Fleet News

Tata Safari

Review

##tatasa.jpg --Right##TATA, the Indian car maker best known for its Loadbeta budget-priced pick-up, is to target local authorities, utility companies and emergency services with the Safari, a rugged 4x4 which launches in the UK this month.

It is already meeting with some success. The off-roader is being assessed by North Humberside police and by the Hereford & Worcester Fire Service. Other potential customers include Warwickshire Fire Service, which already has Loadbeta double-cabs on its fleet.

The Safari offers a similar sales proposition to Loadbeta, value for money and an excellent level of standard equipment - factors which are likely to influence local authority fleet managers on a 'best value' drive. But there the similarity ends and the Safari should do much to enhance the reputation of Tata as it seeks to build market share in Europe. The 4x4 is the first Tata to be developed and engineered for the European market and it would be a mistake to dismiss it as a cheap off-roader from a third-world car maker.

Priced at £14,995 on-the-road, the Safari is certainly cheap but it is also well equipped and drives well, both on and off-road. Air conditioning, electric windows and a three-year/60,000-mile warranty are included.

The vehicle was styled by IAD, the Worthing-based consultancy which is now part of Mayflower, and certainly looks the business. Final engineering was done by Tata's own research and development centre in India.

Ian Maggs, national sales manager for MVI, which took over the Tata franchise for the UK in December, admits the company has a brand building exercise to do to get the vehicle accepted. He thinks Safari will appeal to people who have always wanted an off-road vehicle but never really been able to afford it.

'People who buy the Safari will not be brand snobs,' he said. 'They will be interested in what the car can do and what it costs; not what it's called or who made it.'

The Safari is a full-sized, five-door 4x4 based on a ladder chassis with independent, double wishbone front suspension and and a coil sprung rear axle. Ground clearance is 205mm and a limited slip differential is standard.

The electronically-controlled four-wheel drive, developed in conjunction with Borg Warner, is switchable from two-wheel to four-wheel on the move at speeds up to 40mph. Selecting low ratio four-wheel drive means stopping first, but it is achieved easily by another flick of the switch and the front hubs lock automatically.

The Safari has a long wheelbase (2,650mm within an overall length of 4,800mm) which offers it a number of advantages. The interior is extremely spacious - fold-out seats in the rear allow seating for up to seven people; it can tackle slopes up to 30 degrees and it rides and handles surprisingly smoothly both on and off-road.

The 1.9-litre turbodiesel engine is based on Peugeot's well-proven XUD unit and develops 89bhp at 4,300rpm, with maximum torque of 146 lb-ft at 2,500rpm. It struggles to pull a vehicle which weighs 2,040kg unladen and that is reflected in the performance figures - top speed is only 90mph and 0-60mph takes 19 seconds.

Fuel consumption is correspondingly poor for a 1.9-litre at 30.4mpg on the combined cycle, and fleet managers will have to think hard about the CO2 figure - at 300 g/km one of the highest in the sector. Tata executives say a more economical engine, which will pass Euro 3 regulations, is on its way.

Meanwhile, company car drivers will be lumped into the 35% tax bracket after 2002 as the Safari is well into the top rate which cuts in over 265 g/km. To be fair, it's a fate shared with similar vehicles such as Mitsubishi Shogun Sport GLS (292g/km), Isuzu Trooper (278g/km) and Toyota Land Cruiser (287g/km).

The other area of disappointment is the dashboard. While interior trim and overall design is good, the minor switchgear looks and feels crude in comparison to the rest of the vehicle. It should be possible for Tata to raid the parts bin of a larger car maker to get something better.

Early next year Tata will launch its Indica small hatchback on to the UK market. In that context the Safari is just the first step on a long road - but it is certainly one which other non-prestige 4x4 manufacturers should take seriously.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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