Tata Safari 2021 comes in a new avatar
Tata Motors came up with Tata Safari in 1998 and it was the first taste of a true 4WD SUV that we got in the country.
SUVs are now common in India. In the late ‘80s or early ‘90s mostly politicians used them because of the bold and tough characteristics of the car. Once the Ambassador started fading out from the market, Tata Motors came up with Tata Sierra and Tata Sumo which were considered (somewhat) of a legend themselves. After seeing the traction for those two cars, Tata Motors came up with Tata Safari in 1998 and it was the first taste of a true 4WD SUV that we got in the country. In fact, it was the first made-in-India 4WD SUV and has evolved to garner tremendous popularity amongst auto enthusiasts in the country. After dominating Indian roads for more than two decades and serving the Indian army due to its tough SUV characteristics Tata Motors discontinued the car in 2019 because of the change in customer preferences and the emergence of compact SUVs.
After a break of two years, Tata Safari is re-entering the Indian market in a completely new avatar. Except for the name, everything is new in the 2021 Safari. The new Safari from Tata Motors is based on the Impact Design 2.0 philosophy and built on the new generation 'Optimal Modular Efficient Global Advanced' Architecture (OMEGA-ARC), which is developed in collaboration with Jaguar Land Rover. This architecture is derived from the Land Rover D8 architecture and is adapted to suit Indian conditions by Tata engineers.
If you compare the first, the second-generation and the Safari Strom, the 2021 Safari looks completely different. At the same time, a lot of design elements are carried forward from Tata Harrier. In fact, I would say the front facia looks identical. The signature grill now features the tri-arrow chrome motif encased by the humanity line. There is a small chrome line in between the headlamps and fog lamp. Being 4661mm long, 1894mm wide and 1786mm tall, the Safari is a fairly substantial SUV, to begin with, and the high-set bonnet only gives it more road presence. Like in Harrier the main headlamps in Safari sit lower down on the bumper in a ‘tri-arrow’ enclosure.
The side and rear profile of the Safari look like a Harrier except few changes to accommodate the third row. It has higher roof lines, longer overhangs, features a full-size quarter glass and bigger tyre size. The 18-inch rims (16-inches on lower trims) looks bigger and suits the bigger wheel arches. The Safari comes with the iconic stepped roof, held between the equally well-regarded roof-rails. Which have been re-imagined making them stylish and functional.
The cabin sits at just the right height and you needn’t climb aboard the Safari. The Oyster White interior colour scheme along with generous use of Premium Benecke Kalilo Oyster White Perforated Leather seat upholstery and door pad inserts along with the Ashwood on the neatly styled dash looks plush. The free-standing 8.8-inch touchscreen is sleek and even the metal-like element that splits the dash horizontally looks neat. There is scope for improvement in increasing plastic quality. The upper half of the dashboard is all premium and plush but the plastics used in the lower half of the dash seem a bit inferior and out of place. With the competition providing a 10-inch touchscreen, 8.8 inch in Safari looks small. If you crank the music system you will really feel that you are inside a theatre. Thanks to the JBL tuned 320W RMS audio system that comes with 9 speakers (4 speakers, 4 tweeters and 1 subwoofer) and external amplifier. Features like wireless charging and a 360-degree camera have been missed out.
When it comes to the third row, it is not just for kids, even adults have enough leg and headroom. Opening the tailgate is a bit difficult, Tata could have provided automated tailgate opening considering the weight. If all the seats are occupied then there is not enough space for luggage.
The new Safari also gets the best-in-segment panoramic sunroof that comes with a host of convenience and safety features like global close, which means that every time you lock the car the sunroof and the sunshade slide shut automatically. It has anti-pinch as well as rain-sensing auto shut features too. As a continuous improvement Tata has listened to the voice of customers and incorporated features like auto-dimming IRVM, the hard-to-reach USB ports in other Tata SUVs are now easily accessible, there is also an additional USB port in the centre armrest compartment, which is also now a cooled storage box. The passengers in all the rows get a USB port and the third-row passengers can control the AC fan speed. There is ample storage space in the door pockets but the glovebox space is less considering the size of the dashboard.
