What is it?
The Tata Safari is nearly two decades old and continues to soldier on. Now, this warhorse has been given yet another facelift in an attempt to slow down its ageing process. This is the first refresh since the Storme was launched in 2012 which itself was biggest revamp of the SUV in its long life cycle. The Storme got a brand new chassis, fresh interiors and a significant styling update. This time around, however, the changes are far less substantial.
Exterior changes are minimal and apart from the Land Rover inspired grille there’s really nothing new worth talking about.
The cabin however gets more comprehensive changes, which are apparent the minute you haul yourself into the high cabin. The dashboard design is tidied up and gets nice silver accents. The centre console too looks much neater than before. The air con knobs have a nice feel to them and are placed within easy reach. The single DIN audio system comes with improved acoustic quality and genuinely sounds good, but it looks outdated, especially in today’s era of touch screen infotainment systems. There’s no reverse camera either, and parking sensors are what you have to rely when backing up this 4.65 metre-long beast.
The all-new steering wheel, similar to the one in the Bolt, gets integrated audio and telephony controls. Bluetooth, aux-in and USB connectivity is standard on this VX variant. The 4WD selector knob has now moved on to the dashboard and eats up the large cubbyhole that was a useful to place wallets and cell phones
Like before, the high-set seats aided by the large glass area and the low dashboard, gives the driver a fantastic view of the surroundings. The middle row is now even more comfortable thanks to improved cushioning and better fabrics. A front- facing third row is still missing and Tata should have introduced this option on the top variants at least. The side-facing seats are uncomfortable and basic in otherwise what is a fairly well-appointed cabin.
What’s it like to drive?
The updated Storme gets the Aria’s 148bhp 2.2 litre turbo-diesel which gives it an extra 10bhp as well as a decent 32.63kgm of torque. The extra grunt hasn’t significantly improved flat-out performance but driveability is better than before. This makes the new Safari more responsive to throttle inputs and the earlier sluggishness is mostly gone. However, there is still a fair bit of turbo lag which is accentuated by the tall gearing. Hence it still feels very cumbersome in traffic and you need to downshift quite frequently while ambling in around town. On the flip side, the long-legged Safari has great cruising ability and feels completely at ease on the highway. The gearshifts are marginally better than the outgoing model, but the old G76 gearbox still feels rubbery and requires effort to slot in correctly. The annoying play in the driveline or the ‘marching’ sound so characteristic of a Safari is gone and that’s a welcome change.
Piloting this mammoth SUV is made a little less loathsome, with the steering wheel position now being less truck-like and you don’t need to stretch your arms while negotiating that tight U-turn. The steering is also more direct which could be attributed to the reduced play around the centre-ahead position. What Tata Motors hasn’t sorted out is the steering kickback which you can feel when you encounter a rutted road.
The overall ride is still very good and the large Safari’s ability to eat potholes without a fuss is still its strong point but, dynamically, it feels like a skyscraper on wheels. You are constantly reminded of the Safari’s high centre of gravity by the way it rolls and rocks from side to side. These loose body movements can get unnerving as the speeds increase. The top-heavy Safari rolls a fair bit too and doesn’t inspire confidence around corners. What the Storme has though is more than decent grip, which also exaggerates the body roll.
Considering the XXL dimensions of this Tata, it is not the easiest to punt around in traffic and the heavy steering adds to the bulky feeling.
Should I buy one?
The incremental improvements have made the 2015 Safari Storme the best Safari ever, but is it good enough to buy? The revised interior, extra power, lighter clutch, and a less truck-like driving position have made it far more user-friendly whilst the time-honoured traits of super visibility, great cruising ability and all-round comfort haven’t been compromised.
However, the changes are not comprehensive enough to keep the Safari in the game, and for the expected asking price of Rs 14 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) for the top trim, there are better options out there. Tata could have given the Safari a few more styling tweaks, added a front-facing third row, improved the dynamics further and thrown in auto transmission as an option. It looks like Tata is saving the best for the Hexa, which sadly makes the new Safari Storme a case of too little too late.