Tata Safari facelift review: Flagship SUV goes more upmarket

Tata Safari facelift review

Tata is on a wild update streak with its models. First there was the Nexon, then the Harrier and now it is the flagship Safari that gets a revamp. Now, this isn't a minor nip and tuck job, because Tata has gone to town with the changes, and crucially has focussed on giving the Safari its own identity, rather than it being deemed as just a Harrier with a third row. A completely new look, refreshed interior with modern tech, and mechanical changes as well. Let’s see how well it has worked out.

Tata Safari facelift exterior styling

The Safari carries over Tata’s new design language without any change to the sheet metal. The ‘soft’ parts like the bumpers, grille and lights are all new and this has completely changed the look of the car. An LED DRL runs across the width of the nose and the Safari also gets sequential turn indicators. The ‘parametric’ grille is a single piece unit compared to the Harrier’s split setup and is a point of differentiation between the two models and for the Safari they are body coloured as well. Further down, the LED headlamps and LED fog lamps are housed in a black casing which also gets Safari lettering in chrome. Since there is no split grille, the air intake is blacked out with a faux metal scuff plate for adding that butch look.

Most body panels have been carried over, but its the new bumpers that completely change the look.

Over to the side the Safari gets 19-inch wheels on the top spec variant and 17 and 18 inch options on the lower trims. The wheels do a very good job of adding road presence, and also get aero inserts that help reduce drag. You might also remember the wheel design which was previewed on the Tata Sierra concept shown at the Auto Expo. The alloys are wrapped with 245/55 R19 tyres which are relatively lower profile which has an impact on ride quality. More on that in a bit. Other Safari traits continue like a rising shoulder line and the roof with the famous kink.

The 19-inch wheels get aero inserts that help reduce drag.

At the rear, things are much simpler with revisions to the tail lamps that have become sharper now, and an LED strip conjoining the two. The bumper too is all new with sharp lines, and there is a faux metal bash plate for that rugged look. That said, one of the most important updates is seen when you wag your leg under the bumper. The boot now gets gesture control for opening and is finally electric. 

Tata Safari facelift interior and features

Like the Harrier, the Safari comes specced with the ‘persona’ that you choose. For the top-spec ‘Accomplished’, it gets a dial tone interior with white and brown upholstery. It has an air of premiumness, but the light coloured seats and panels on the steering and doors will be difficult to maintain. The passenger side also gets an artificial wood panel with pinstriping which looks upmarket but may not be to everyone’s tastes.

Dual-tone interior feels premium on top-spec trim, but the white portions will be difficult to maintain.

The Safari gets the same four spoke steering as the Harrier along with the gloss black panel with the backlit Tata logo that you just can't keep free of smudges and marks. There is also a fully-digital instrument cluster that has customisable layouts, and also the option of a map view once you’ve connected your phone via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. That said, for a full map view, android users will have to use Google Maps and Apple users will have to use Apple Maps. The cluster also displays drive mode changes, terrain mode changes and ADAS settings as well. The brightness, sharpness and overall viewing angles are good.

Next is the 12.3-inch touchscreen that gets wireless connectivity for Apple and Android and is slick to respond as well. It also packs in a lot of the settings like HVAC, ADAS, air purifier, audio modes and mood lighting. The audio system is also updated from a 9-speaker system to 10 speakers along with a sub-woofer and 13 presets in the screen to choose from. The presets are very well calibrated and do enhance the music experience. You can also have individual modes for individual seats making the whole experience even more personal. The other highlight on the Safari is the 360-degree camera that is a big-plus while maneuvering this SUV and is high on resolution with no latency issues.

The touch-based HVAC controls aren't the most intuitive to use, especially on the move.

Under the screen are the HVAC settings on a gloss black panel with the only physical buttons being the temperature settings for the dual-zone climate control. Everything else, including the fan speed, is on a touch-based panel. Adjusting the fan speed or even the other functions like the electric tailgate opening is rather difficult since the feedback and response from the panel isn’t good. On the move, this would be an even more frustrating experience, and it’s better to resort voice commands, which are not the quickest to respond but at least you don't have to fumble through the buttons.

