For the better part of a decade, the Tata Safari’s natural rival has been the Mahindra Scorpio. The Scorpio has clearly always scored the upper hand and for good reason – it has gone from strength to strength with substantial updates, which include three new engines and a suspension overhaul. The Safari, meanwhile, has been on the defensive. Despite its share of revised engines and facelifts, it has consistently lost to the Scorpio in our comparison tests. The only way the Safari could compete was with price and, over the years, it has gone from being significantly more expensive than the Scorpio at its launch, to finally undercutting it.
Now, the latest Safari avatar has got all-new mechanicals, fresh interiors and improves on the strengths of the old SUV while addressing a lot of its weaknesses. However, these advances come at a cost. The top-end Storme 4x4 VX costs a whole Rs 1.89 lakh more than the Scorpio 4x4 VLX mHawk, and this brings us to an age-old question: Is the Safari worth the extra money or does the Scorpio still have the stronger sting?
Both these SUVs are familiar shapes, but the Scorpio is the more aggressive-looking of the two, especially from the front. Neither of these two are styling masterpieces – the Storme’s modern front end is out of sync with the rest of the car while the Scorpio’s boxy rear section doesn’t look as proportionate as the Storme’s muscular rear.
Both are old-school, body-on-ladder frame SUVs that have shift-on-the-fly, four-wheel-drive systems with low ratios and a live axle at the rear. The Safari, despite being the heavier of the two by around 245kg, is more suited for off-road work, thanks to the limited slip rear differential that comes standard with the 4x4.
Although the Storme retains the traditional 138bhp, 2.2-litre diesel Safari engine, it now uses variable geometry turbo which improves driveability. The engine feels more eager than before and you can drive this big SUV without the need to change gears constantly. Even with a full load, it doesn’t feel underpowered. Compared to the Scorpio though, it doesn’t feel as responsive but still pulls quite well from low revs. The motor feels relaxed at three-digit speeds too and the tall fifth gear allows very comfortable cruising. For example, at 100 kph, we find the engine turning over at just 2200rpm. When you want to drive with a sense of urgency, the Storme doesn’t feel sluggish either and this is reflected in the decent 0-100kph time of 14.92 seconds.
However, despite the considerable improvements, the 2.2 Dicor motor cannot match the Scorpio’s more refined 2.2-litre motor for sheer low-speed responsiveness. The Scorpio has a spring in its step and responds well to throttle inputs, even at low speeds, which makes it very easy to drive in the city. Where the Storme’s unit starts feeling strained, the Scorpio’s engine keeps on revving. Not surprisingly, the Scorpio accelerates quicker, taking 14.88 seconds to reach 100kph from a standstill.
Both these SUVs are likely to be used quite a bit on the highway, and neither will disappoint. The Safari Storme is a more relaxed cruiser, but overtaking is easier in the Mahindra thanks to the punchy engine.
In terms of refinement, the Scorpio again has an upper hand. The Storme is slightly quieter at idle, but as you accelerate, its motor has some noticeable vibrations around 2500rpm, after which it smoothens out. In comparison, the Scorpio’s engine feels more at ease when worked hard.
The Scorpio, thanks to its lighter kerb weight and more linear power delivery, manages to be more efficient than the Storme. The Scorpio returned 10.6kpl in the city and 13.6kpl on the highway, while the Safari returned a slightly less 10.1kpl and 13.2kpl for the city and highway cycles respectively.
The new Safari is dynamically far better than the older car, which makes it much nicer to drive. The ride and handling is one of the biggest improvements Tata engineers have made. The SUV is now much more predictable to drive around the corners and it takes a lot more than the odd bump to unsettle it. There’s still a fair amount of body roll because of the tall stance and it tends to sway a fair bit through a series of corners. The steering feel, though better than before, still doesn’t give the feedback we would like. It feels quite vague with lots of play around the straight-ahead position. However, the Storme is a lot more confidence-inspiring than the Scorpio.
