Safari is Tata Engineering's answer to the Pajero, LandCruiser and Discovery.
Vivek Bhat provides tips on how owners can derive the best from this two-tonne
The Safari was launched in 1998 and marked the beginning of the sports
utility vehicle (SUV) segment, adding luxury to off-road capability. It
was India or rather Tata Engineering's answer to the Pajero, LandCruiser,
Discovery and their likes and the first SUV that actually came close to
being one. The Maruti Gypsy and the Tata Sierra, by definition, also fall
in the SUV segment but this brute has it to international standards.
What strikes you about the Safari first is its looks. The Safari, which
has no visual link to any other vehicle, breaks the traditional Tata Engineering
mould of rectangular, boxy looks and sports a more rounded and contemporary
look. The styling is not exactly sensational but very contemporary and
fresh, designed to please everyone. The frontal section is dominated by
a large rectangular, wraparound headlamp cluster, which straddles a small
horizontal grille. The bonded front windscreen, flush with the roof and
the A-pillars, give the Safari an aerodynamic look. Seen from the side,
the Safari's enormous length is obvious. The rear section with the shorter
fixed glass between the C and D pillars seems out of sync with the rest
of the greenhouse. Nevertheless, the flanks have been livened up with
smart propylene cladding. The chunky bumpers and aggressive-looking Kumho
rubber embellish the Safari's rugged looks.
The 1948cc engine is
the turbo-charged version of the engine that powers the Sierra, Sumo and
Estate. It also does duty in the Sierra Turbo, where it provides enough
motivation given the vehicle's 1600kg kerb weight. However, in the two-tonne
Safari it feels slightly underpowered but does a good job. The turbo-charger
used in the Safari's engine is slightly different to the one used in the
Sierra Turbo, though the output is an identical 90bhp.
Earlier engines had a problem of erratic idling, which was taken care
of by making suitable changes to the fuel injection pump settings.
The clutch is of the
diaphragm type, operated hydraulically. A four-wheel-drive option is also
available in the Safari. The gearbox in the earlier versions had a problem
of the gear lever jumping into neutral and necessitated replacing of the
complete gearbox on many vehicles. The problem was pinned down to the
shifting mechanism, which was solved by changing the tolerances in the
The clutch is quite stiff and requires relatively high pedal pressure
to operate. There is a set of components (bracket, clutch disc and cover)
available which modifies the clutch suitably to greatly reduce pedal pressure
and yet give good clutch performance. Current Safaris come with this clutch
setup, making it softer in operation. However, for trouble-free service,
owners could consider an imported clutch plate assembly.
The Safari comes with
a rugged suspension designed to take the rough terrain that a SUV is likely
to encounter. It employs a double wishbone torsion bar front suspension
with stabiliser bars and a five-link live axle at the rear. The suspension
components usually last for about 80,000km. The front suspension replacement
bushes, however, had problems of a low shelf life, which affected their
life when fitted on the vehicle. The ball joints on the double wishbones
had a tendency to make a certain noise on full turns and the ball joint
design was changed to take care of the problem.
The Safari comes with
optional four-wheel drive, which can be engaged on-the-fly via a switch
on the centre console. Early models had problems of the motor engaging
four-wheel-drive failing, due to water entering it. This has been taken
care of by suitable modifications to the rubber gaskets between the joints.
When driving in four-wheel-drive mode, never make the mistake of fitting
tyres with dissimilar rolling circumferences to either side of the vehicle.
If you do, when you engage four-wheel drive, the first time you go into
a turn, the vehicle will suffer from wind-up. The front and rear wheels
are in opposition to each other and the vehicle will feel as if you have
braked. In extreme cases the wheels lock up and even disengaging the four-wheel
drive has to be forced.
The steering is the
recirculating box-type with power assistance. The steering box is mounted
on the chassis long member and the motion transferred to the wheels by
a drag link, tie-rods and ball joints. The fluid level should be checked
at every service as well as checking all the hoses and connections for
any oil leakage. The tie-rod ends should also be checked at every service
The brakes are vacuum
assisted, with discs in front and drums at the rear. The brakes are quite
effective and do a good job of hauling down the heavy vehicle from high
speeds. They have to be checked regularly for brake pad wear. The ideal
time to do so is during vehicle service time. If the brake pad lining
is observed to be a millimetre or two from the metal back of the pad,
they should be replaced. The rear brake shoes last much longer and require
much less attention. Make sure that the handbrake cable operates freely
and does not jam - this is the only other check that needs to be carried
out. Also, the handbrake cable should be lubricated from time to time
to ensure smooth operation. Also, always use the correct recommended grade
of DOT brake fluid.
The Safari body holds
up well to the rigours of off-road travel, though the interior trim tends
to rattle after a little while. The electrics in the earlier vehicles
used to pose a problem, with the fuses of the AC blowing quite often.
The problem was the connections under the fuse box and a minor change
to the connectors did away with the problem.
Front suspension bush
Electrical problems: fuses blowing.
4x4 cannot be engaged or disengaged in some cases.
A tip - wheels need to be kept in proper alignment if premature tyre wear
is to be avoided and good steering control is to be maintained.