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Test Drive: Walk in the park or uphill trek?

S Muralidhar | Updated on February 04, 2021 Published on February 04, 2021

Tail-lamps sport a different configuration and the connecting black garnish actually refers back to the original Safari design   -  S Muralidhar

Tata’s new Safari gets the advantage of Land Rover genes and a third row. But, is it ‘Safari’ enough?

Unlike the many millions in sales that some car models may need to capture the popular imagination of an entire population, the Tata Safari managed it with relatively modest numbers. It’s unique position in the market and association with the defence forces ensured that it had a loyal following. It wasn’t the most stunningly designed sports utility too, though it had a distinctive language. In what seems like a last minute turn, Tata Motors rechristened the Gravitas — the 7-seater version of the Harrier, which is now being launched as the Safari. Reviving the legendary brand may have been a corporate decision, but is the vehicle itself found wanting for inspiration? Can the new Safari hold its own against the growing breed of 3-row SUVs taking on the old, established rival in the Toyota Innova?

Design

No amount of masking can take away the Harrier from the new Safari. But to their credit, Tata designers haven’t attempted anything tacky. Instead, the Safari looks very much like it is a lengthened version of the Harrier with a more practical design and some features showing off the inspiration derived from the original Safari. The new model looks bigger in ‘the flesh’ than it seems in these pictures. With a more significant change to the design (compared to the Harrier) being obvious at the rear. Look past the familiar front grille and split headlamps, and the taller, stepped roof and the roof rail garnish that used to be Safari trademarks can be seen in this new model too.

The face of the 2021 Safari is nearly identical to the Harrier, except for the chrome finish for the tri-arrow grille and some similar garnishes for the door handles etc. 18-inch alloy rims add more strength to the stance of the Safari and fill out the wheel arches nicely. The rear is where the changes are significant with the increased overhang being the first indicator of this being a 6/7-seater. Compared to the Harrier, the new Safari is 80mm taller and 60mm longer. All of that increase in length comes from the increased rear overhang; the width and wheelbase are identical to the Harrier.

To ensure that the two occupants of the third row get enough headroom and as a reference to the original Safari, the roof is stepped up at the rear starting just past the B-pillar. Unique exterior design features are literally stacked up at the rear. Though similar in construction overall to the Harrier’s, the tail-lamps sport a different configuration and the connecting black garnish actually refers back to the original Safari design. There is now a rear quarter glass thanks to the longer rear panel. A shiny chrome cover for the roof rail and a rugged, sporty extension to the rail in faux aluminium also adds to the off-roader looks of the new Safari. More faux aluminium can be found in the rear fender diffuser with the rhomboid exhausts on either side.

Cabin

The story inside the new Safari’s cabin is similar, in that the dashboard layout and features are nearly identical to the Harrier. The 8.8-inch touchscreen infotainment display at the top of the centre stack is nicely framed in aluminium along with its controls, the central aircon vents and the one-touch Eco and Sports mode buttons. The screen does seem a tad small by current standards and the split display also means that some features like the rear camera view feels compressed. The differentiator in the Safari’s cabin is the bright and airy colour theme with the bottom half of the cabin and the leatherette seats sporting oyster-white panels and upholstery.

The lighter colour certainly elevates the cabin. The panoramic sunroof in my test mule and the large glass area, including the rear quarter glass leaves the entire cabin swathed in light. The one big change for the cabin is in the centre console, where the manual handbrake has been replaced by an electronic parking brake. The aircraft-style handbrake in the Harrier was meant to deliver novelty, but the oversized, clunky unit barely managed to do that. The rest of the dashboard remains similar to the Harrier, with some minor changes to the materials used, including the addition of faux ash wood panels. The noteworthy change, of course, is the option of captain seats for the second row and the addition of the two seats for the third row. There is enough legroom and headroom for all the occupants, though adults will find the third row to be a tight fit. But, the second row can be moved forward, if needed, to create more space for the third row passengers. Theatre style seating means that visibility is good for all. Getting in and out of the third row is less effort with the 6-seat configuration. In the second row bench seat (7-seater) configuration, the split single seat folds and tumbles for allowing access to the third row.

Overall, the Safari cabin can be comfortable for 6 or 7 passengers with dedicated aircon vents for all three rows and seat squabs that are deep and tall enough to offer enough thigh and back support. The boot is expectedly small when the third row seats are in use, but fold them flat, and the space in the boot is more than in the Harrier.

Performance

The engine in the new Safari is the same 4-cylinder, 2-litre, Kryotec Diesel engine from the Harrier. This Fiat-sourced engine delivers the same 170hp of peak power and behaves, predictably, in a similar fashion as it does in the Harrier. The manual gearbox, also sourced from Fiat, feels a bit ‘lurchy’, until one gets used to the heavy clutch. Gating for the manual shifts is a little prominent, but overall it is still pretty clean to use. The other transmission option is the Hyundai-sourced torque-converter, 6-speed automatic. This is also pretty well-integrated and delivers a refined performance, though it feels brisk in sport mode, compared to Eco and City. Braking performance is better than the Harrier. Acceleration from standstill is a bit more laboured and is the only time the Safari’s extra heft (75kgs) is felt.

The engine has enough power and torque spread across the rev-range, and picking up the pace in gear and mid-throttle is quite effortless. I felt that cabin noise isolation could’ve been a bit better. The new Safari gets three terrain response modes, all of which are electronic assistance. ESP and Hill Hold control are standard across all variants including base XE. Top variants XT, XZ, XZ+ also get Hill Descent control, tyre pressure monitoring, auto headlamps etc.

Bottom Line

The new Safari benefits from the Omegarc architecture, which has been derived from Land Rover’s D8 platform. The extra stiffness and strength from the platform and the increased use of high strength steel delivers a stable ride. The suspension seems to be tad softer than the Harrier’s, giving the Safari a more pliant ride. There is no dearth for straight-line stability. There is a bit of body roll going into turns, and I would have liked more weight and feel at the steering wheel. It can do with a bit more assistance at slow speeds too.

The new Safari may not be like the original any more. Yet, as a flagship SUV it ticks most of the boxes. Tata has chosen the path of prudence by giving it practical design and cabin features. So while it doesn’t get true 4X4 capability, the Safari gets premium bits and what Tata calls “Boss mode” which is simply a lever on the front passenger seat to push it forward to enable second row passengers to get even more legroom. It does miss small features like a wireless charger and has a few ergonomics issues. Yet it manages to offer enough to interest family buyers looking for an upgrade.

The new Safari is likely to be priced in the ₹15-21 lakh range. This is Tata’s best bet to take on competitors like MG Hector Plus and the upcoming Hyundai Creta 7-seater.

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Published on February 04, 2021
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