2021 Tata Safari first drive review: Is it really back?
While the SUV segment has been ruling the roost of the car industry in India and worldwide, automakers are going above and beyond to make the most of the new trend. You will find these cars in all shapes and sizes; be it micro SUVs, subcompact SUVs, 5- or 7-seat, big and small, we have it all.
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Tata Motors caught the world by surprise when it announced the official name of its latest SUV - 'Safari'. The same car was previously known to the world as the 'Gravitas' and before that, it was known by something else. But what remained constant over time though, was its design and aesthetics. From concept to pre-production model, the SUV maintained the same bold and sophisticated look which brought it to the centre stage at all the events it was showcased at.
The Tata Safari once made the base for SUVs in India, and in the latest 2021 avatar it has marked a return as a completely new and modern vehicle, but what has changed this time is the market itself. The competition unlike before has already set its roots deep. Will the new Safari stand true to its legacy? Or is it just the name game gone wrong? Read on to know!
For 2021, the Safari has evolved into a completely new vehicle which as per Tata has been built to ferry 'you and your entire family in comfort and safety'. For a car to ferry around an entire family, it needs to be big, bulky and spacious. And Safari is indeed all three in one, and it's much more.
(Check out more pics of Tata Safari here)
While there's not much on the outside which does justice to the badge it carries, it appears to be a longer version of the Harrier from almost all angles. Also, I am sure many will in fact mistake it for the Harrier, at least in a quick glance.
At the front, it gets the same signature grille with the Tri-Arrow pattern flanked with high raised dual function LED DRLs. Below the trendy-looking sleek lights sit the familiar projector headlamps which are limited only to the higher-spec XZ variant. While there is nothing wrong with the way these headlamps have been designed, a distinction with respect to its technical cousin wouldn't have hurt.
There isn't much to highlight about the front, and it’s only when you get to the side profile and tail section you get to notice the real changes. There are large 18-inch alloys residing inside the muscular wheel arches that make all the difference. The longer length of the Safari also can't be missed. Longer overhang carves out the required space on the inside, while the wheelbase remains the same. Look above and you’ll see a stepped roof which gives it a taller stance, while the new rear quarter glass has been affixed to give the last row occupants a chance to look outside.
The ground clearance has gone down and as per the automaker, the Safari’s minimum laden ground clearance stands at 143 mm. It is significantly less than the previous-gen model, and also from the car it comes based on. Still, the Safari manages to stand tall, in fact, taller than both the other models in question.
Move towards the rear and you’ll find a surprisingly refreshed rear section. There's a more upright tailgate with a very high set rear glass window. The signature twin light LED tail lamps look sleek, angular, and neatly designed. There is also a wide Safari lettering in bold which sits on the lower side of the tailgate, and there is a dual-tone bumper to complete the looks.
Tata has also cleverly hidden a few emblems here and there on its exterior body that represents what the car stands for. All in all, the Safari does manage to stand out with its bold and charismatic looks. Though it might not have any visible connection with the original SUV, despite that, it is impressive in many other ways.
How is the cabin space?
Tata claims that the Safari has been engineered to provide an easy and comfort-oriented experience inside the cabin. The use of premium materials is aplenty. There is a signature Ashwood dashboard with a familiar layout and it is made up of soft-touch materials. The floating type 8.8-inch touch screen infotainment system sits in the middle of the dash and is easy to operate. There is leather wrapping on the steering wheel and gear knob which makes the cabin feel rich.
The driver’s screen is also borrowed from its technical cousin. It is a simple semi-digital console with an analogue speedometer on the right side, accompanied by a wide digital screen on the left, displaying all the necessary information about the car in a simple and uncluttered format. The higher variants of the Safari also come with signature Oyster White leather seat upholstery and door pad inserts which make the cabin feel plush and premium.
