Nowadays trying to sell a SUV in India shouldn’t be an Himalayan task, considering that most buyers are going head over heals to get themselves a set of wheels with commanding road presence, high seating position and a ground clearance that humiliates speed breakers and pot holes.
Tata Safari Storme offers all the above and some more but, much to the company’s annoyance, it’s sales figures are nowhere close to the segment leader. In an attempt to bring it to the fore, Tata Motors has introduced a minor refresh for the 2015 model year and we lived with one for a good part of a week to find out if the brawny SUV gained the X factor which was missing before.
When it was launched in 2012, Tata Safari Storme was clearly a next generation product in its own right with an all-new hydroformed chassis, improved engine and new interiors but the designers settled for a philosophy that was too close to its predecessor (which is being sold alongside). In their defense, Tata Motors officials stated that the core character of the design was kept intact to retain the loyalty old car commanded from off road enthusiasts. This strategy may have given the new gen SUV a reasonably stable monthly sales figure but it never really helped the bottom line. In short, we think not being distinctive enough is Safari Stome’s Achilles heel.
Unfortunately, with the facelift, the company has missed another great opportunity to impart a fresh appeal into the off roader. Unless both pre-facelift and newer versions are parked side by side, one would be hard pressed to point out the visual differences.
So what has changed? The front grill and secondary air dam receive new black honey comb meshing instead of chrome finished vertically-oriented rectangular elements and the ‘STORME’ typeface on the chrome grille headliner is now black in color. The roof rails are no more color coordinated and that’s where exterior visual changes end.
Changes on the inside are relatively more noticeable primarily because of the new all-black color theme. The new multifunction steering wheel which is inspired by that of Zest do spruce up the dashboard’s overall appearance. The faux wooden inserts have been replaced by silver elements to blend better with new color theme and the subtly revised centre console now incorporates a new HARMAN audio system console (pre-facelift version’s music system had an after market feel in the way it was incorporated into the dashboard).
Front and rear seats, which have always been supremely comfortable, continue unchanged but we would’ve liked an improved driver ergonomics. At an optimum driving position, the key fob annoyingly tends to get in the way of driver’s right knee (this happened with two drivers of very different build and seating position). So you’re forced to position your seat a little lower than your liking.
Safari also offers two jump seats in the luggage bay which technically makes it a 7-seater. The seats come in handly to transport two additional passengers on a short trip but a long stint would prove uncomfortable. Dual-AC with floor- and roof-mounted rear vents cool the cabin effectively.
Material quality is pretty much the same as the old car but the new black color theme has certainly enhanced the perceived quality. There are still some issues though, like the malfunctioning rear seat lock which fails to keep the seat back in place (something which we encountered in the old car as well back in 2012).
Despite being a car that has a price tag of INR 14.36 lakhs (ex-showroom, Delhi), Safari suffers from a serious lack of equipment compared to the competition. For starters, automatic climate control is not offered even on the fully loaded variant, there is no touchscreen infotainment system which has become a norm even in lower segments and the MID display on the instrument console offers very limited info.
Having said that, the top-end VX 4×4 trim comes packed with dual-front airbags, ABS with EBD, front seat belt pre-tensioners, a highly capable 4×4 system with 4H (shift-on-the-fly) and 4L (low transfer case) modes, audio system with Bluetooth, Aux-in and USB connectivity, tyre pressure monitoring system, reverse parking sensor, alloy wheels and fog lights.
Engine and gearbox
Safari Storme continues to employ the 2.2-litre VARICOR four-cylinder diesel engine which now produces 150 PS at 4,000 rpm which is nearly 10 PS more than the previous iteration. The torque output remains same at 320 Nm but it peaks earlier in the rev range (1,700-2,700 rpm) to enhance driveability. Transmission is a 5-speed unit and the facelift has given a miss to the much expected 6-speed automatic transmission.
The oil burner is reasonably refined throughout but makes its presence obvious under hard acceleration. In terms of power delivery, it has a nice tug post 1,200 rpm and things get exciting between 2,000 – 3,000 rpm (this is where the engine feels happiest). The power delivery tapers off beyond this range which means being adamant with the accelerator adds more noice and vibration than the progress could justify.
In an urban setting, 2nd and 3rd gears are all you need but you do end up shuffling between these cogs more frequently than you would like, thanks to the turbolag. Also, once past 100 kmph mark, Storme could very well use another overdrive which would’ve also given engineers a better opportunity to enhance the overall driveability.
Tata has also bestowed its flagship SUV with a new timing chain which has a claimed life of 1.5 lakh km and a self adjusting clutch which is said to reduce constant pedal effort on the clutch (thus reducing clutch wear). So we can expect improved reliability
Driving, Handling and Braking
Tata Safari Storme’s coil spring front (with double wishbone) and rear (5 link rigid axle setup) suspension system is tuned for comfort and flexibility off the road. Not surprisingly, the car soaks up pretty much everything that a typical broken Indian tarmac can throw at it and some more.
A very pronounced body roll around the corner comes as an unavoidable side effect and that combined with a top-heavy feel makes it quite a handful around the corners. That said, the tyres offer adequate grip should you choose to corner a bit hard.
While on the highway, SUV’s steering system offers optimum weight and feel but we would’ve liked it lighter at city speeds. The steering wheel in our test car started to wobble once post 120 kph but it could be due to poor tyre alignment.
While the SUV holds the road fairly well, straight line stability takes a hit owing to poor aerodynamics. At highway speeds, the vehicle is unsettled by cross winds and you’re forced to compensate for it with constant steering inputs which can lead to fatigue settling in easily.
Safari Storme employs ventilated front discs and regular rear discs (on higher variants) which are aided by ABS and EBD. Retarding a 2.65 tonne SUV is never an easy task and the system could have done with more bite.
Considering its heft and high centre of gravity, the off-roader’s behavior under panic braking can be classified as acceptable albeit a bit unnerving.
Off the beaten earth is where Safari Storme is truly in its elements. Though we subjected the facelifted car only to mild challenges, we have experienced its off-road prowess back in 2012 and nothing has changed.
Be it thick slush, extremely steep and slippery climb, deep waters or axle twisters, there are only a very few challenges that could overwhelm the butch Tata UV when its operating in 4L mode.
To put it into perspective, Tata has engineered Storme to go where most vehicles can’t and hence its short comings on the tarmac can be overlooked.
Tata’s failure to fully address the aesthetic and equipment level issues of Safari Storme with the facelift is disappointing. Of course, it has several positive attributes like outstanding off-roadability, excellent ride quality and a strong diesel engine but these have always been integral traits of the nameplate’s DNA.
On the flipside, reliability has been claimed to have improved and the added power translates into a noticeable improvement in grunt.
So, if you’re a hardcore off-road enthusiast who is also looking for a vehicle that can transport your family is good comfort, then Tata Safari Storme emerges as the top option in its segment.
- Excellent off-road abilities
- Supple ride quality
- Front and rear seat comfort
- Not much of visual freshness in the facelift
- Utter lack of equipment
- LX 4×2 – INR 9.99 lakhs
- EX 4×2 – INR 11.61 lakhs
- VX 4×2 – INR 13.03 lakhs
- VX 4×2 – INR 14.36 lakhs