2023 Tata Safari facelift first drive review

The Tata Safari facelift gets snazzier exteriors, more tech-heavy interiors, and improved dynamics courtesy of an electric power steering. Are these updates enough to propel it to the top of its segment now? Let's find out
2023 Tata Safari facelift gets a bigger grille
2023 Tata Safari facelift gets a bigger grille Shot by Abhishek Benny for evo India

Tata Motors had quite a task at hand while developing the second-generation Safari four years ago. Not only did it have to justify the legendary name tag with rugged looks, exceptional ride comfort and also be super capable, but it would also have to take on two competent rivals, the MG Hector Plus and the Mahindra XUV500. Now, the list of rivals has grown, with vehicles like the Mahindra XUV700, Toyota Innova HyCross, Kia Carens, and Hyundai Alcazar bringing their A-game, and the Safari, which has remained relatively unchanged since its beginning, has begun to feel a little antiquated in this company.

With this comprehensive 2023 facelift though, Tata intends to bring the Safari back into the game with sharpened styling, more tech and also a much-needed mechanical update — electric steering wheel. Let's see how it performs.

2023 Tata Safari facelift styling

Both the Safari and the Harrier facelifts have received a refreshed exterior, but this time around it's a lot easier to differentiate between the two. From afar the front of both SUVs might look identical, but closer inspection reveals a slightly different story. Both get a bigger parametric grille, but the Safari gets body coloured inserts in it and a brushed silver lip lower down on the front bumper. On the Harrier, both the grille and the lip are all-black which make it look more youthful, whereas the Safari is going for a more grown-up, executive, vibe. However, I would like to draw attention to the fact that there is definitely room for improvement in the way the body-coloured inserts on the grille are finished. The paint on our test vehicle had already begun to chip.

There are a few similarities between the two, the most identifiable of them is the full-width LED light bar connecting the DRLs. The next one are vertically stacked LED headlights, with the Safari getting a chrome inlay in them with 'Safari' badging. There's also an air vent under the headlight pods on either side to aid aerodynamics and cooling of brakes. The new Safari gets the option of 19-inch alloy wheels on its top-end trims. We saw this wheel design on the Sierra concept first and now it's in production on the Safari. And I have to say it's a really good looking wheel.

In profile, the SUV now features 'Safari' badging in the front doors and chrome door handle and window trim treatment. The tail section is revised and now boasts a full-width LED light bar connecting the wraparound tail lights. And just like the front, there's also a brushed silver skid plate adorning its rear.

Overall the new Safari looks more grown-up compared to the Harrier and that differentiation was important between the two brands, which Tata Motors had executed very cleanly.

2023 Tata Safari facelift rear 3/4th
2023 Tata Safari facelift rear 3/4thShot by Abhishek Benny for evo India

2023 Tata Safari facelift interior and features

The pre-facelift Safari Red Dark edition pioneered Tata's new 13.2-inch infotainment system and it was a big step up on the archaic, smaller infotainment touchscreen the Safari made its debut with. But it still had its problems — it was laggy and didn't respond to fast touches well. That has been taken care of on the 2023 Safari facelift. It's now highly responsive and very intuitive to use.

Taking centre stage on the dashboard of the new Safari, is a new capacitive touch panel which controls the air-con settings, fog lights, the new electric tail gate and 360-degree camera system. There's also a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster which displays a lot of information, even Google Maps. It's a little better than the one on the new Harrier, because it has bigger fonts and is therefore easier to read.

But the biggest change to the new Safari's interior is Tata's new four spoke digital steering wheel. It's bigger than the one we saw on the Nexon facelift and features an illuminated Tata logo in the centre. Flanking the centre digital pad are touch buttons to control your adaptive cruise and even audio volume. These buttons are nice to use but don't feel very high quality. They could do with a more tactile feel and better damping. If you opt for the automatic transmission, you also get paddle shifters behind this wheel, which also feel very cheap. Moreover, there's also a big problem with the way they function, more on that later.

There is a wireless charger, but the Safari also has a 45W Type-C USB port, which allows for fast charging of your devices via cable, as well as a Type-A port on the front. A panoramic sunroof with mood lighting, six-way electric driver's seat, four-way electric front passenger seat, front seat coolers, and configurable mood light are among the other features. But wait there's more, the Safari also gets front and rear parking sensors, 360-degree cameras, automated headlights, rain-sensing wipers and, of course, the new electric tailboard with gesture control.

You can opt for the ultra-comfy captain seats, which offer ventilation, on the second row of the Safari. Sure, they make it a six-seater, but if you want the ultimate chauffeur driven experience in this SUV, they're a no-brainer. Just like the Harrier, the rear headrests here get movable extension which aids comfort when you're taking a nap. The third row of the Safari gets a Type-C and a Type-A USB port, bespoke AC blower controls and vents. But just like before, it is better suited for kids and short adults due to the lack of knee room and under thigh support.

