14 years is a long time. The Safari has been around for that long. In the interim, it has won some die-hard fans, has given us some of the best TV commercials ever made in India and has had its own share of lows as well. But through all this, one thing has remained largely unchanged – the behemoth’s form. And guess what, even with what’s being called a revamp, the Tata SUV hasn’t quite changed enough. Tata Motors, for some strange reason have chosen to alter only the fascia of the car, saying ‘Bippity Boppity Boo’ to make that spare wheel on the tail gate disappear, and letting everything in between stay the way it always was.
What has changed however is the way this big burly machine drives. The way that 2.2 liter heart under that chiseled new chest beats and the manner in which it makes you feel all the more refreshed when it releases you after a few hours of cuddly embrace.
Talking purely from a visual standpoint, the Safari Storme may fool a few in believing that it’s just a facelift. The wraparound headlamps are now wider, sharper and look sleeker. The new chrome garnish above the radiator grille (which itself is new), the air dam, the bumper, the fog lamps everything has been given a good makeover. The face of the Storme, when compared with the Dicor seems to be an automotive equivalent of Rekha’s pre-and post cosmetic surgery photographs in baldy Roshan’s Khoon Bhari Maang. The Safari sure looks more contemporary and ‘today’ now – but only as long as you look into its pretty new eyes and talk to it. Move towards the car’s profile, and the Storme shows you the picture of his daddy.
In profile the Storme keeps majority of the Dicor’s panels – all the way through to the tail gate. New door claddings and reshaped wheel arches don’t quite succeed in differentiating the Storme’s profile from its predecessor.
Towards the fag end, the Storme gets a new set of tail-lamps and a pair of exhaust pipes. A horizontal, chrome drenched metal slat runs across the tail gate with an aluminum finish panel above it bearing the Storme logo. If effect, especially with the spare wheel gone, it all looks nice and clean, though I personally believe that the overall shape of the car, when viewed from behind still looks more vertically biased than it should. The stance isn’t very flat and planted as it should be for a big, bad SUV.
At the heart of the new avatar of this now legendary beast is a reworked version of the 2.2 liter common rail DICOR diesel. With a variable geometry turbo thrown in, Tata Motors have labeled the engine VariCor. The change in essence lets the turbo spool up earlier, reduce lag and improve driveability at low rpm. The power and torque output of the new engine is rated at 140PS @ 4000 rpm and peak torque at 320 Nm within a band of 1700-2700 rpm.
Even with the inclusion of a variable geometry turbo, however, the Storme’s engine doesn’t quite impress with its low end tractability. It’s a heavy machine, the Storme, and the weight tells. Speed builds at a relaxed pace from a standstill. The motor takes some revving before it’s on song. There isn’t much for you below the 1700 rpm mark, and low-rev tractability isn’t one of Storme’s virtues. Mid-revs is the place where the VariCor mill really comes into its element. It spins quietly with enough shove and response effortlessly, without making any unnerving noises – perfect for highway cruising. You have to drop a gear for spirited overtakes though.
The refinement levels have gone up substantially. The engine now feels much smoother, vibe free and responsive. Not just in the low- rev range, the noise and vibes are well within acceptable limits across the entire rev-range. The in-cabin hum and boom at lower engine speeds has reduced substantially too. Wind, road and tyre noise is reduced as well – overall, the cabin feels like a substantially refined place to be and is a far cry from the rather unrefined fuselage of the Dicor. Full marks to Tata for NVH containment!
The Safari Storme, is 75 kg lighter than its 14 year old pop. However, 75 kg isn’t too big a number when the vehicle in question is a two-tonne behemoth. The Safari, even with all the weight, drives significantly better than the Dicor version. Riding on the Aria’s chassis and old Safari’s wheelbase the Storme gains massively on poise and composure.
While there still is a good amount of body roll around corners, the soft suspension setup actually come across as a USP of the car. Only the mentally derided would be interested buying a car in the Safari’s class to hurtle it manically around bends, and for all other saner purposes, the suspension lets the Storme take rough patches in its stride with aplomb. At moderate speeds the Storme thumbs its nose to broken roads. Soft setup, however, translates into a not-so reassuring body behavior at higher speeds.
The gearbox for the Storme has been revamped, and it shows. The heavy clutch of the Dicor has been deleted in favor of a lighter unit, much more convenient to operate. The shifter stick has shorter throws, but doesn’t quite score too highly in terms of slickness. The shifts are a tad rubbery and imprecise.
The top end VX variant comes with 4×4 with an electronic switch to engage it on the fly. The reasonably capable system comes with a limited-slip differential and low-range, making it suitable for reasonably challenging off-road expeditions. Too slippery and soft surfaces, however, won’t probably be so ably tacked by the Storme. Ground clearance of 200mm should come handy too while passing over those big pieces of rocks.
As we mentioned earlier, the Safari shares its greenhouse with its predecessor. This means that the space inside is more or less the same as the Dicor – which is not necessarily a bad thing. The Safari has always been counted among some of the most spacious and comfortable cars, and so it does even now with some more creature comforts and better ride quality thrown in. The seats are wide and supportive, and the front two row occupants won’t really have anything to complain about. Third pair of seats is meant only for emergencies, friends you hate, and girlfriends you have decided to dump.
The second row receives AC vents, but it’s surprising to see no climate control when most hatchbacks are offering the feature. Steering mounted audio controls are another omission. The car comes with parking sensors, but surprisingly the reverse camera offered earlier on the top end variant has been taken away.
The quality of materials used within the cabin has gone up generally, but there still are some elements which reek cost saving. Light shade of dashboard plastic and upholstery enhances the spacious and airy feel within the cabin. Silver and chrome inserts in places look nice. Overall fit finish has been elevated, though it’s still not at par with the immaculate standards set by international carmakers selling in India. Some inconsistencies in panel gaps are visible too. The faux wood inserts aren’t of a very good quality either. Good amount of head, and leg room for the passengers and a commanding driving position for the driver, however, compensates for these rather minor shortcomings.
The Safari, thus presents itself as a capable, spacious and comfortable mile-muncher which wouldn’t be intimidated by the occasional trips off the road. With an ex-showroom price ranging from Rs 9.9 Lakh (LX ex-Delhi) to the top of the line VX 4×4 variant priced at 13.7 lakh, we think that the Safari isn’t exactly a bargain. It has its own virtues, but it has its own share of vices too. Moreover, if someone isn’t too obsessed about size, there are some smaller SUVs available in the market – after all, the Storme even with its bigger size isn’t a proper seven seater. The fact that most of the body is shared with the Dicor also somewhat offsets the novelty factor.
The Storme, however, is a much improved machine, incomparably better the one that it should have ideally replaced, but is now selling alongside. For those looking for a full blown SUV with daunting street presence and comfort topping the wishlist, however, the Storme presents itself as one of the strongest contenders around.
Tata Safari Storme Specifications
Engine: 2179 cc, 16V
Power: 140 PS @ 4000 RPM
Fuel Tank Capacity: 55-litres
Kerb Weight: 2050 kg, 2095kg (4×4)
Wheelbase: 2650 mm
Ground clearance: 200 mm
Torque: 320 Nm @ 1700-2700 Rpm
Fuel Type: Diesel