Since 1999, the Tata Safari has always been a vehicle that had the much lusted for girth to flaunt. It still does. At 4655 mm long, and close to 2 meters high; 1922 mm to be precise, Tata’s flagship SUV towers above smaller crossovers and hatchbacks with authority. What’s more, its one of the few cars from the last decade that are still around, albeit with a few nips and tucks.
Over the years, Tata’s designers have run their scalpels over the magnitude of the Safari’s bodywork, trying to keep things contemporary. The Storme update (2012) was quite significant, which completely altered the front fascia, modernized the side cladding, and much to Safari fan boys’ dismay, cleaned up the rear end by relocating the tailgate mounted spare wheel below – all of which made the Safari look like a idyllic grandma trying to pull off sneakers and yoga pants.
Earlier this year, Tata gave the Storme a mild face-lift, and you’d be forgiven for not spotting the changes on the outside, which include :
- The front grille is now streaked with Land Rover inspired elements, especially the honeycomb patterns, which is repeated on the front air dam. Overall, things look more up market up front.
- The flanks now get a Varicor badge, which represents some alterations to the diesel engine that improve overall drivability; more on that later.
That’s about it.
Those side side steps running along the sides come in handy, because one has to literally haul oneself up into the vehicle. But believe me, that’s the only time where cursing the 200 mm high ground clearance will be involved, apart from when it comes to hurtling hard around bends.
The interiors are also subtly updated, notably the center console, which is now trimmed in dull silver, along with parts of the dashboard, which collectively form highlights against the java black color scheme.
The updated Safari Storme features an integrated sound system by Harman, which works well, but the lack of a touch screen is a glaring omission in this segment, considering even the Bolt and Zest twins have one. The revised console also hosts a rotary knob for the shift-on-the-fly 4WD system, a cigarette lighter, and Aux-in/USB ports, while the central cubby hole has now been relocated behind the hand brake lever.
The multi-function steering wheel is all-new, and is shared with the Bolt and Zest. It somehow appears out of place against the outdated backdrop, but dull silver inserts and good contouring make it one of the better touch points inside the while vehicle. Also, the steering rake is more car like this time around. Storage space inside is generous, with door bins that’ll swallow 1-litre bottles and a decently sized glove box.
The Safari’s voluminous shape and 2650 mm wheelbase translate into an extremely spacious cabin that can probably host a football match for kids with all the seats stripped off. Adults can comfortably indulge in a match of Frisbee, though the driver is recommended to keep out of it. The seating position is high-set and offers a commanding view of the road, pretty much what an excavator driver sees, and the same goes for the second row passengers. There are acres of headroom and legroom all around, except for the rearmost passengers, who’re outcasts anyway; more on that later.
The seats have been re-upholstered with fresh fabrics, which look decent, but aren’t exactly modern. The seats themselves are fantastic though; large, offering nice grip and nicely contoured. Special props go to the second row, which reinstate a Safari trait – a supremely comfortable and extremely supportive rear bench.
Grouses when it comes to seating include the lack of leather upholstery, even on the top-end 4×4 VX model, and manually adjustable front seats, considering competition, in the form of the new Mahindra XUV500’s top-end W10 variant offers electric controls for the driver’s throne. Knee room in the second row is generous, while the seats could have done with a little more bolstering, but that’s just nit-picking.
The third row, unfortunately, doesn’t come with a bench seat and makes do with two jump seats that will make one feel like a prisoner inside a police van. Those seats don’t have the head or legroom for long distance travel, and are meant strictly for occasions when you have no other option but to sit there. Maybe the architecture didn’t allow a proper third row, or Tata let it pass, considering this is how it has been for the Safari all this while.
The updated Safari Storme has AC vents lined up on the roof for the second row occupants, and for the third row occupants, coupled with dedicated vents for the second row. The air-conditioning works rather well, though there’s no automatic climate control; which, in this segment, is another glaring omission from the feature list.
Feature list includes power windows all around, electric mirrors, Aux-in/Bluetooth connectivity and an inertia switch, which cuts off the fuel supply to the engine, unlocks all the doors and switch on the hazard lights in case of an emergency. The lack of a reversing camera means that one has to rely on parking sensors to back up the behemoth.
Performance and Handling
The 2015 Tata Safari Storme is powered by the same 2.2-litre turbocharged diesel engine that did duty on the previous Storme. Updated VARICOR tech bumps power to 150 PS at 4000 rpm (up by 10 PS), while maximum torque remains the same at 320 Nm between 1700-2700 rpm. The power gets transmitted via a 5-speed manual gearbox which gets a 260mm self-adjusting clutch.
Unlike contemporary starting techniques, which involve a button, the new Safari Storme needs a key in a hole. A mild shudder throughout the cabin follows as the beast wakes up, though refinement has been spruced up significantly. That said, as speeds rise, engine boom filters inside the cabin.
Apart from the new clutch, which is considerably lighter, all the controls still feel heavier and less refined than ideal. For example, the steering wheel is much heavier than you’d come across on any other vehicle. Alright, its power assisted and all, but at slow speeds, it still requires a lot of effort. For comparison’s sake, the Toyota Fortuner’s steeing wheel is feather light, as another unpleasant extremity, just the way the one here’s too stiff.