On the safety front this SUV gets seven airbags (even a knee airbag at the front, which is a first for this segment) as standard, ABS, ESP, a tyre pressure monitoring system and a whole host of ADAS features from the Red Dark edition like lane keep assist, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, rear traffic cross alert and the new addition of adaptive cruise control with stop and go.

2023 Tata Safari facelift steering and dynamics

The only mechanical, and a much needed, change to the new Safari is the new Electric Power Assisted Steering (EPAS). This system has done wonders to the way this SUV drives by completely changing its dynamics. The previous hydraulic unit felt too heavy at city speeds and too light at highway speeds. And because of those factors, it required all your attention when driving at higher speeds. Even with the slightest of undulations or imperfections on the road, the steering used to wander all over the place. But not anymore. The EPAS system eliminates all the steering kickbacks. It is light and makes a significant difference to the way the Safari now feels to drive both, in the city and on the highways. Sure, it lacks the outright feel a hydraulic unit gives you, but it is much more direct and that helps you to place the vehicle exactly where you want it to be.

The Safari is bigger and heavier than the Harrier and the way it can tackle corners now, with the EPAS, is even more impressive than its younger sibling. You can have a really good time behind its wheel. As expected, there is body roll, but it is very nicely controlled. The larger 245-section tyres (with these 19-inch wheels) provide excellent grip and allow you to take a corner a lot faster than you'd expect in an SUV this huge.

Nothing has changed in terms of the suspension because that was one area which didn't require tweaking at all. The Safari continues to be just as comfy and feel just as robust as before. The strong underpinnings and sorted suspension allows you to hammer down rough roads and keeps the SUV stable at triple digit speeds. Even with the bigger 19-inch wheels, it does a good job of ironing out the numerous potholes our country's roads are plagued with.

2023 Tata Safari facelift 19-inch alloys
2023 Tata Safari facelift 19-inch alloys

2023 Tata Safari continues to get diesel power

Both the Safari and Harrier will get the option of a 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine in a couple of years, but for now the SUVs continue with diesel power. The tried and tested two-litre turbo-diesel engine producing 168bhp and 350Nm is retained on the facelifts. It's a powerhouse. Even on the heavier Safari, it never skips a beat. There's a good amount of low-end and mid-range grunt which ensures overtakes are a walk in the park, even when the SUV is fully loaded. For a diesel mill, it's fairly refined too. It is audible at higher revs, but doesn't pass on a lot of vibrations to the cabin or the steering wheel.

You have the option to choose between the six-speed manual or the six-speed torque converter automatic with this engine and what I sampled was the latter. This Hyundai sourced gearbox suits the character of the Safari a lot better than the manual. Tata Motors is also offering paddle shifters with this gearbox now but they are a big let down. They don't feel good to touch and seem to have a mind of their own. For starters, you can use them only in the 'Sport' mode. If you're driving in City mode and use either paddle, the Sport mode gets activated automatically, with an annoying voice prompt announcing that you've just switched and switches back to city mode after a while. But even when you're in the Sport mode, you don't get full control over the gearbox in manual mode. It doesn't let you shift under 1500rpm, or in some instances even under 2000rpm, and doesn't upshift at the redline. That beats the whole purpose of having them in the first place. This also means that efficiency will be ever so marginally affected if the car keeps defaulting to sport every time you use the paddle shifters. Another big niggle was the fact that the left and the right paddle had an inconsistent feel. One felt tactile while the other felt squishy.

2023 Tata Safari facelift engine
2023 Tata Safari facelift engine

2023 Tata Safari facelift verdict and price

The new Safari retains all the strong points of the pre-facelift model and grows on it. It is just as comfy and feels just as robust as before. It is now better than ever. It looks more modern, is a technological tour de force on the inside and with the electric steering has become an even better handler. But just like the Harrier, there are a few areas where it needs improvement, particularly in terms of overall fit and finish.

Things like the paint finishing on the grille, the finish around the gear lever was poor and the electric tailgate stopped working due to heavy usage. I’m sure all this will get sorted out in the days to come, but it should have been sorted out right at the start.

The Safari has always been priced aggressively and this facelift won't be an anomaly. Sure, it will demand a little premium over the pre-facelift model, but even then it will continue to be a good value for money product. The Tata Harrier and Tata Safari facelift prices will be announced on October 17, 2023. So stay tuned to evoindia.com and @evoindia on Instagram for our thoughts and analysis on the pricing as soon as it is out.

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