Time to ‘Reclaim Your Life’ with the Tata Safari.
India’s first 4X4 SUV, India’s first indigenous SUV, India’s first…
On 30th December, 1998, Mumbai’s Pragati Maidan, prominent for its fantastic and glitzing expos, got people flocking in spates as Tata Motors were about to take the wraps off their first fully built-in-India vehicles with pride. From the phrase ‘indigenous car’, the Indica came to existence. While that was one of the pretext for the crowd’s uncontainable frisson, there was another big reveal that accelerated the euphoria which only soared by the honcho, Ratan Tata’s rhetoric speech for the launch of India’s first indigenous American styled SUV, the Safari.
The first gen Tata Safari also used to sell in the UK.
Tata’s most expensive SUV at that time, it haughtily sat at the zenith in Tata’s lineup which is known to have conjured a strong lineage that we all have associated fond memories with. There was a time when the crowd was left bewildered by the kind of packaging offered by the Sierra, a Maruti Gypsy rival. The Safari leapt above the Sierra in terms of quality and features. It was bestowed with a sleek and contemporary look vis-a-vis the Sumo’s boxy and rudimentary visual drama. This worked well in the Indian automotive space making it a runaway success despite the premium that one had to spend to get revelled.
The all-black interior of the first gen model with features such as Airbags, 4X4 ESoF and what not!
Launched in two variants at the time of its launch namely, 4X2 and 4X4, it was a plenary true blue 4X4 with seven seats and bells and whistles such as power steering, central locking, front and rear power windows, rear AC vents, in-dash music system with CD player, tilt adjustability for steering wheel, fog lamps, alloy wheels, rear wiper and of course, how can I forget the boot mounted spare wheel, which just clinched its American bulbous SUV panache. It would have been the first ‘budget’ SUV to come equipped with shift on fly mechanism on the 4WD variant, a nifty off-road feature that used to be generally reserved for SUVs far more premium such as the Mitsubishi Pajero which was certainly not meant for the plebeian.
The second generation of the Safari launched in 2005 in this nice Walnut Gold colour.
Soon after its launch, two additional variants, LX and EX punctuated its roster of variants. These trim levels reinforced the Safari’s feature quotient with body coloured spare wheel cover, side decals, bull guard and aluminium foot steps making ingress and egress a relatively easy affair.
The Safari Dicor with 2.2 VTT engine and genuine leather upholstery.
This behemoth had a dream run for many years until 2002 when the Scorpio came scything to give it sleepless nights. It was launched at an aggressive price of roughly INR 5.5 Lakh obliterating the Safari on the value equation and it offered bang for buck with similar features as the former. This is what led to the inception of fracas between the two full-sized Indian SUVs. Mahindra used its perspicacity of offering the base model for the rural market which is what led to its sales proliferating. Hence, it became imperative for Tata to justify Safari's relevance. Therefore, in 2003, a final update enlivened things further with gizmos such as Sony PS2, 10 audio and video CD changer, headrest mounted LCD screens, 12-litre refrigerator and even a 2.5-inch LCD reverse guiding system, most of which were segment firsts at that time. In the same year, they launched a feisty gasoline-powered 2.1-litre engine for the voracious enthusiasts with 135 PS of peak power output and 195 Nm of torque at a low 3,750 rpm. However, people went vociferous against Tata for its terribly low fuel economy figures which is why it sold in rather pessimistic numbers.
The Gen-3 or the Safari Storme with a honeycomb grille.
Hence, the oil burner 1.9-TDI (Turbo diesel) engine kept sledging forward with 90 equines and 186 Nm of twisting force. However, these figures were smidgen and the fact that its immediate contention was more powerful drove Tata to introduce a brand new 3.0-litre diesel engine with an all-new visage and pizzazz contemporaneously. This facelift also happened to be the longest running Safari. Fun fact: Silver exterior shade was offered only on the LX trim.
Java-black interiors adorning the cockpit of the Safari Storme.