The Storme’s ride is now very settled over most surfaces and at low speeds, the pliant suspension absorbs most bumps with aplomb. Even when speeds rise, it stays settled and straight-line stability is impressive.
The Scorpio’s suspension is tuned towards a softer ride, but it still jiggles around even on smooth roads. It never feels as settled or rides as flatly as the Safari. At higher speeds, the Scorpio has a tendency to bob through dips and doesn’t feel as stable as we would have liked. Adding to its handling woes is the light steering, which doesn’t weigh up as speeds rise. The Scorpio, despite all its suspension revisions over the years, still doesn’t have the dynamic capability to match the Storme. Under heavy braking as well, the Storme feels more reassuring than the Scorpio, whose centre pedal doesn’t have the same bite or progressive feel.
Climb into the high-set driver’s seat of the Storme and you get a panoramic view outside through the large windscreen, which has always been a Safari hallmark. Blind spots are kept to a minimum, thanks to the slim A-pillars, and there’s no tailgate-mounted wheel to block your view out the back.
Around the cabin, you’ll instantly notice the step-up in quality. The plastics are of a softer touch now, with the matte black centre console a notch up as well. The inside door handles and power window buttons feel much better than the earlier version. The fit and finish is still not perfect though – the glovebox and the dash-top storage lid don’t align when shut and the leather seats are not well-stitched either.
What there can be no complaints about is the overall feeling of cabin space. The front seats are very large and, though not perfectly contoured, still offer more comfort than the Scorpio’s narrower buckets. The front armrests, standard on the VX version, are not adjustable and have to be folded away while driving as they otherwise come in the way of gear-changing.
The Storme’s middle row is one of the most spacious on four wheels, with a surplus of shoulder, leg- and headroom. The seat is very wide as well, which makes for comfortable three-abreast seating, even on long trips. The Scorpio’s middle row, in comparison, feels like it’s been shrunk, especially after a long stint in the Safari.
This takes us to the Scorpio’s weakness – its cabin, which is decidedly smaller and not as inviting as the Storme’s. The Scorpio’s interiors were never great to begin with, but they felt better screwed together than the previous Safari’s. However, the Storme has leapfrogged past and clearly, Mahindra now has a lot of catching up to do, particularly in the area of plastic quality and trim, which has an industrial grey finish to it. The Scorpio’s comfy driver’s seat does without height adjust or lumbar adjust, but does get armrests that add to comfort, especially on long drives. Sadly, middle-row occupants on the bench seat version will have to make do with limited under-thigh support. If you don’t travel three abreast at the back too often, you’d be better off with the optional captain chair seats, as on our test car. You do lose a seat in the middle row in this arrangement, but the trade-off is better comfort.
But where the Storme has jump seats in the back, the Scorpio has a forward-facing third row bench. The third row may not be particularly comfortable with its inconvenient access, limited legroom and a ‘knees-up’ seating posture, but it does lend the Scorpio great flexibility, at least for short urban commutes.
In terms of price, the pendulum has swung back the other way and the base Storme, which costs no less than Rs 9.95 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) is back on the pricier side, since there are no entry-level variants available yet. The Scorpio, on the other hand, starts at Rs 7.80 lakh for the base version, but it’s the VLX version that costs Rs 11.81 lakh which is closer in spec to the Storme.
Despite being a decade in the running, the Scorpio still has a lot of emotional clout. It still looks aggressive, has a sportier edge to it thanks to its compact dimensions and stronger performance, and tends to appeal to a younger audience than the Storme’s. The mHawk engine is one of the best around and M&M has honed it over the years to make it impressively refined. However, the dynamics are still flawed and the Scorpio simply doesn’t have the space and comfort of the Safari, which has given the Tata SUV a fan following of its own.
With the Safari Storme, Tata has addressed a lot of the previous car’s weaknesses and that’s what’s really tilted the balance. The Storme is much nicer to drive now and comes with a certain feel-good factor, especially on the insides – all of which allows it to eclipse the Scorpio.
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