Further down is a wireless charging pad that is difficult to access. You need to angle your phone in an awkward manner trying to dodge the knurled terrain response selector and cram your phone in, which inevitably, will hit the panels around. Taking it out is the same story as you more than often end up hitting the HVAC buttons or scraping your phone. For charging, there is a USB-A and a 45W type-C port as well.

The rotary drive selector is unusually large and restricts access to the wireless charger.

Next is the terrain response selector that is unnecessarily large and besides it are the non-backlit drive mode buttons. When you do change the drive modes however, the ambient lighting too changes color momentarily. Green for Eco, blue for City and red for Sport. What’s also new on the Safari is the drive selector for the automatic version which is a shift-by-wire mechanism, and an electric parking brake that replaces the air-craft style brake lever on the top-spec version. The centre storage also gets vents to be used as a cool box and a USB-A and a type-C port as well.

Tata Safari facelift seating 

The seats on the new Safari are powered for both driver and passenger with memory functions for the driver and ventilation for both seats. They are fairly broad and supportive but cushioning is on the firmer side. However, on the whole, the new Safari is leaps ahead of the previous gen, both in terms of features and design.

The theatre-like seating positions allows for a good view out from each row.

There has been no change to the Safari’s wheelbase so space in the middle row remains unchanged, The captain seat version also gets ventilation and there is a type-C port with a USB-A port as well. There are AC vents in the B-pillar too but surprisingly no blower control for the middle passengers. The theatre-like seating position allows you to get a good view out, and the addition of sunblinds is a plus to have on hot days. What further elevates the sense of space is of course the panoramic sunroof that also gets ambient lighting which adds flair to the cabin at night.

Entering the third row past the captain seats isn’t easy since they don’t tumble down. They only recline and don’t slide forward enough for easy access. It’s easier to use the space between the two seats as a passage to acces the third row. However, once you’re seated at the back, the amount of room is impressive even by tall adult standards. Sure, headroom is tight for occupants over six feet, but the adjustable back rest angle and sliding middle row makes the third row properly usable and the most spacious in its class. There are three-point seat belts for two, individual headrests, AC blower controls and USB-A and a type-C port as well. The downside is the boot space which with all three rows up is only good for a couple of soft bags.  

The third-row is properly usable even for adults, and comes with its own amenities.

In terms of safety, the Safari gets the usual goody bag of sensors and assists along with level 2 ADAS as well. Through the range the Safari gets 6 airbags with the top-spec version being equipped with an additional knee airbag making it 7 in total.

Tata Safari engine, gearbox and performance

The updated Safari gets the same 2.0-litre diesel engine making 170hp and 350Nm as before but in BS phase 2 guise. Tata claims to have upped the damping and refinement but to be honest, it is still one of the sore points of the Safari. There is that typical diesel clatter at idle that seeps into the cabin. As you get going and the engine speed rises, the gruff noise increases. That said, the engine feels strong to perform and has a wide torque band. Mid-range is where you will get that punch and response overall is solid. The Safari is also very happy and comfortable at highway speeds. Changing the drive modes also changes the response, just as before. In Eco and City, the engine is laid back, but switch to Sport and there is a noticeable gain in response. This is largely to do with the pedal mapping that has been tuned for the modes. As you change the modes, the pedal maps alter the response to the accelerator and hence you notice a change in driving manners.

Not the most refined, but the engine is powerful and has a wide torque band.

Mated to the engine is the same six-speed automatic gearbox and it is a torque converter through and through. Quick shifts and lightening fast responses is not something it prefers, and the shifts are carried over in a leisurely manner. Sure, sport mode does help, but inherently it remains a relaxed gearbox.

