THIS IS NOT A SAFARI,” SCREAMED all of you on social media when it was announced that the seven-seater Harrier, code-named Buzzard and formerly christened Gravitas, would finally roll out wearing the Safari badge. It’s obvious far too many of you harbour a soft corner for the Safari. Fact also is that it doesn’t take much for the internet to be outraged. But there’s only one way to answer the question, and that is for the new Safari to meet its parents. And ask not Instagrammers, but people who actually own OG Safaris what they think of the new one. Hence the new Safari getting a more lavish spread in the feature section of this magazine, not squeezed into the preceding Driven pages, and even space on the cover. Because, honest admission, even I’m a fan of the Safari.
THE SAFARI IS WHAT PUT ME ON THE MAP. TWO decades ago, as a cub journo, I came up with the idea of 4x4 travelogues and the very first one involved two Safaris and a week out of the office chasing wild asses in the Rann of Kutch, spotting lions in the Gir forest and buying junk from the Alang shipbreaking yard. I’d found my calling and soon after I excused myself for a further two weeks to head to Ladakh, driving from Pune all the way to Leh, across Khardung La to the Siachen border outpost, and then back down via the spectacular lakes that, I suspect, are out of bounds thanks to our neighbours being spectacularly incapable of sticking within their own damn borders. The clutch needed attention in Leh having been abused up the Himalayas to counter the monster lag of the 2-litre diesel but otherwise, it ran flawlessly. For the longest time it was the absolute best set of wheels to crisscross India in — incredible ride, a spectacular driving position, plenty of space, shift-on-the-fly 4-wheel-drive, and good enough power. It even had a VCD player (remember those?) making it a luxury car. I desperately wanted one for a long term test. Instead… I got an Indica.
Anyhoo, enough of the history and geography lesson. Fast forward to the present and the new Safari — well let’s get straight to the point shall we — doesn’t get rear- or 4-wheel-drive. This is a Harrier that has been lengthened by 60mm to accommodate a third row of seats, forward facing and not the prison-cell jump seats of the past. The 2741mm wheelbase carries over unchanged and at the front, save for chrome on the grille, there really is nothing of difference between the two. The changes start aft of the C-pillar where the Harrier’s dipping roofline has been replaced by a more formal, rectangular section. There’s more glass area to give the third row passengers more of a view out and it is allied to a new tailgate (not electrically operated), LED taillamps and bumper (with fake exhaust tips). Credit though to Pratap Bose and his design team for making the Safari look proportionate and equally good looking as the Harrier. This doesn’t have an ungainly rear overhang, the upright rear end still looks good and the stance remains spot-on what with the wheels having gone up by an inch to 18s. Weirdly though it shares the exact same design with the Harrier’s 17s.
Behind those 18-inch rear wheels lie disc brakes, replacing the Harrier’s drums and that has enabled the deletion of the ergonomically-flawed aircraft throttle-style handbrake of the Harrier. The Safari gets an electronic parking brake along with hill hold assist to add to the safety features that include six airbags and ESP. Otherwise what you see in the Safari is exactly what you get on the Harrier, except the former gets white upholstery for the seats and dual-tone treatment for the dash and door pads. This does make the cabin more airy and it feels more premium and of course there’s the panoramic sunroof which is optional on the top two variants. I must also mention that roof rails on the Safari are loadbearing, up to 140 kilos, but that’s on variants without a sunroof, so spend your money wisely.
The only real miss in the cabin is the infotainment screen. At 8.8-inches, it’s not only smaller than its rivals but the CarPlay and Android Auto projection doesn’t occupy the entire screen width, limited only to (the Nexon’s) seven inches which makes the icons too tiny and difficult to operate while on the move. I can only assume Apple and Google must be charging a bomb to update the software, because we’ve written enough about this on the Harrier for Tata Motors to know that this is a problem that needs addressing.
Getting into the third row isn’t easy on any seven-seater and the Safari doesn’t break any new ground. You contort into a few yoga poses to squeeze in and for me to fit in (I’m 5 foot, 9 inches) the middle row needs to slide forward. This doesn’t mean zero space in the middle row, mind, only reducing knee room from generous to adequate. But, credit where credit is due, the taller roofline than the Harrier does allow the seats to be mounted a little higher (stadium seating as Tata Motors calls it) and not only can I fit into the back but my knees aren’t rubbing against my nose. There are also aircon vents and USB chargers so the kids sitting back here can plug in and chill. The Safari also gets a six-seater variant with captain seats in the middle row and this, I suspect, will be a big reason for people opting for it over the Harrier. ‘Boss Mode’ is a handy lever allowing the rear passenger to slide the front passenger seat all the way forward. Allied to the generous space on offer, these captain seats are excellent for being driven around in, what with the Safari also sporting fantastic ride quality. Even better than the Harrier’s benchmark.
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