At the Auto Expo 2020, Tata showcased the iconic Sierra resurrected as a concept. Early motorists of our country would remember the Sierra as a rugged, three-door SUV in a time before the term SUV was coined. Before we got our hands on the revived Sierra, Tata has brought back another name from its legendary portfolio – the Safari.
But instead of donning it on a rugged, body-on-ladder, off-roader, the Safari name now adorns a monocoque, FWD seven-seater. We have driven it, and you can read our first-drive review here. In this review, we dive a little deeper and tell you the five things we liked about the revived Safari and two things that we think could have been better.
1. Looks Matter
We first saw the new Safari as the Tata Buzzard, which was then showcased as the Gravitas last year. Similar to the Harrier on which it is based, the Safari sports Tata’s IMPACT 2.0 design philosophy. Look it upfront and it’s difficult to differentiate it from the Harrier, despite the silver-finished grille and garnish around the headlamps, because that indeed is the only thing different from the five-seater. But move to the side, and the longer length and stepped-up roof make things discerning.
There are hints of current-gen Land Rover Discovery inspiration seen here, especially in the rear three quarters. It’s from this angle that the new Safari truly looks like a successor to the older model. One interesting element here is the plastic-cladding on the D-pillar that drops down as an extension of the roof-rail. Distinct lighting signature for the taillamp compared to the Harrier is also a nice touch while the raised roof helps in making the Safari look towering from the back.
2. Coûteux Cabin
The Safari is the most expensive offering from Tata Motors in India, and that is apparent from the moment you step inside. To make things clear, the interiors aren’t any different from what you get in the Harrier. But there are some tasteful changes. This includes the grey-finished wooden trim running across the dash that complements the rich-looking all-white upholstery. It carries forward the concoction of materials all around the cabin like piano-black surfaces, silver trims, and soft-touch plastic.
But more importantly, the cabin of the Safari is a spacious one. Both front seats are large and accommodating with ample head and shoulder space. In the second row, a three-seater bench is standard but you can also opt for captain seats, that you see in the pictures, for that extra extravagance. Also, you can move the front-row seats from the second-row with a feature which Tata likes to call the ‘Boss Mode’.
Now let’s talk about that third row. We found that two adults can easily sit here with ample headroom, courtesy of the raised stepped-roof. Even the legroom isn’t half bad if the second-row occupant is generous enough. And third-row occupants are provided with separate air-vents, cup holders, adjustable headrests, reading lamps, two USBs, and three-point seat-belts as well. Even the panoramic sunroof and large windows prevent the occupants feeling claustrophobic when spending time in the third row. However, as expected, you sit awkwardly with raised knees and might not be comfortable sitting for the long haul in the last row of the Safari.
3. Punchy Performance
Under the hood of the new Safari is the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder Kryotec turbodiesel that does duties in the Harrier. Compliant to BS6, this motor puts out close to 170bhp of power and a usable 350Nm of twisting force. It comes standard with a six-speed manual, but what we are driving here is a six-speed torque converter. On idle, this motor has grown relatively silent compared to the chattery pre-BS6 version. Even on the go, it remains fairly muted but you can hear it roar when pushed hard.
And you will be pushing it hard with all of the 170 horses accessible in the midrange. The smooth-shifting torque converter also complements the punchy nature of the diesel motor and you can keep the motor on the boil all day to have some good fun behind the wheel. This is before you engage Sport driving mode. To give you an example of how the Sport mode works, we tried keeping the right foot at a constant positioning on the throttle in the Eco mode. While at it, we switched to the Sport mode and the Safari lurched forward like a dog off the leash. So, it’s truly fun driving the Safari in Sport mode and Tata has also added three more selectable modes when the terrain gets tough to tread. These are – Normal, Wet Road, and Rough Road.
At 1,840kg, it is not a light vehicle mind you. But the Safari can sprint from a standstill to a 100kmph in around 11.48 seconds, just a minute behind its sibling, the Harrier. Even the 20-80kmph and 40-100kmph runs in kick-down take just 6.37seconds (5.94 seconds for Harrier) and 8.19 seconds (Harrier does it in 7.36 seconds), respectively. This means that the Safari is no slouch and you’d not be left wanting for more when cruising on highways or stealing some quick overtakes.
4. Rides Well and Brakes Well
When it comes to riding, Safari has got it in the bag. Throw in anything from small bumps to crater-sized potholes, and the Safari manages to take in stride with good composure. Even going over those rumble strips or badly-made speed-breakers doesn’t unsettle the Safari’s composure. Take it up to highway speeds and it manages to flatten out all the undulations and road joints with ease. Meanwhile, the 235/60 section tyres strike a great balance in terms of comfort and grip levels.
And when you go fast with such a big vehicle, it’s always reassuring to know that there are good brakes to keep things in check. With the Safari, there are disc brakes both at the front and the rear providing solid stopping power, no matter what speed you are doing.
5. Feature-loaded Much?
With the new crop of Tata, you are assured of one thing – adequate equipment list; and the Safari is no different. In this top-of-the-line XZ trim, that we have here, you can have features ranging from keyless entry and start/stop, adjustable steering for both reach and rake, eight-way electrically-adjustable driver’s seat, cruise control, reversing camera, and a single-zone climate control system with vents in all three rows, to other unimportant but much appreciated features like rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, panoramic sunroof, cooled box, nine-speaker JBL system, leather upholstery, smartphone connectivity with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and new connected car tech called IRA. In terms of safety, there are ABS with EBD, six airbags, ESP with hill hold control and traction control, tyre pressure monitoring system, and drive modes.
1. Limited off-roading
The Safari of old was a rugged, go-anywhere vehicle. Spare some time and watch the commercials of the older Safari on YouTube to understand what it was all about. The same cannot be said about this new one, for it has no AWD hardware of any kind. Moreover, it remains a front-wheel-drive monocoque SUV which will struggle when the going gets tough. So, bringing back the Safari name for a people carrier which couldn’t do half the thing the older Safari was capable of was a bold move from Tata. But it’s not entirely a wrong decision because a majority of buyers who’d be getting the Safari would be restricting it as a pavement prowler and not adventuring out in the wilderness.
2. Fit and Finish still needs improvement
We experienced it with the Harrier and things remain the same for the Safari. Although the cabin appears top-class, look closely and you’d start wondering how well the materials will age. There are some rough-cut plastics still present all around the cabin and when fiddled arduously, the shortcomings in the built quality becomes apparent. Secondly, competing with rivals such as the MG Hector Plus, the upcoming Mahindra XUV500, and the Hyundai Creta seven-seater is an uphill battle. So, Safari needs to bring the whole caboodle to the party. This includes standout features and better-built quality to go with.
Without shouting out its Safari name, this three-row Tata is already grabbing eyeballs. It’s good to look at, has a well-rounded cabin which is not short on practicality, and has a powerful motor to complete the package. Sure, it’s not as rugged or off-road-ready as its spiritual predecessor. But let’s face it, how many of the old Safari owners took their go-anywhere SUV to the unpaved roads and how often? After all, the Swahili word ‘safari’ means journey, originally from the Arabic adjective ‘safar’ meaning a journey, travelling, touring, or voyaging. And it need not necessarily mean off-roading. For everything else, the Tata Safari should suffice.
Pictures by Kaustubh Gandhi