Better-equipped, more refined and well-built, the new Storme is generations ahead of the old Safari

Ten entire months after it was unveiled at this year’s Auto Expo, Tata Motors has finally launched the new Safari Storme. When you see the car first, it doesn’t look new. The new nose and rear suggest that it’s nothing more than a facelift. But that impression remains only until you drive it. It feels better built, it’s more refined, rides well and the interior feels a generation ahead. This is a thoroughly re-engineered car.

In short, the styling is a strange mix of new and old bits. The most obvious changes are to the front, where the slim, wide grille (capped with a thick chrome strip) undercuts the sharp-looking headlights in a nice, stylistic touch. The mesh effect on the grille looks quite interesting too. However, the new nose is not in sync with the rest of the car. Move to the side and the Storme looks exactly like the old Safari.

The rear of the Storme has been smartened, and the big news is that the tailgate-mounted spare wheel has been moved under the floor. The tailgate now has a fat chrome strip running across it and is flanked by a new set of tail-lights that make the Storme’s rear look cleaner. The twin chrome-tipped exhausts and the grey plastic scuff guard add a sporty touch. Moving the spare under the floor has other advantages too. With less of a load on the tailgate, the rattling issue has now been resolved, say Tata engineers. However, it’s quite a chore to get the heavy spare wheel out if you have a puncture.

The Storme’s interiors come as a pleasant surprise. Almost nothing of the old car is visible inside, save for the instrument panel, and you can immediately feel the huge improvement in quality all around.

The design of the dash isn’t too radical, but the minimalism is neat and pleasing. The chrome door handles and leather seats add a touch of luxury, as do small touches like the chrome on the gearlever and the flock lining in the glovebox. The mock-wood bits look quite convincing too, and the beige trim and sand-coloured leather seats work well together. Of all the home-grown SUVs we have, the Storme’s cabin is possibly the best built.

The Safari has always been about seat comfort and the Storme is no exception. The front seats are large and very well bolstered, whilst the rear bench is supportive too. The Storme’s middle row is one of the most comfortable spots on four wheels thanks to a high ‘hip point’, good all-round visibility and generous cushioning.

Seating comfort

In stark contrast, the third row is far from comfortable or practical. The tiny, foldable jump seats are only useable on short journeys, at best. Other niggles include cup holders and cubby holes in the dash that are too shallow to be of much use, and the absence of a rear-view camera and audio controls on the steering wheel. You can, however, adjust the super-sounding Alpine audio system with a steering-mounted stalk. Another positive change is the 4x4 selector, which has been moved from the dashboard to the centre console between the seats.

The Safari Storme uses an updated version of the 138bhp DiCor motor, which Tata now calls VariCor, because of the use of a variable geometry turbo. This 2.2-litre common-rail, direct-injection motor, which was first developed in collaboration with AVL of Austria, uses double overhead cams, hydraulic valve adjusters and sixteen valves to breathe better.

Drive off in the Storme and the first thing that strikes you is the overall level of refinement. The engine is now much quieter throughout its rev range and the cabin feels particularly well insulated from the outside.

The good thing is that, despite all the extras the Storme comes with, its weight hasn’t increased. In fact, Tata engineers have managed to shave around 75kg off the old car thanks to a lighter chassis, but the Storme still tips the scales beyond two tonnes, which does blunt its performance.

This hulking SUV is a bit lethargic off the line, a result of its weight and lack of low-end torque. You need to keep the engine above 1800rpm, after which the Storme picks up the pace. The mid-range is quite punchy and cruising is quite effortless, which suits the Safari’s role as a long-distance cruiser. The motor also pulls strongly till around 4,000rpm, so once the car gets going, it has more than sufficient performance.

The clutch is reasonably light and the gearbox has been improved with shorter throws, but the shift still feels a bit soggy and vague.

What has improved dramatically is the Safari’s driving dynamics, and a lot of that is down to the brand-new underpinnings. The Storme sits on a shortened version of the Aria’s hydroformed X2 chassis and maintains the previous Safari’s 2650mm wheelbase. As a result, the Storme’s chassis is approximately 50 per cent stiffer and 35kg lighter than the old Safari frame.

Storme coasts over bumps and broken roads like a freight train, flattening out even the largest of potholes. The suspension soaks up everything that’s thrown at it with a rubber-footed silence that only adds to the sense of comfort. The rack and pinion steering system isn’t exactly precise and it still has an inconsistent feel about it, but it inspires a lot more confidence than the old Safari did and the wider track makes the Storme more surefooted than before. The Safari, however, is still too top-heavy and rolls at alarming angles. The brakes deliver more confidence and stopping power is better with disc brakes all around, but the brake pedal still feels spongy under hard braking.

The Storme retains the old Safari’s comprehensive four-wheel-drive system that includes a low range and a limited slip differential. The system allows to tackle medium to difficult sections.

Tata Motors has added value to the Safari Storme by making a few features like ABS, remote locking and an audio system with Bluetooth connectivity standard across the range. In fact, the Rs 9.95 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) that Tata is asking for the base Storme LX may be considerably more than the old LX, but the equipment is on par, if not better than, the old mid-level EX. The top-end VX versions (Rs 12.5 lakh for the 4x2) no longer get the reversing camera (there’s just parking sensors) or DVD player as they did before.

The Storme is generations ahead of the old Safari. We just wish Tata Motors had taken a few more pains to change and update the body.