Tata Safari Storme — Progress Under the Skin

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60 www.autotechreview.comNEW VEH ICLE TATA SAFARI STORMEThrough the 12 years since it was launched as Indias first premium SUV, the Tata Safari has received significant updates, but continues to use the same platform. With competition catching up fast, it was but clear that Tata Motors had to do a lot more to sustain the first mover advantage. The company has finally got the ball rolling with the recent introduction of the Safari Storme. We take a look at the technical changes in the new safari Storme and find out if theyre enough to overcome the gap created in the past few years.TATA SAFARI STORME PROGRESS UNDER THE SKIN 61autotechreview December 2012 Volume 1 | Issue 12INTRODUCTIONSince its introduction over a decade back, the Tata Safari has had an admirable fan following. The first Indian SUV with lux-ury features befitting its time found great favour among buyers. The Safari earned good respect for its off-road credentials too and established itself as the only Indian luxury vehicle with proper off-roading capabilities. Through its lifecycle, the Safari has received minor design changes and a few major powertrain changes. These years also witnessed an unsuccessful attempt by the company to sell a petrol-powered Safari. All said and done what remained con-sistent with the Safari was its popularity among buyers. That consistency, how-ever, came under pressure with the launch of products such as M&Ms XUV 500, which offered more features and modern engineering. It was now more than ever that Tata needed to launch an all new Safari platform. The choice of the platform was easy to make. The company had invested heavily into the Aria platform, which was yet to deliver any encouraging commercial results. This then was the right strategy take the better engineered platform of Aria and use it to develop an already pop-ular brand. We bring you details of all critical aspects of the Safari.DESIGN & CONSTRUCTIONAt the first look, the new Safari Stormes design doesnt really justify the phrase all new to the eyes at least. Look at a Storme coming and you wont notice its different until youre really close. The front features a number of changes but all these combined do not succeed at making the Storme look radically different from the old Safari. The headlamps reflect an inspiration from the Land Rover line-up and are the bits, which lend the front most of its differentiation. The chrome stripe on top of the grille and the raised bonnet add to the larger than actual look.From the side, there isnt much differ-ence except the slight change in body-lines and the new wheel design. Its the rear angle which actually makes the Safari Storme look unlike the old Safari and is the best looking too, in our opin-ion. With the spare wheel moving to the underside, the rear section is clean and modern at the expense of some macho appeal. The spoiler and the twin ellipti-cal exhausts add significantly to the sophisticated looking rear section. The large grey plastic running across the cen-tre though does break the flow of design in a negative way and doesnt necessar-ily exude a premium look. The largest change in terms of con-struction comes in the form of doing away with the old chassis in favour of a modern hydroformed unit based on that of the Aria. This means that the ladder frame chassis now features hydroformed mem-bers, which are lighter than steel yet offer higher load capacity and rigidity. As a result, the company has been able to save about 35 kg over the older chassis, while increasing the stiffness by about 50 %. Overall weight savings over the older model amount to about 75 kg, owing to usage of aluminium too in certain areas.Overall, the Safari Storme does leave us impressed, but doesnt excite enough in terms of design. Undoubtedly, the changes point towards a positive horizon but considering the long wait after which these changes have come, one would expect more.POWERTRAINLooking at the design, one might think for Absence of the spare wheel lends a clean look to the rear sectionHydroformed members help lower chassis weight by about 35 kg62 www.autotechreview.comNEW VEH ICLE TATA SAFARI STORMEa moment that the powertrain would be a mere tuning and optimisation exercise. That notion is both true and false. Even though one would expect a new system after so many years, there isnt one. How-ever, the changes made to the engine are quite significant and beyond the level of fine-tuning. Every aspect about the way the Safari Storme moves is different than its predecessor. The Safari Storme is powered by a 2.2 l VariCOR engine producing about 138 hp and 320 Nm torque. The engine is a 16 valve common-rail unit with direct injection and Variable Turbine Technology (VTT) in the turbocharger. VTT helps in creating higher air density at lower engine speeds, which in turn helps forming a better air-fuel ratio. This enhances power delivery and fuel-efficiency along with a reduction in emissions. The fully electronic fuel-injection system delivers a higher injection pressure of 1,600 bar, improving both power and torque. A central entry intake manifold along with an optimised EGR system further lowers the emissions. Improved oil separators from the Aria engine have been carried over, which not only separate oil in a better way but also reduce the oil carry-over through the intake, thereby increasing efficiency.On the road, the engine performs a lot better than the old unit and the engineer-ing gone in reworking the engine shows its effects from the time of firing the engine. There is noticeable vibration at the time of cranking the engine after which it settles down to a gentle hum. Moving off the line is easier than earlier but is still a bit sluggish. Once past about 1,500 rpm, when the turbo kicks in, the speed build-up is good. Thanks to the lighter chassis the acceleration despite no increment in absolute power is better through all gears. Through the rev band, acceleration is decent until about 3,500 rpm, after which the power starts to taper off. With the reworked powerplant, the Storme is significantly more drivable in dense traffic. However, the only thing