Gearshifts are still relatively vague and clunky, with long throws that put you left arm to good exercise. The small bump in power is barely noticeable, but the overall drivability has certainly improved. Power delivery has become more linear, and though there is turbo-lag, its nothing to complain about.
Low end performance is raucous, but moderately enthusiastic. Mid-range performance is good, though, and the Safari moves with a little more vehemence after it has amassed some speed. But that vehemence is quite short-lived, as the top-end is again quite weak. In-gear acceleration is satisfying, but shifting close to 2.5 tons of metal takes effort, and it’s evident.
What the Safari revels in is cruising; what it has inherently excelled in, although a higher 6th gear would have helped its cause. The Safari is not a car that likes being hustled around. It’s best to settle into a cruise and enjoy the fantastic ride quality, which more often than not doesn’t take long before putting the passengers to sleep.
The ride quality is actually phenomenal for its class. The Safari just bludgeons through bad roads; small and medium sized potholes are just a speck in its giant stride, which constitutes of meaty 235 section tires. The suspension, though still an old design, is very compliant at all speeds, over all surfaces and on occasions, you’d be fooled into thinking there are air bellows below you.
When it comes to handling the bends, the Safari isn’t very eager, especially at high speeds. On long, sweeping corners, its top heavy stance results in alarming levels of body roll that’ll make you lift the foot off from over that right pedal. It’s heavy too, so you have to be careful if you’re trying to be over enthusiastic. Steering feel, though, isn’t half as bad, and the heavy steering feel actually reflects the vehicle’s girth honestly.
The Safari’s 4WD system comes with electronic ‘Shift-On-Fly’ mechanism and a limited slip differential. Stick it into 4H and this big brute of a Tata comes into its own when the going gets rough. When negotiating really bad patches of earth, you’d suddenly forgive its hard steering wheel and bobby handling, and realize that the brute has a big advantage over most of its rivals. The old-school body on ladder frame construction works wonders when roads disappear.
For more hardcore stuff, there’s a 4L mode. Although we didn’t use to too much, but we can vouch for the fact that its off-road credentials are way above immediate competition. The only thing that’ll stop the Safari from climbing up walls is its long rear overhang. A ground clearance of 200 mm means that you’d be traversing through rocks, slush, sand and uneven terrain without breaking a sweat.
The 2015 Tata Safari Storme also comes with a 63 litre fuel tank, compared to the earlier car’s 55 litres. Fuel economy has been improved too, as ARAI rates the new Safari Storme at 14.1 km/l. Take that figure with a pinch of salt, as we managed only 9 – 10 km/l.
In today’s day and age, where high riding estate cars are called SUVs, the Tata Safari still stays true to its roots. Its style and appearance may be boring to some, but still has that machismo that’ll never die. For people looking for sheer size and uncomplicated old-school mechanicals with a jagged touch, the Safari is still the steed of choice. The Tata’s off-road credentials are a cut above the rest, and the same can be said about the ride quality and overall interior comfort. In its latest, and presumably the last update, the drivability has improved too.
That said, the Safari clearly feels dated in its approach to a lot of other important things, which, clearly weren’t relevant in the 90s. It’s lacks some modern ingredients (or vital selling points), like a contemporary design inside out, a touch screen equipped infotainment system, climate control, a reversing camera, leather upholstery, electrically adjustable seats, rain sensing wipers/headlamps, and a sunroof. Also, its gigantic size and underwhelming road manners mean that it’s not the best machine for the urban conditions. At INR 14.35 lakhs for the top end VX 4×4, the Safari makes sense for those who want a big, rugged and tough machine with a macho image – and there isn’t anything that can take its place in that space. However, if the modern breed of crossovers which are essentially blacktop friendly cars with a moustache and beard plastered on is what you are more inclined at, the Safari probably won’t fit the bill.
- Engine Type – 2.2L 16 Valve DOHC VTT VARICOR (Variable Turbine Technology) (32 Bit Electronically Controlled) (Direct Engine Common Rail)
- Displacement (CC) – 2179 CC
- No Of Cylinder – 4
- Power – 147 bhp@4000 rpm
- Torque – 320 Nm@1700-2700 rpm
- Drive Train – RWD/AWD
- Wheel Type – Steel Rims
- Tyre Type – Tubeless
- Front Tyre Size – 235/70 R16
- Rear Tyre Size – 235/70 R16
- Front Suspension – Double Wishbone Type With Coil Spring Over Shock Absorber
- Rear Suspension – Coil Spring Type 5 Link Rigid Axle Suspension
- Power Steering – Yes
- Steering Type – Hydraulic
- Adjustable Power Steering – Yes
- Length – 4655 mm
- Width – 1965 mm
- Height – 1922 mm
- Wheelbase – 2650 mm
- Ground Clearance – 200 mm
- Boot Space – N/A
- Kerb Weight – 1920 Kg
- Gross Weight – 2555 Kg
- Minimum Turning Radius – 10.80 mm
- Front Brake Type – Ventilated Disc Brakes
- Rear Brake Type – Disc Brakes
- Performance 0 To 100 Kmph N/A