UK CAR Road Test
Tata  Safari 2.0-litre Tdi 4x4



You may never have heard of Tata but it's not a new marque to British roads, just an obscure one. The importers have had a crack at the British market before with the pitiful Gurka. That was a rather utilitarian 4x4 with Peugeot power of dubious build and style. 

Tata come from that well known hot bed of cutting edge cars which is India and the importers think, once again, they have a car worthy of importing to Europe.

Why so? Well, the fact that it's not a bad looking old beast is one reason and at 2000 prices (14,995) represents a huge saving of cash over the market-leading Land Rover Discovery.

For a  roomy midsized off roader it is quite eye catching and doesn't look like the bargain basement relic which so many Indian products turn out to be.

Hefty grey plastic body armour on the lower half of  the car add to the muscular appearance and give the impression of being built to cope with the daily highway battle gound, weekly Tesco car-park dodgems  and the occasional off-road foray.

It's quite convincing and stays away from the huge van-like appearance of some of  the bang-up-to-date Jap 4x4s. It  is definitely leaning toward off road power rather than trendy MPV van chic.

So at least you can appear relatively cool as you breeze by onlookers and you will need to because you are not going to go past them very fast.

An intercooler turbo-charged diesel engine is pretty much de-rigueur in this market sector but this one displaces a relatively modest 2 litres when all and sundry are running 2.5, 2.8 and upward. 500cc may not sound a big deal but when your giving away 25% capacity you're going to start to struggle.

Working through the gears and hanging on for grim death and still the power is faded, generating more noise than forward motion. The performance is a step back to the dark days of  the road reluctant 4x4 more suited to hauling pigs at 50mph down the inside lane of the motorway, than chasing Discoverys down the outside lane.

The official figures show a 0-60mph time of 19 seconds and a top speed of 90mph.  If you can match that then you're a driving genius or sadly deluded.

The handling is perfectly matched to the searing performance. The Tata lumbers and lurches into and around bends with the grace of a drunken camel. Best not to push it, just accept its limitations and creep around at gentle speeds.

 At least the ride is okay as the size and weight of the vehicle crushes the lumps and bumps of your average British road into potholed submission. 

Steering is a little vague in the very best of 4x4 tradition. Unfortunately for Tata the 4x4 world is moving on and this is well off the current sharp steering pace.

Off road it's actually quite able. As it's bred for India where motorways look a bit like dried up river beds, it really should be very capable indeed.

Different off-road ratios can be selected at the turn of a floor mounted switch. Like old Land Rovers it gives two-wheel high, four-wheel high and four-wheel low positions.

Freewheel hubs are fitted which disengage the front drive shafts, thus cutting down drag when in two wheel drive mode. The hubs automatically lock when shifting into 4 wheel drive so it's necessary to reverse for a couple of feet to disengage the front hubs when you've finished.

On the inside, the Tata offers plenty of space and seating that is quite respectably comfortable with a small, individual arm rests in the front.  Heating and fresh air controls work well and provide adequate flow for a big interior, air con was also fitted and combats the green house effect often found in a glass laden van like this.

Typically, as with any vehicle built to a price, the quality of the dashboard and controls is never high on the list of objectives. True to form the design and build of the dash and fittings is a bit lackadaisical although you can't really complain about the quantity of instruments in the comprehensive binnacle.  Unusual, even for 4x4s, is a gauge which measures oil temperature possibly something of a worry in the searing heat of  India but probably only useful if doing heavy off road towing duty or if global warming really does become serious.

A huge side-hinged door at the rear, which probably has hinge designers coming out in a cold sweat, opens up on to a big cargo area.  The rear seats can, of course, be folded forward to leave a truly wardrobe-swallowing interior. 

Probably, as a reflection of the number of garages on the average Delhi back street, the Tata comes equipped with a comprehensive tool kit. Shame, then, that they couldn't have spent more time thinking about where to stash it instead of simply leaving it to float around in a plastic bag.

All in all, the Tata is a good looking 4x4 which is right on the money. However, the dreadfully dull performance and outdated handling leave it floundering in the wake of just about any other mainstream 4x4.  Currently just shy of 15k new, that sort of money would get you a late model, low mileage Disco or Cherokee or Pajero or ............. I know which I would choose.


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