which posed a problem in this respect for us was the heavy clutch on our test car. NVH levels have improved from the previous model owing to several new inclusions along with some carry-overs from the Aria. Tata engineers included hydraulic lash and adjusters roller finger followers in the valvetrain to lower the NVH levels and the effect is clearly visi-ble when cruising at speeds up till about 120 km/hr, beyond which they could be a little bothersome. Increased inertia for the flywheel and an aluminium oil sump further lower the NVH levels. Existing Safari owners will welcome the lower sound but customers graduating from diesel cars will need some time getting used to. Despite the lighter chassis, the Safari Storme is a pretty heavy vehicle, which limits it fuel-efficiency and performance. During our test cycle, we got an average fuel efficiency of 9.8 km/l, while the 0-100 acceleration time was recorded at 15.2 seconds. Given the Stormes size and character and the competition, there is no reason to complain about these figures. The five-speed G-76 transmission does a good job of shifting gears but is quite rubbery to operate. The upside is that the gears slot in without any fuss and shift-ing at any speeds is always easy. A steel synchrocone with carbon lining helps improved gear shifts. The shift precision is a result of a new gear selection and shift system. Slotting the reverse gear is a lot easier than the older Safari due to a deeper reverse gear ratio of 4.22 instead of 3.75, which improves gear gradeabil-ity. Overall shifting experience is one of the highlights among all improvements.The 4X4 variant is equipped with an electronic shift-on-fly mechanism, which lets one choose different ratios on the move, translating into genuine off-road credentials. At an off-roading event ear-lier, we experienced the 4X4 system of the Storme on a course littered with steep inclines and rough terrains. At steep inclines, the four-wheel drive sys-tem works brilliantly and adjusts the engine response according to the incline/decline angle. Overall, the revised powertrain does show that Tata Motors has pursued engineering in the right direction. While some might complain the absence of a new engine after a long overhaul, the powertrain changes make the Safari Storme significantly better and also bring it at par with the competition in all aspects.200 mm ground clearance and 4x4 capability allow the Storme to tackle tought terrains with ease2.2 l VariCOR engine offers lower NVH levels63autotechreview December 2012 Volume 1 | Issue 12DYNAMICSOnce moving, it becomes evident in the first few minutes that the Storme offers better composure than the older version. Handling is partly helped by a lower height and the lighter chassis. The vehicle handles well on straights at high speeds and can go around corners better than what the exterior dimensions suggest. Great visibility all round ensures that driv-ing the Safari Storme is easy despite the large size. The heavy steering hardly offers any feedback and the brakes too feel spongy, limiting the ability to push the Safari in a predictable manner. Overall handling on the road is accept-able and the Safari Storme improves over its predecessor as a highway cruiser. The Storme continues to offer a great ride quality, a hallmark of Safari since begin-ning. Middle row passengers are mostly insulated from road undulations and the front seats too offer ample comfort. The twin-jump seats in the third-row though are best suited for kids or short trips. Off-road, the Safari Storme is a com-pletely different vehicle and feels com-pletely at home. With the 4x4 system and a high ground clearance of 200 mm, get-ting past obstacles is very easy. In fact the Safari Storme is so easy to drive off-road that even an amateur off-roader can manoeuvre it comfortably over rough ter-rains. While the Safari might not be a great handler on the road, it does hold on to its line a lot better than expected on gravel and loose surfaces. Even if over-steering, its easy to get the Storme back to a line with a gentle steering input. In its price and category, the Safari Storme is at par with the competition in terms of off-road performance. LITTLE BITS & OUTLOOKThe Safari Storme clearly shows a signifi-cant technology progression. Tata has made good use of the Aria platform to spawn the new Safari Storme, while retaining all positives the Safari is known for. This also means that the Storme uses interior bits from the Aria, which signifi-cantly improve the cabin quality. How-ever, the plastic quality in places such as centre console still requires improvement. Usage of in-mould graining (IMG) tech-nology is claimed to enhance the finish and durability of the interiors. The wooden finish in the interiors lives up to quality expectations and add signifi-cantly to the premium look. The company claims this has been possible due to usage of in-mould decoration (IMD) process, which makes a decorative film with thick-ness of a few microns within the injection moulding tool. This reduces the possibil-ity of the grain or pattern being warped. Some evident bits of cost-cutting have been implemented cleverly including the audio controls on the indicator stalk. While these may take some time getting used to, they function seamlessly. The Safari Storme is a good example of Tatas modular manufacturing and frugal engineering but the slightly revised exte-rior makes it hard to offer a convincing case of a new vehicle. Beyond the skin though, the Safari offers good perfor-mance in all areas. From an off-road per-spective it clearly has gone a step ahead over the older Safari. If looking for a com-fortable SUV with serious off-road skills, theres no other vehicle in the same price segment which betters the Safari Storme. The Safari Storme is competitively priced between ` 9.95 lakh and ` 12.37 lakh for the 2WD version and ` 13.66 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi for the 4x4 version. TEXT: Arpit MahendraPHOTO: Bharat Bhushan UpadhyayAria-based interiors look significantly better but panel gaps still need improvement Headlamps reflect Land Rover influence Elliptical exhaust offers a premium lookRead this article on www.autotechreview.com