Drivers sit at a nice height in the Safari, and the commanding position gives a feeling of being in something substantial, which SUV buyers appreciate. The top-end trims come with a 6-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat. Occupants seated at the back will have less to complain about. In fact, Tata has retained the old Safari's theatre kind seating arrangement for the second row. Which means the second-row seating is higher than the front row, this allows the passengers to have a great viewing angle. The seat is nice and supportive, there is an enormous feeling of space and you can easily stretch out, thanks to the ample legroom on offer.
The cabin is also wide enough to seat three abreast with ease. Tata has added the 'Boss' mode to enhance the convenience to stretch your legs further and create the space you deserve in the second row. When it comes to the third row, it is not only for kids, even adults have enough leg and headroom. Opening the tailgate is a bit difficult, Tata could have provided automated tailgate opening considering the weight. If all the seats are occupied then there is not enough space for luggage. With various seat folding options, the luggage space can be increased from 73 - 1658 litres.
The new Safari comes with a more powerful engine with added features and an automatic transmission option as well. The 2.0-litre Fiat-sourced 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine develops 170PS of power while the torque output is 350 Nm. Along with the 6-speed manual gearbox, it gets a 6-speed torque-converter automatic option. This gearbox has been sourced from Hyundai (seen in the Tucson) and tweaked to suit the Safari. The Safari feels eager off the block and quickly settles into a cruise. The upshifts are fairly quick and at part throttle, you might not even notice it shift gears. When you gas it for a quick overtake, the automatic kicks down fairly quick to unleash the 350 Nm of torque. It is a breeze to drive in city traffic and when you venture out on the highway, the Safari will hit the three-figure mark in no time and will also cruise at 100kmph under 2,000rpm.
These Rough and Wet modes have been tweaked to work with the automatic gearbox. Overall, the automatic gearbox seems to work quite well as it eases out the spikes in power delivery.
Like other Tata cars, Safari also gets three drive modes - Eco, City and Sport but now it is married to the ESP Terrain Response Modes (Normal, Rough & Wet) for taking on difficult terrains. These Rough and Wet modes have been tweaked to work with the automatic gearbox. Overall, the automatic gearbox seems to work well as it smoothens out the spikes in power delivery. In the Eco and City mode, you can comfortably drive the Safari, but in Sport, the Safari is allowed to rev freely, although if you cross the 2,500rpm range, the engine noise does tend to seep in. Otherwise, the Safari’s cabin is fairly well insulated from outside noise and NVH levels are low.
The manual gearbox in the Safari does feel livelier. The torque starts peaking from 1,800rpm and the Safari lunges ahead with purpose till 4,000rpm. Slotting the gears requires some additional efforts and could have been smoother. Tata has worked on enhancing refinement and lowering NVH levels and it shows. Engine noise filtering into the cabin has reduced but it still isn’t up to the mark when compared with rivals. To accommodate the added weight the suspension has been tuned. The suspension of the Safari is well-tuned and it is very soft to absorb the slow speed bumps.
Since the new Safari is developed on the OMEGA-ARC platform, it has a monocoque body and offers enhanced driving dynamics with a long wheelbase and wide track for greater ride comfort and linear stability.
Considering the 7 seating options the rear twist blade suspension is designed by Lotus Engineering UK to suit Indian conditions.
The steering could have been much better since it was heavy at low speed and tends to kickback. But, at highway speeds, it does not weigh up as expected and that can be a little unnerving around winding roads. The brakes work well, bringing this almost 1800-kg SUV to a halt in an assuring manner. With ESP now standard across trims, it doesn't scuttle under heavy braking. It also has the pre-fill function where the brake pedal stiffens up faster under panic braking as the ESP gauges it using the ramp rate.
Good roads, bad roads, and even no roads, the new SUV impresses with its setup that strikes a nice balance between comfort and being dynamically sharp.
With legendary pedigree running through its veins, 'Tata Safari' promises to shatter all current benchmarks and pave entirely new standards for SUVs in India. This is in line with the well-defined go-to-market strategy. The previous generation Tata Safari was built on the body-on-frame construction where there is plenty of body-roll. Since the new Safari is developed on the OMEGA-ARC platform, it has a monocoque body and offers enhanced driving dynamics with a long wheelbase and wide track for greater ride comfort and linear stability. The platform also benefits from the D8's future-proofing. The platform is not only ready for an all-wheel-drivetrain but can also be configured with a battery pack in the floor bed for an electrified powertrain. So we can expect both AWD and electric on the Safari if there is a demand from customers in the near future.
_ Bhargav Sridharan