To gain more control, there is also the option of paddle shifters a new addition in the updated Safari. However, they don’t particularly enhance the driving experience as manually shifting via the paddles isn’t very quick or responsive. Operate the paddle shifters and the powertrain automatically defaults to Sport mode but the experience isn’t exactly sporty. The shifts are slow and downshifts frustratingly delayed if the engine is at high revs. This doesn’t allow for enthusiastic manual shifting and its best to let the gearbox work on its own. What is another irritant is operating the new shift-by-wire shifter, which requires the right technique. During three-point turns, shifting from D to R and back is a fiddly affair since there isnt a clear response from the lever. It often gets stuck in N or simply doesn’t change the gear. This will take owners some time to get used to, and a lot of patience.

Tata Safari handling and ride comfort

Speaking of three-point turns, arguably the biggest and the most important update on this Safari is the steering system. Gone is the older hydraulic power steering unit, and in place is a modern electric power steering (EPS) that has transformed the way the Safari handles. To start off, at low and city speeds, you no longer have to muscle the car around, and get your arm workout done. The steering is light and easy in Eco and City mode, making parking very convenient. In sports, it does weigh up to add some feel while driving, but it is definitely appreciated more for its improved maneuverability. Three-point turns are done with minimal effort and getting it out of tight spots is very easy too. Tata has also increased the track on the new Safari owing to the bigger wheels, but it isnt something that was noticeable through corners.

On the subject of ride, Tata has retuned the suspension with updated dampers, spring rates, and new bushings too, giving the Safari a softer setup than before. However shod with big 19-inch wheels and lower profile tyres bump absorption is compromised. Over a broken patch of road, you will notice sharp movements and potholes are met with quite a thud. However, the toughness of that Land Rover platform does shine through with the taut and tight body control the faster you go. On the highway, the ride is composed and flat and the sense of control and stability you get is the hallmark of the Safari which makes it a great high speed cruiser.

As before, the Safari feels robust and rugged, but ride quality is firm because of the larger wheels.

On the subject of ride, Tata claims they have retuned the suspension with updated dampers, spring rates, and new bushings too, giving the Safari a softer setup than before. However, it does not translate on the road, largely due to the big 19-inch wheels. The low tyre profile means bump absorption is not good enough, and over a broken patch of road, you will notice a good amount of vertical movement. The firmness and bumpy ride is pronounced as you go through pot holes, but the toughness of that Land Rover platform does shine through. It does feel robust and rugged but at the cost of comfort. At highway speeds though, the ride is composed and flat and it is only over undulations that you will tend to move around.

Tata Safari ADAS performance

The other big talking point on Safari is the level 2 ADAS. It gets adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, collision warning, automatic braking, rear cross traffic alert and blind spot monitoring as well. Lane keep assist is also part of the package but will be introduced later as a software update.

ADAS features work well, but the automatic braking system could have done with more sensitivity.

In our conditions the ADAS works well especially the adaptive cruise control which does the job even at slow bumper-to-bumper speeds. The lane departure warning system is good at detecting lanes correctly too. What could have been better, is the automatic emergency braking. We found that despite driving closer than usual to the car in front (done for testing the ADAS) it did not activate the brakes, despite adjusting the setting of the brake activation to the maximum distance. Tata claims this is done specifically with India’s erratic traffic conditions, but we would have liked the emergency braking to kick from a safe distance.  Rear cross traffic alerts and blind spot monitoring on the other hand work flawlessly.

Tata Safari verdict

Prices for the Safari will be out on 17th of October and since there have been a significant amount of additions and changes, we expect it to cost between Rs 17 to Rs 26 lakh. With this update, many of the Safari’s weaknesses have been addressed with the electric power steering, electric tail gate, more features and a modern design. However, the engine refinement and some ergonomic issues are still present.

The updated Safari is a lot of car for its money.

But what the Safari will be banking on is its fantastic road presence hugely practical and spacious cabin and lastly the wide array or variants on offer. It sure is a lot more car for the money now and that’s something SUV buyers today are willing to pay for.

Also See:

Tata Safari facelift video review 

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