When you look at the new Tata Safari Storme which launched on 17 October, you will wonder what took Tata Motors so long to bring it to a showroom near you. Apart from the nose, tail and some side cladding, not a lot is different. The glass areas are identical, the basic body shape is the same, and it still looks very much like the car it first was 14 years ago. On closer inspection one notices the few bits that make it fresher.
The bonnet is more defined with cuts and creases, there are upturned headlights and a finely slatted grille, which looks more delicate and takes away from the strong beefy character. The profile gets new cladding and chrome finish on the side mirrors but the biggest difference is at the rear, where the spare wheel has shifted from the tail-gate to under the floor, making it easier to open the door. The tail-gate gets grey plastic cladding and has a neater, cleaner look, but in case of a puncture it’s now more of a pain to get the heavy wheel out.
Once you get inside you realize where a lot of the hard work was done. The Storme’s interiors are indeed all-new. You are instantly impressed with the much improved quality and the soft-touch plastics. The dash itself is simple but the wood and beige finish work well together to give the cabin an open airy feel, whilst the leather seats add a level of luxury. The roof-mounted air conditioner is now better integrated than before and cooling is as good as ever. We did miss a reverse camera (which the previous Safari had) and the single DIN audio system felt a bit outdated. Also, we would have preferred the audio controls to be on the steering wheel instead of on the stalk behind it, which is fiddly to use.
The front seats are large and supportive and you have a commanding view of the road, but the high seats and the ground clearance mean you have to haul yourself into them. However, the Safari is all about comfort, and this new one is no exception. The rear seats too are very generous, with loads of space all around. In fact, if there is a grouse it’s that the rear seats are a touch too generous—the deep seat base extends a fair bit so short people may find their legs hanging mid-air when they try to stretch them out. The third row has tiny jump seats which are only usable for short trips.
Under the hood there is an updated version of the 2.2-litre 140PS engine, now known as VariCOR for the variable geometry turbo. It’s a modern engine that feels far more refined now thanks to superior engine mounts and better sound insulation. In fact, the Storme is impressively quiet, which makes cruising all day long a very relaxing experience. On the highway, the Safari cruises with an effortless air and even when it’s fully loaded, it seems to have sufficient power.
While performance is pretty adequate for normal driving, if you’re in a hurry you will feel the lack of urge at low speeds. This makes you change gears more often than necessary, especially when you want to overtake urgently.
The Safari was always known for its ride quality and Tata Motors has upped the ante with the Storme. Ride comfort is amazing and the new Safari just steam-rolls bad roads with ease. Yes, there is still a bit of up and down or pitching motion on an undulating road but it is better controlled than before. The steering too has been improved, with better feel, but it’s not as precise as I would have liked. Also, the Storme’s top-heavy stance means it still rolls quite a bit through corners—hence this is a car that’s best driven a notch or two down. Tata has retained the four-wheel-drive option for the Storme, so this is still a real SUV that you can sling around in the mud.
Better refinement, a cabin that has moved up several notches and improved comfort are the strengths of the new Safari Storme. The biggest let-down, however, is that it really doesn’t look all that new. It also lacks the features of its competitors and it’s not as exciting as it should have been. Though the Storme offers comfort and capability at a convenient price (the base model starts at Rs.9.95 lakh ex-showroom, Delhi) competition in the segment is tough and we feel the Storme needs a little more wind in its sails.
Renuka Kirpalani hosts The Autocar Show for Bloomberg UTV.
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