We first saw it as the Tata H7X concept, then we were told it would be called the Buzzard. Then Tata changed the name again to “Gravitas”, which was kind of puzzling for a name in the first place. But finally, Tata decided to showcase the production model and confirmed the revival of the icon — The Tata Safari. Some thanked lord almighty for the resurrection, while others cursed the creator for diluting the iconic brand, Safari. For many the new SUV is just a longer Harrier with two extra seats and not worthy of the name. And the spec sheet, along with most of the styling would suggest the same or is there more than meets the eye?
The new Safari has moved on from the old body on frame construction to a modern monocoque chassis, like most modern SUVs. It uses the same OMEGARC platform as the Harrier which is the older Land Rover D8 platform, which dates back to 2007 as the Ford EUCD platform. Additionally, the Safari no longer offers a 4×4 as an option which is the biggest gripe purists seem to have. On paper that may be the case for the new SUV to be not worthy but the reality may be far from the truth, and that’s what we wanted to find out.
Yes, at first glance from the front, only a subtle change distinguishes the Safari from the Harrier like the chrome pattern on the front grille. Along the side, Safari gets larger 18-inch alloy wheels, in the same design as the Harrier, spread apart with the same wheelbase as well. But, beyond the C-Pillar is where the changes are more apparent.
The Safari is longer than the Harrier by 60 mm with the rear overhang. In height, the Safari is 80 mm taller thanks to the stepped roof design reminiscent of the predecessor. Additionally, the tail end is more upright to give it the squared stance of SUVs of the past.
Again, in the front row of the cabin, changes are only subtle. Firstly, you get an oyster white leatherette upholstery in the Safari, while the dash-trim has been replaced with a grey ashwood like trim. At the front of the cabin, the Safari shares everything else with the Harrier. However, if you get the higher-spec model of the Safari, the Aircraft-esque handbrake design can be done away with for an electronic parking brake, but it could have offered a small indicator to tell you if it’s engaged or not.
The second row of the Safari is a 3-seat bench as standard for a 7-seat configuration. But the top-spec model can be equipped with the option of dual-captain seats with armrests, for a 6-seat configuration. While the dual USB ports take a while to locate under the back of the centre console, the rear occupant can control the position of the front passenger seat with the new “Boss Mode” for more legroom. The seats themselves are quite comfortable and offer good bolstering and are easy to slide and recline. Space as well is quite abundant in the Safari’s cabin with good shoulder, head, knee and legroom. The large panoramic sunroof adds further to the airy feel of an already spacious cabin.
One would assume that third-row seats are usually suitable only for kids over short journeys. However, in the Safari, the third row is actually quite impressive. With the second row set on a middle setting, a full-sized adult can be accommodated with relative comfort and enough knee and legroom. Additionally, you don’t sit with your knees as high up, as you do in many of the Safari’s competitors. Two medium-sized adults can easily sit for an hour-long journey and they have cup holders, two USB chargers, dedicated fan-speed control with air vents and some storage bins to use if required.
The Safari shares the same Kryotec 170 2.0-litre diesel from the Harrier. It is borrowed from FCA, who use it in the Compass. The motor is fairly refined and comes with a City, Eco and Sport drive modes. The engine offers a good amount of power and torque having 170hp and 350Nm at its disposal. It drives in a familiar manner to the Harrier, offering a wide band of power, all enjoyed best in Sport mode. Getting up to speed is effortless. But it can get noisy at higher revs.
With the 6-speed manual option, the Safari carries over the same issue with an unpredictable clutch which takes a while to get used to. But, if I had to recommend the Safari, it would have to be the automatic. It uses the same 6-speed unit we find in the Harrier, borrowed from Hyundai. The shifts are smooth, but kick downs do require some patience. Yet, it doesn’t leave you looking for more.
Stopping power in the Safari is improved from the Harrier. The Safari is offered with all-round disc-brakes, which help with the added weight of the vehicle (+60 kg) and carrying more passengers. However, the pedal feels a little spongy during initial bite.
The steering is something that requires attention as it tends to get heavy on the turn in and there is an occasional kickback as well. Dead centre, the steering feels light with a little play, but give it a small turn and it turns a little too eagerly.
People who loved the old Safari however will admit that the new Safari is far superior when it comes to ride quality. The bumpy nature of a ladder frame has been done away with thanks to the D8 platform or “OMEGARC”. While its somewhat rival, Jeep Compass may feel more stable at high speeds, at low speeds, the Safari will give very little to complain about. It tackles rough roads quite easily, and actually feels better to drive on broken roads.
Now to address the elephant in the room. Yes, the Safari does not offer all-wheel-drive or 4×4. In fact, it’s front-wheel-drive only. While purists will tell you that it’s not a real Safari, most Safaris sold till date are not 4×4 either. Tata Motors tells us that only a handful of customers actually ever bought a 4×4 Safari in the past, and only a small demographic would wish to buy one now. Thus, the economics don’t add up. Although the platform can, of course, accommodate all-wheel-drive, if no one wants one, then no point developing it as well.
But if Tata sees there is a demand for it, then a 4×4 version may be made available with the Safari. But for now, we only get the gimmicky all-terrain-modes of “Wet” and “Rough Road” to play with.
So does that mean that the Safari is any less of a Safari? Well, yes and no. In true essence new SUV may not be able to follow even the older 4×2 version of the Safari should you venture into a proper off-road trail. But the new Safari will offer all the driving capabilities modern consumers will ever require from it.
Back and forth to work or the mall, check.
Pick the kids up from school safely, check
A weekend getaway with the family/friends, check
A little soft off-road work to a nice picnic spot, check.
However, pricing the Safari will still be key for Tata Motors. Tata will need to keep it competitive, especially when a 7-seat Jeep Compass and the new-gen Mahindra XUV500 are expected to arrive soon. Banking on the Safari heritage, Tata Motors may be able to push a lot of units of the Safari, but again, the price will be what make or break the new Safari.
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