We were in the Jim Corbett Park, and the one thing about that trip that I clearly remember is my shouting mother when the Safari went up on a big boulder and had one side resting diagonally, about 25-degrees higher than the other. That was my first experience of a proper off-road drive in the Safari, and despite whatever the big-time motoring hacks had written in their reviews at the time about its cheap quality and sheer agricultural feel, I was besotted. It was the biggest car till, then, that I’d been driven around in – and later driven as well, very briefly, after pleading to my uncle who owned it, while making sure that mom didn’t find out about it. Back then, it was also the most butch looking vehicle on our roads.
Later, when I was working with a marketing and advertising agency in Mumbai, I realized that several divisions and teams worked on a single project. Things like market analysis and feasibility studies are in the job cards of the nerdier bunch, while the advertising arm has the baton to be extremely innovative with its marketing strategies – since product communication is vital to make a car or SUV stand out in a pool of regular car madness.
Tata has always done some really exciting advertisements, and the creative agencies responsible for them should be credited for that. I recall the Sierra advert – it was crazy for its time. The car would adjust the steering angle on its own, slot itself in gear and go get dirty in the wild. Macho stuff, eh! But that was diluted slightly by the background music, which sounded more appropriate for a ballroom dance – more Rahul Dev, who looked as if he was still trying to escape from the clutches of puberty.
But the adverts of the Safari were always brilliant – right from the two guys on a roller coaster in the early 2000’s to the more recent ones. Safari ads have always had a very emotionally connected feel to them. One of the ads started with a line that stuck with me forever – “Slavery isn’t abolished. It’s just a whole lot more sophisticated.” I mean what a statement to make – in an advertisement! And the visuals weren’t there just for the heck of it either. There was always a story to be told with each Safari ad. There was another commercial of the Safari 2.2 Dicor – a very touching one, and its theme was ‘lines.’ It was a moving, inspiring ad, not necessarily because of its product, but by virtue of the story it told. The Safari was always a great determined product – and this was reflected in its commercials. And the music was always quite strong too, yet it lent an intrinsic feeling of calm and fluidity to the message.
I always loved the Safari, despite its many shortcomings. The plastics were below average, the engine (till the 2.2 DiCOR came along) was quite insufficient and lacking in the grunt required to move its bulk of almost 2 tonnes, and the handling was as poised as riding a small wooden boat in the middle of a very rough sea.
The news of a ‘new’ Safari has been doing the rounds in the media for a long time now. It had been so long, in fact, that many even lost interest in it before it actually came out. But now, the new Safari is here – it’s called the Safari Storme, but it’s not really an all-new thing, as was wildly expected by the world.
I think Tata designers were in a hurry to leave for lunch when they were sketching the Safari Storme with their styluses. The front end is extremely uninspiring – with that unibrow of a chrome strip connecting the headlamps. The Storme looks quite similar in profile to the previous Safari, but lacks the tail-mounted spare wheel, which definitely reduces the spice of its looks – something the previous model had aplenty. The Storme isn’t a path breaking introduction. It may have used new age materials and better manufacturing processes, but the fact remains that the quality is still only at par with its rivals – if that. Those of you who know autoX well, would know that I’m the last person to talk about the interiors and ergonomics because what matters most for me is if the car pleases and connects with the driver emotionally the first time that you sample it? Sadly, the Storme doesn’t. And I like driving SUVs – you get an inflated ego that you get to flaunt on the road as you look down at lesser mortals piloting their regular hatchbacks and sedans. The Safari Storme does give you that sense of pride, but things could’ve been better inside. The height adjustment of the seat could have better range for instance – sitting with the seat set to its lowest point, it still felt as though the dashboard was directly in line with my kneecaps. And there’s no telescopic steering adjustment, so I struggled to really find the correct seating position.
The Storme gets most of the usual bells and whistles that you’ve gotten used to now, but still, somehow, the dash looks quite basic – even agricultural by today’s standards. There’s an effort to make it look classy by incorporating a clock, but that actually looks like an afterthought and doesn’t integrate seamlessly with the rest of the cabin. But what the Safari Storme lacks in cosmetic appeal, it more than makes up for by indulging in the business of comfort like no other. The seats are (and I have no other adjective to use) absolutely lovely. I didn’t get to sit on the jump seats at the back, but everything else was good enough to make me smile. I like to have a lot of under thigh support, and the Storme’s front chairs didn’t disappoint at all. I had just the right amount of support for my back, and had my legs stretched out in a very natural way towards the pedals. Again, if only the steering had telescopic movement, it could have been perfect. The rear bench is among the best in business though – lovely, large, and impressively sleep-inducing.
Ride quality has always been the Safari’s specialty, and the Storme continues this legacy. There’s no pothole too deep or no boulder too high that you can’t dismiss with ease, and the suspension never really feels stressed by anything. Moreover, the Storme rolls much less than the Safari’s that precede it – the body roll is progressively controlled, and the feedback from the steering is slightly more direct. Slightly! But the Storme feels tighter around the bends compared to the Aria, which is a respectable achievement.
This doesn’t mean that the Safari Storme is a great track beater – it isn’t. It’s a large lumpy sea of space and character that will make mince meat of the roads to your office. But it is a fairly good off-road tool even now. Even in 2WD mode, it went over regular beaten up roads without a hassle. We drove with stock tyres, and yet the Safari managed all the obstacles put up by Tata in a small off-roading track that had been set up – the Haldex 4WD system working very well indeed. I’m certain it’ll go to hell and come back with only small cuts, as a testimony its bravery.
The engine is a 2.2 litre VariCOR unit with variable geometry turbine, and it’s a modestly potent tool to shift its legs. The gearbox could’ve been better though – climbing up the ghat section, it would often die in second, which was very frustrating. But, as I said, that was in the ghats and twisties – things were far better on normal roads.
The Safari, in its Storme avatar, has lost much – but it’s also gained much at the same time. Looks were always the Safari’s most valued asset, and the new design simply doesn’t capitalize on that. The brilliant ride, thankfully, remains and the seats are fabulous. Plus, it handles a great deal better than it used to and would make for a comfortable travel companion. But it is compromised – we expected an ‘all-new’ product, but what we have here is merely a more sorted effort. It’s still got loads of character though, and that matters a great deal.
Tata Safari Storme
ENGINE: 2,179CC / COMMON RAIL DIRECT INJECTION / VARIABLE GEOMETRY TURBO
TRANSMISSION: 5-SPEED MANUAL / REAR-WHEEL DRIVE / OPTIONAL FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE
POWER: 138 BHP @ 4000 RPM
TORQUE: 320 NM @ 1700-2700 RPM
PRICE: `9.95-13.7 LAKHS (EX-SHOWROOM, DELHI)
THE SEATS, RIDE AND SHEER SUV FEEL IS ALL BRILLIANT. THE COMPROMISES ARE STILL VISIBLE THOUGH.