Now, one of the major additions you’ll find in the Safari is the use of an Electronic Parking Brake with auto-hold function which is the first for Tata. And along with that, there’s also the widest in segment panoramic sunroof which really makes all the difference.
While the sunroof sure does make the cabin feel rich and airy, what the Safari still misses out on are some critical features like Wireless Charging and Ventilated Seats which are fairly popular among the customers it seeks to attract. But not to forget, it also comes with a host of other features as well including Rain Sensing Wipers, Automatic Headlamps, Powered Driver Seat, Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), and much more. On top of that, it has also become the latest recipient of the iRA connected car technology after the Altroz iTurbo (know more here).
The second-row seating is more or less the same as the Harrier, it features pillar mounted AC vents, a pocket for the smartphone behind the central panel, and a hand rest in the middle.
The second-row seats are manually adjustable and feel nicely cushioned. The row is also decently spacious for two or even three occupants given the large width of the car, but the middle occupant may have to struggle at times due to the huge hump on the floor. The Safari is also available with captain seats in the middle row, but sadly we couldn’t test that model.
Jumping down to the third row on Safari is quite easy, but the kind of space provided might not be the best in the segment. Although the adjustable second-row does provide an option of extending the leg space. The headspace, on the other hand, has been kept ample. Moreover, the last row gets a number of convenience and utility features such as dedicated air vents, bottle holder, USB charger, and more. Also, as mentioned previously, the glass area for the third is wide and doesn't let the last passengers feel they are running out of view.
How about the boot?
Opening up the tailgate reveals that the boot space might not be enough in all seats up configuration, but getting the last seats down frees up 447 litre of space which is more than adequate. The only thing that concerns me is the tailgate which doesn't have a proper handgrip slot for opening the door.
How is it to drive?
So the Safari sources power from the same 2-litre Turbocharged diesel engine which is also found on the Harrier. To put the numbers, it delivers 170 PS and 350 Nm of peak torque. The transmission options include a 6-speed automatic as well as a manual gearbox.
The engine in the current 170 PS format was introduced by Tata last year and it is indeed a lovely powertrain. It picks up pace in no time and is a delight to drive irrespective of the road conditions. Also, its predicable-yet-exhilarating power delivery makes you feel safe when overtaking or engaging in a sporty drive.
I got a chance to drive both the manual as well as automatic transmission, and found both equally charming. But the effortless shifting on the automatic kept me at ease, while I could focus more on the road ahead.
Like the Harrier, even the Safari is based on Tata’s OMEGARC platform which contributes to its driving dynamics. What needs to be remembered is that the Safari is heavier than its donor model, and the company has to work harder to keep the dynamics in check at high speeds and around the corners, and to my surprise, I think Tata has done a good job in this department.
Tata claims that it has maintained the balance between performance and comfort and I wouldn’t disagree. The Safari feels stable at high speeds and equally direct and connected around the corners. At the same time, the suspension setup feels to have the right amount of stiffness and damping to maintain composure. The body roll is well under control for a 7-seater which is impressive.
The Safari also gets Terrain Response Modes and there is also a dedicated Sport mode which changes the engine mapping for a more aggressive drive. While all of this looks nice and fancy, what’s perhaps missed is the 4x4 mode, which is close to the hearts of SUV enthusiasts.
The final words:
With the Safari, Tata has tried to evoke the emotional connection there is around this iconic nameplate. The new car cleverly picks up the right elements from its technical cousin and comes out using them as its own. But what it has missed out on the way is its distinctive and unique set of elements that once gave the Safari a legendry stature in the world of SUVs.
Leaving that aside, the 2021 Safari ticks all the right boxes for a customer looking for a 7-seater SUV that not only looks impressive but also drives well. Moreover, it is definitely a practical and comfort-oriented car for your family. If you think missing the 4x4 feature isn’t a big deal, then Safari is indeed a worthy option to consider in its space.
But that said, how much of the 'original Safari DNA' is left in the 2021 model, still has a question mark to it.