Tata Safari Road Test Review: What you think you want vs what you really want

If you’re looking to buy a 3-row SUV that seats up to seven, the new Tata Safari will do the job brilliantly, but what if you’re looking for pizzazz or personality? Does the Safari really sail that boat in an urban environment?

By:July 7, 2021 4:32 PM

It doesn’t take much for people on the internet to flail their arms up in the air when something doesn’t go their way. In fact in the world of social media, now is probably a time when it’s the easiest to do so. When Tata Motors announced that a front-wheel-drive, elongated version of the Harrier would carry the iconic Safari badge, people dismissed it before the new Safari even set off. Our Youtube comments were inundated with people praising the Safari Storme and ridiculing the successor. While last time we could only spend a few hours with the SUV, we wanted to spend some more time with it for more comprehensive impressions and if the Safari does what it needs to, and where does it really fall behind.

Is the new Tata Safari a good 3-Row SUV?

For starters, if someone is looking for a 3-row SUV and is seeking occupant space, for its price, there is very little that comes close. Space in the second and third row is ample and you’d be comfortable even for long journeys. It’s the only 3-row vehicle that comes close to the Toyota Innova Crysta, but that’s far as it goes. Having said that, passengers in the 6 or 7 seat model will be quite comfortable on long journeys and wouldn’t be complaining about it.

The 6 seat model is especially to my liking. The seats are quite supportive and comfortable in the second row but the model we sampled this time was the 7-seat variant. The middle-row bench doesn’t give you that higher seating position as the captain seats do but are comparatively comfortable.

Getting into the third row isn’t the easiest. But, what makes the third-row seats quite usable is that the elongation of the vehicle, from the Harrier, has opened up a lot of room in the back. Additionally, the seat itself is higher than most other cars in its segment, and good under-thigh support means that you don’t sit with your knees high up. It also results in good knee room in the third row. So unlike other converted SUVs which offer third rows that are usable for short journeys, the Safari will offer more than an acceptable amount of space and comfort.

Is the new Tata Safari well equipped?

While the interior is identical to the Harrier, albeit, with some trim colour changes, the Safari comes adequately equipped. However, it does leave room for improvement in many areas. The touchscreen is quite frankly, slow and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not allowed to use the full width of the ultra-wide thick bezelled screen. That makes it difficult to use while driving. The instrument cluster offers an analogue speedometer, the rest of the information is delivered through a digital colour screen. However, it is quite difficult to read. I feel the whole graphics on the screen require a fresh look with a redesign to simplify.

You get some connected car features, a JBL sound system, a total of eight charging points spread across 3 rows of seats, and the party piece which Tata calls “Boss Mode”. A lever on the front passenger seat that allows the rear passenger to move the front seat front/back to create more legroom. You get the most important thing Indian consumers want, despite our climate conditions, a Panoramic sunroof. While it is unnecessary, it does well to brighten up the cabin.

In a battle of brochures, yes the Safari would lose out against its rivals. But when it comes to usable features, the Safari has that covered. Although some of those useful features do require further refinement.

How does the new Tata Safari drive?

This is where things get controversial for social media argument enthusiasts. The Safari borrows the 2.0-litre turbo diesel from Jeep and the 6-speed automatic transmission from Hyundai. Like the Compass, it has all the power you need, and the “Eco, City, Sport” driving modes do make a difference to the power delivery and mapping. A pair of paddle shifters would have made controlling the gearbox easier as downshifts can be slow on occasion but on its own, it gets the job done. In terms of Fuel Economy, the Safari would return around 12km/l  in city conditions when paired with the automatic gearbox, which is commendable for the size of the vehicle.

The Terrain modes are said to be designed for changing road conditions but power is only sent to the front wheels, and there is no clever torque vectoring diff either. So I’m not entirely sure what they really do. Maybe we need to take the Safari on an off-road test to see if they actually work in real-world applications on loose surface.

Old Safari fanboys, I would have you know that moving away from the old ladder frame design has allowed the new Safari to be dynamically superior in every way on the road. While there is a noticeable roll through corners, the new Safari rides the bumps very well, and even in the third row, the bumps are well cushioned by the suspension and the 235/70 R16 section tyres. Again, where it matters, the Safari seems to get the job done.

Final Verdict – Is the new Tata Safari and good?

If someone is looking for a 3-row SUV, then the Safari is a no brainer. It matches the brief as required and serves the necessary purpose it is built for. Isn’t that what an SUV is all about? Quality and attention to detail are still lacking in some areas and more could surface as time goes on, as we witnessed with the Harrier.

I must concede that the new Safari doesn’t offer that charm that the Safari Dicor or Storme had, which made the Safari the icon it was. But we only have ourselves to blame for it as not many really bought the 4×4 Safari. Everyone to date just loves the idea that it was available with one. 9.9/10 Safaris sold till date were 2-wheel drive only. On the flip side of things, an SUV is something that may have its flaws in most areas, but first and foremost must serve the purpose of its nature. As modern SUVs are required to be better at urban environments, the new Safari serves that purpose very well. So by the modern standards set by the consumers themselves, the new Safari meets the brief to the tee. That said, I would still buy a Toyota Innova Crysta instead.

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