Storming the SUV market

Written by Vikram Chaudhary | Updated: Dec 15 2012, 07:20am hrs
Tata Safari doesnt need much introduction. Since it was launched in the late-1990s, the SUV by Tata Motors has been loved and lapped up by the masses. But the love affair lost its intensity first after consumers got a cheaper and fresher option in the form of Mahindra Scorpio since early 2000s, and lately after Mahindra launched its hugely-successful XUV 500. Recently, a lot of people who want to be seen in an SUV have even started shifting their loyalties to the pseudo-SUV from Renaultthe Duster. All this meant that the Safari was losing its customers, and heavily so.

Enter the Safari Stormethe first major Safari update in its entire lifespan. Showcased at the Auto Expo in Delhi earlier this year, the SUV is finally on Indian roads. With its brute looks, it makes a great first impression. Massive road presence the Safari was already endowed with; the Storme takes it a class higher. The most recognisable change is the front end, which now has a new grille with a chrome strip on top and projector-type headlamps. The side profile remains more or less the same; the only noticeable changes being the pull-type door handles and better designed foot-steps. While on the rear the tailgate-mounted spare wheel is gone for good (so, the view from the interior rear-view mirror is better) and it is now placed the body. You also have new lamps at the rear but the most exciting change is the twin exhaust pipes that add to the Stormes sportiness.

Being seated in Safari Storme gives you mixed feelings. While the overall fit and finish levels are far improved, there is an eyesore in the form of the analogue clock on the centre fasciathe clock looks really out of place in a R10-lakh-plus premium SUV. On the positive side, you have leather-upholstered large and comfortable front seats (with 3-position lumbar support), supportive middle seats, foldable rear jump seats, a neatly laid out dashboard, grippy steering wheel, fabric-rich door paddings, velvet-lined glovebox, massive interior space, dual AC with roof-mounted separate blower for the rear passengers and as many as 10 air vents that are enough to keep the entire car cool or hot. On the not-so-positive side, there is a surprise exclusion of a dead pedal, no cruise control, no climate control, a stereo system that looks like an after-market fitment and no reverse camera (although you have rear parking sensors with a digital display on the interior rear-view mirror).

The Storme is powered by the 2.2-litre 16-valve DOHC VTT VariCOR (variable turbine technology) engine that pumps out a healthy output of 140ps@4000rpm and maximum torque of 320Nm@1700-2700rpm. Although the engine sound does seep into the cabin, this gets reduced significantly as the engine warms up, and at high speeds, the cabin is somewhat insulated. In fact, it is behind the wheel where you realise how good the Safari Storme is. You get smooth acceleration under almost all driving conditions, especially the highway, where the SUV really takes off once past 1500rpm. Though the ride quality is better than the old Safari, really bad roads do tend to make you a bit uncomfortable. A kerb weight of close to two tonnes means that the SUV has a huge momentum while on the move, so to control it you now have disc brakes on all four wheels equipped with anti-lock braking system and electronic brakeforce distribution that do the duty well. With a fuel economy of about 14 kmpl and a 55 litre fuel tank, expect a range of more than 600 km on a full tank.

The SUV is available in four variants and as many as seven colour options. Priced upwards of R9.95 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the Safari Storme is a brave attempt by Tata to up its luxury SUV quotient. And though we would have liked a few more intelligent inclusions here and there, the Storme doesnt fail to impress. Please welcome the best Safari till date.

Off-roading ability

No review of a sport utility vehicle can be complete without talking about its off-roading abilities. Now, I have had the good fortune of taking part in the Tata Motors Full Throttle Trailan off-roading event especially reserved for Tata Motors SUV ownersand have experienced first-hand what the Safari is capable of when shifted into the 4x4 mode. The Storme, too, goes superlative when driven on gravel, mud, slush or water in the shift-on-the-fly 4x4 mode (4H). For really horrible off-road conditions, you have the option of shifting into the 4L mode. Although I have not yet driven the Storme in 4x4 mode in snow, the confidence the SUV shows in slush shows that it wont be really tricky. Additionally, a 200 mm ground clearance means that most obstacles are easily taken care of.