But is that reason enough to discount it? Maybe if you are a hardcore Safari fan who - for the lack of a better tag line - likes to make your own road, sure. But what if we viewed it as a new urban SUV? One that checks boxes like comfort, and ease of driving, and cooled box and intuitive connectivity options, instead of getting drunk and picking a bar fight.
Something that’s a credible alternative to the likes of the Tata Harrier and even the Hyundai Creta? But, with the added benefit of three row seating... would that make more sense?
Let’s find out.
Guess it’s difficult not to draw references from the old car even though we agree the previous generation and this one are two completely different animals.
Now, the older Safari’s design was more akin to someone taking a chisel and hammer to a block of wood, which in our book made the Safari special and stand out in a unique way. The new Safari seems more like the work of a potter; not Harry, but the one who plays with clay and prefers roundness to straight cut edges.
And though this design is palatable, we don’t think it has the making of an icon. And that’s mainly because the design doesn’t seem new. And it isn’t. The new Safari - in the broadest sense - is the Tata Harrier with an extra row of seating, a stepped roof, and little more rear overhang.
Not surprisingly, the face is similar if not identical. It shares the design and placement of the DRLS and the headlamps with the Harrier, and the grille outline hasn’t changed either. But, the finish is different. The changes at the rear are more pronounced. The tail lamps are all-new, the tail gate follows a different design, and the rear bumper hasn’t been borrowed from the Harrier either.
It’s pretty much the Harrier on the inside too. The same dashboard, same steering, and same aircon vents, and a similar looking multimedia system too. The finish and choice of colours all round is different, of course. The idea behind this change is to give the Safari the feeling of added space, and the interior a hint more maturity. And I think both objectives have been met.
The seats on the new Safari are supportive and comfortable, and the driving position is good too. The second row comes with a bench seat as standard, and one can also opt for captain seats as optional. Like the front, the captain seats are comfy and supportive too, and are a good place to spend long hours in. Plus, these adjust for fore and aft movement as well as for recline. And these come with usable armrest. The last row though isn’t great. But then that was always expected. There’s decent head and knee room, but the seats themselves aren’t comfortable. These are flat and just too close to the floor.
In terms of features, the top spec XZ trim here gets keyless entry and start, a steering that adjusts for both reach and rake, an electrically powered drivers seat, multi information system for the driver, and a single zone climate control system with vents for all three rows. It also gets a cooled box, cruise control, and a multimedia touchscreen system.
And on the safety end, apart from the mandated ABS and rear parking sensors, this top spec XZ Plus variant also gets rain sensing wipers and automatic headlamps, there’s type pressure monitoring, six airbags, and for driving convenience in difficult terrain, there’s hill hold, hill descent, and an ESP with selectable modes for city wet, and rough roads. There’s connected car tech on board too. Called – Intelligent Real Time Assist or iRA, it's similar to what we have seen from Kia and Nissan and Honda.
The boot space, meanwhile, is nothing to write home about with all three rows in place. But, drop the last row down and there’s almost 450 litres of boot space to be had.
The new Safari is only offered with one engine – a four cylinder diesel with almost 170bhp and 350Nm of peak torque – which can then be had either with a six speed manual or a six-speed automatic. The gearbox then drives the front wheels. There’s no all wheel or four wheel drive option available on the new Safari.
The engine is decidedly quiet and refined at low revs. And there’s enough grunt in the low end of the engine to keep things both calm and accelerating. It is slower than the Harrier, of course, given the added heft. But not by much.
The Safari comes with three drive modes – Sport, City and Eco. Sport is great for those looking for a spirited drive. The throttle feels more alive and the engine is all perked up and ready to rev. City mode is the default setting you get every time you start the car up. And Eco, as the name suggests is tuned to deliver fuel efficiency, and it can make the Safari feel lethargic.
The six-speed gearbox in the meantime behaves like a typical torque converter. It’s not the quickest shifting unit, and it isn’t lethargic either. It doesn’t tend to disengage off throttle like on most large, burly SUVs, but it’s not bothersome. This auto ‘box borrowed from Hyundai comes with a manual override function as well, but we never really felt the need. The throttle inputs pretty much took care of things.
As far as handling goes, the new Safari gets a surprisingly quick steering with hardly any play off center. It makes the car feel lighter than it is. It also works well with the Safari’s ability to nose into corners without delay. Once turned in, the Safari does have significant body roll mid corner, but nothing that will send the alarm bells ringing.
The ride though is a little stiff at slow speeds, but it gets better as the speeds increase. There’s no undue body movement, and the damping in general is well judged. The Safari's suspension doesn’t wallow or kick around rudely, even when going over speed breakers in a hurry. Braking again impresses. Not so much in term of progression, but the bite and stopping power is strong courtesy disc brakes all around.
|Max. Power (bhp@rpm)||168bhp @ 3,750rpm|
|Max. torque (Nm@rpm)||350Nm @ 1,750rpm|
|Fuel Capacity (in litres)||50|
|Tyre size||235/60 R18|
|Six airbags, ABS and ESP with hill descent control||Yes|
|18-inch alloy wheels||Yes|
|Digital instrument cluster||Yes|
|Automatic climate control, automatic headlamps||Yes|
|Touch screen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay||Yes|
Competition All Specs
|Max. Power (bhp@rpm)||168bhp @ 3,750rpm||168bhp @ 3,750rpm|
|Max. torque (Nm@rpm)||350Nm @ 1,750rpm||350Nm @ 1,750rpm|
|Fuel Capacity (in litres)||50||60|
|Tyre size||235/60 R18||215/55 R18|
As a product, as an urban SUV, as a family car that can seat seven – and not just in a pinch – the new Safari does a good job. It has comfortable seats; the ride is pliant if not plush; it comes loaded with features; it has decent visibility if not fantastic; and it feels planted and stable and completely manageable be it in the city or on the highway. It’s not outstanding or unique or loveable in any away, but as an SUV to drive and live with everyday, it works.
Pictures by Kaustubh Gandhi