever on the front passenger seat that allows the second-row passenger to adjust the front seat for that extra legroom.
Additionally, to simplify the usage of the AUX and USB ports on the central console, the section has been redesigned and highlighted for better identification. However, access to the cubby space still remains tricky to use when the AUX/USB cords are attached.
Just like in the Harrier, the first two rows in the Safari also offer ample legroom, shoulder-room and headroom. The seats themselves are large and supportive, so long journeys are bound to be comfortable even for long stints. In fact, the second-row bench, with its adjustable backrest angle, can easily seat three in sufficient comfort, while also benefitting from the slightly stepped-up floor which boosts visibility all around.
In this middle row bench-seat layout, the single-seat tumbles so that one can climb onto the third row. While one wouldn’t term it as a squeeze, you’d certainly need to plan your footwork to avoid looking like a halfwit. Once in though, you’ll notice that the last row is also positioned slightly higher than the middle row. This, coupled with the decent visibility from the angled quarter-glass, despite being encroached upon by the air-con vents, makes for decent viewing angles that could easily prevent any form of claustrophobic moments.
Otherwise, this section is complete with its fair share of air-con blower controls, two USB ports, cup holders, a netted cubby space, and the holding sections also double up as arm-rests.
As for the last-row twin flat-folding seats, their squabs and backrests are favourably contoured with a reasonable amount of cushioning and are actually fine to be seated in. Sure, thigh support may be non-existent, but the back support kicks in to offer some solace. Surprisingly, there’s enough shoulder room, legroom, and foot room for two adults like me (5.6 feet, 83kg).
Now, although headroom can get cramped for tall occupants here, I was actually surprised at the reasonable creature comfort offered in this row. Also, with all rows up, the boot space is good for two slim laptop bags at the most; strictly nothing more. But, folding the last row liberated enough space for three suitcases and a few soft bags.
Features and Safety
The Safari variant you see in the pictures is the XZ plus. Some of the stand-out features include automatic xenon projector headlamps, fog lights with cornering function, and an 8.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay along with nine JBL speakers. Then, there’s the single-zone climate control, mood lighting, connected car tech, leatherette seat upholstery, electric driver’s seat and the snazzy-sounding ‘Boss’ mode! In terms of safety, this version gets tyre pressure monitoring, six airbags, hill-descent control, electronic parking brake with auto hold, and traction control.
There’s also roll-over mitigation, corner stability control, ESP, ABS with EBD, rear parking sensors with camera, disc brakes on all four wheels, and the acclaimed Terrain Response Modes (Normal, Rough and Wet).
It would be ideal to say that the new Safari is a good option to the likes of the Mahindra XUV500, MG’s Hector Plus, Hyundai’s upcoming Alcazar, and the Jeep Compass seven-seater. But, the biggest drawback most folks bring up in this new Safari, is that it lacks the original’s off-road credentials.
The way we see it, had it received the all-wheel-drive machinery, its Land Rover underpinnings would’ve made the package quite unaffordable as engineers would’ve been forced to use a Land Rover AWD setup. Or at-least build one from ground-up which would certainly have worked out to be expensive.
I’d suggest picking the new Safari, stay clear of the sticky situations, while still resorting to the built-in Terrain Response Modes whenever the going gets tricky. Plus, we feel that its output is better optimised to the automatic transmission, and despite the latter being about 1.7 lakh dearer (Rs 24.12 XZ Plus manual, OTR Mumbai), it makes a-world-of-difference as you don’t need to live with the quirks of the manual-geared version. Also, we certainly didn’t approve of the odd steering response, the quality and fit/finish in some areas, the infotainment screen that should've been bigger, and the boot space with all the rows-up is seriously sparse.
On the contrary, what you’ll truly take to in the new Safari is the comfort that’s brought about by a slew of factors. Be it the pristine insulation, or the comfortable, stylish and airy cabin which is feature-loaded, or even for that matter, the surprisingly liveable third-row. And lest we forget, its meaty performance that’s complemented by the sharp brakes, the sorted ride, and the reasonable efficiency considering the overall bulk. Nice Tata, this!
Pictures: Kaustubh Gandhi