Introduced in 2005, it received immense popularity with Tata’s brilliant television ads carrying the motto ‘Reclaim Your Life.’ It came in as a breath of fresh air to recuperate the appeal of the car with bigger headlamps, redesigned grille with a smorgasbord chrome slats, variety of dual-tone exterior colours and a subtly revamped taillight area. The overall silhouette remained identical to the original model but still worked wonders to lift its novelty factor. People got accustomed to better switchgear quality and buttons replacing the toggle switches which had a nasty reputation of falling off reducing the feature usability. Introduced in three grades carrying the monikers LX, EX and VX, 4X4 was also provided as an option on EX grade so that the owners didn’t have to relinquish a substantial portion of their moolah. While it carried over most of the features of the gen-1 model, it also got clever additions such as front disc brakes, anti-submarine seats, collapsible steering column, side protecting beams as ramparts, engine immobiliser, reverse parking camera with sensors and the then rampant bluetooth, AUX and USB. It made a generous 116 hp and a stonking 300 Nm of torque while using the same tried and tested 5-speed manual Synchromesh gearbox.
Safari Dicor in its perfect habitat.
Bigger engines are generally fuel-jugglers, which also happened to be the case with this engine bearing a colossal displacement. India was also getting ready for BS4 emission norms of 2010 which nudged Tata Motors to make this potent engine bite the dust registering just a stint of success. However, the new 2.2-litre VTT Dicor mill despite being smaller in size churned out 138 horses and an astounding 320 Nm of torque which enthused the Safari fanatics and witnessed a sales chart incline, though it never outclassed the Scorpio. The nought to 100 Km/h dash came in a leisurely 15.8 seconds which appeased those hankering for spirited driving demeanour. It got a novel double wishbone suspension with torsion bars at the front and five-link rear suspension for augmented agility around the corners. However, its 1922 mm height impinged driving dynamics and tons of body roll continued to be present.
The Safari Storme had a superior ride quality on even the normal roads which is why people endeared it.
The last and the final facelift the Safari got carried the suffix ‘Storme’ which was the most substantial update in 2012. However, what continued to remain even here was its brawny street presence and that commanding view of the terrain lying ahead of you to conquer like a baller. Like always, it sought to grapple with the Scorpio but the attempt went in vain. The beige interiors with faux wood finish and immaculate build quality were the only major highlights. Many were apprehensive about its success as Tata was inadvertent to give it at least a touchscreen interface, the need back then. Moreover, the 2015 update skimped on features that were already available with the Dicor such as Reverse parking camera, rear entertainment screens and leather seats which came as a major blow to potential consumers. It did become the most vehement car in its segment with 156 PS and 400 Nm of torque and a new 6-speed manual transmission.
Now what can I say about the legacy the car goaded?
It got additional features such as steering-mounted controls and a Harman sourced music system but that still made for a sparse equipment list. On the other hand, its arch rival, the Scorpio got a facade that garnered universal acceptance, modern interiors and features such as reverse parking camera, touchscreen multimedia system and automatic climate control which quenched the thirst of the techie youngsters. This further aggravated the atrocious scenario for Safari. The Safari got a self-adjusting clutch for easier driving but Tata Motors failed to understand that automatic trannies were rapidly taking over in the market which came as yet another blow. The top of the line variant of the Safari Storme, the VX 4X4 used to retail for an on-road price of almost INR 19 lakh rupees before the plug was pulled which was far more than the value it was offering.
Tata Safari Storme in its new Urban bronze colour at the time of its launch shown in a challenging environment.
Despite several attempts at setting the dais on fire with continued enhancements, the Safari dragged itself to death till 2020 when the BS6 emission norms completely knocked it off from the market. In its final years, Tata managed to sell a measly 40-50 units a month against the Scorpio’s 4,000 units which meant there was no business case for the car. Tata coyly and silently put an end to the Safari and a whammy car, the Nano. While no successor to this iconic car that gave us the opportunity to discover paths that anybody seldom dared to tread for a fraction of the price of a Toyota Fortuner exists today, the nameplate will be resurrected as the Hexa Safari Edition that Tata had showcased at the 2020 Auto Expo. Tata has been working gingerly on the Gravitas, the seven-seater variant of their fantastic Harrier SUV which has the mettle to take the place of the Safari. However, after so many years, I reckon we all have had a sense of emotional inclination with the car and with it bidding goodbye, it has left a huge void in Tata’s portfolio which I think only one car is valorous enough to fill, the Safari itself.
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