Resurrecting a brand that is as unequivocally a legend as the Safari is no mean feat. Let alone keeping it under wraps even when it was right under our noses for almost a year! What started life as the Buzzard and later evolved into the 7-seater version of the Harrier, christened Gravitas at last year’s Auto Expo debut...has now finally settled into the iconic skin of the Safari.
As we learnt from the press briefing, this was actually part of a grand plan to pull off a coup and throw the media off the scent. Well, the surprise worked in terms of the name. Maybe not so much in terms of design, which is still heavily derived from the Harrier. In fact, from the front, it’s almost impossible to tell them apart. But take a few steps sideways and the originality of Pratap Bose, VP Global Design and his team become instantly apparent. The unmistakable large quarter glass design with a slight step-up has been given a whole new treatment that only steals the concept from the original while moving the game forward. But, it’s a Safari for the millennial, so it’s really on the inside that the dissimilarities between the Harrier become evident.
Inspired by comfort
It’s luxury, at first sight, the interiors of the new Safari. With a beautiful oyster white upholstery colour offset against an ashwood trim for the dashboard and door panels, it feels rich and well put together. The multi-layered dashboard design with liberal use of satin chrome brings it up to speed with international standards and brands, but there are a few ergonomic niggles that keep gnawing at my feet and hands, quite literally. The dead pedal is a bit too narrow for any practical use, both in the automatic or the manual versions and the central armrest doesn’t slide forward, a creature comfort that adds immensely to long-distance cruising comfort where you don’t need your hands in the 10:10 position at all times.
The steering adjusts for rake and reach and along with powered seats, makes it easy to get a commanding view out of the driver’s side. Sure, a bit more under-thigh extension of the squab would be appreciated, but the backrest cushioning and support is excellent over long journeys too. The addition of the electronic parking brake is a first on any Tata vehicle and takes the hard work out of slow-moving traffic, especially on the manual transmission version. A large part of the dash is a lift from the Harrier, including the 8.8in touchscreen that is supported by a row of physical buttons too, something that more manufacturers should take note of! But, I can’t help but wonder why the move to a larger 10in plus screen wasn’t made with the Safari. On CarPlay or Android Auto, the window size that mirrors your phone gets even smaller, justifying my curiosity even further. Anyway, it’s been brought up to speed with connected car tech using Tata’s IRA platform and it’s a well-designed app and also allows you to run a quick scan on your car’s vital parameters via a cool graphic. Besides the usual remote commands, location-based services and vehicle security features, IRA also lets you connect to other Tata owners and compete in monthly online challenges that judge your efficiency as s driver.
Of course, like all connected car tech, only a fraction of these will be used on a daily basis but it always helps with bragging rights at the bar. Top-end variants will also benefit from a 9-speaker, 320W JBL audio system that can help endure long periods of stagnancy on the road. It sounds acceptable at low volumes but can’t maintain the tonal balance if you push the volume northwards. It lacks outright dynamism and excitement like a good aftermarket system would, but it is a big step up from previous iterations.
Where the Safari comes into its own really are the other two rows. Opt for the 6-seater version and you get great captain seats on the second row that also make it easier to get to the third row. Boss mode here allows for manual operation of the front passenger seat from the second row to free up even more legroom if you’re a chauffeur-driven Safari owner. AC vents are provided all the way through till the third row with even fan speed control, plenty of storage areas and even a couple of USB-ports. Tata calls it stadium seating and it really does work well, with all passengers getting a clear view of the road ahead and even to the sides, thanks to the trademark large quarter glass for the third row and the widest panoramic sunroof in its segment.
Power comes from a motor we are used to, the 170bhp/350Nm Kryotec 2.0L diesel engine that is mated to either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission sourced from Hyundai. Three drive modes, City/Eco/Sport not just alter throttle response but also actual power output so keeping it in Sport mode always keeps it on the boil, holding on to gears for longer. It also proudly wears its underpinnings from Land Rover, being based on the same OmegaARC D8 platform as the Discovery Sport and suspension tuned by Lotus. All of this hardware riding on smart 18in wheels, the Safari does make for a pretty sight on the road and feels as if you’re commanding a ship from behind the wheel. It absolutely smothers bad roads while maintaining composure even on the worst kind of surfaces, regardless of how much speed you carry through the questionable patch.
Body roll is well-managed too and the steering heft aids in high-speed driving. On slow, city speeds, the steering and clutch in the manual can feel a bit heavy, but in the automatic, it comes into its own as the king of long-distance travel. The engine does get vocal at higher revs but the NVH inside the cabin from other elements is much improved over the Harrier, Tata has put in the extra work on refinement. Power is pretty linear, without any sudden turbo “hit” and is driveable around the city almost as easily as a hatchback. What could do with an upgrade is the rear-view camera resolution though, which is just a poor quality feed in its current form.
Seating for the third row doesn’t leave any boot space with the seats up, but it is the most practical and usable third-row out there. The recline angle, seat height and general airiness makes this a place where even adults can cover miles, not just pets or mini-me. Both the 6 or 7-seat options are comfortable and should be well on their way to becoming segment benchmarks and backed by its supple and planted ride, you won’t be transporting grumpy passengers for sure.
Besides the last-minute rebranding, Tata fans have a lot to cheer for here. It may still be more closely related to the Harrier than any Safari that came before it and the fact that it doesn’t offer 4x4 in any of its variants (as of now) dilutes its go-anywhere capability a little, but it is still a supreme highway machine. In much the same way as the original, it does pave the way for a new generation of smart, well-designed 7-seaters and it excels at making each and every occupant comfortable and looked after. It’s the biggest strength lies in its execution as a 7-seater which doesn’t feel like an afterthought. Safety, solidity and even a fair amount of driving pleasure can be had from behind the wheel given its poised nature. It won’t be cheap when launched, but the Safari does make intercity travel quite a peach.