In one corner, we have the freshly refreshed Tata Safari, in the other, we have Mahindra’s answer to the growing high-end SUV market, the XUV 500. It looks like we’re in for a great fight indeed. But before we get started though, let’s take a quick jog through the history of these brands.
The Safari is legitimately one of India’s first homegrown SUVs. Sure, there have been a few before it, but it is the first one aimed not at the rural customer, but the urban commuter who might come upon a broken path some day. And right from the word go, it was one of the most desirable cars on the market. Cut to the current scenario and the XUV seems to have slotted itself neatly into the position of being an object of desire. So, let’s get right into it and find out which of these behemoths reigns supreme on our turf!
The Safari is the newest of the bunch here, but looks wise, it’s a near-dead-ringer for the old one that set wheel to our roads way back in 1997. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because the Safari had the right proportions from the word go. Only one wishes more contemporary details were there though we like this design well enough. That famous spare wheel on the tailgate has now been relocated to under the body, so the car looks smaller visually now.
Moving onto the XUV, it takes everything most buyers want and combines it into one neat unit: a sleek aerodynamic shape, chrome embellishments here and there, LED running lights and all the right creases and curves. The XUV still turns heads, over a year after launch, and that’s quite a feat Mahindra has pulled off. Round 1 to XUV.
If the exteriors of the cars didn’t polarise your opinion on which you like, the interiors sure will. They both belong to two different camps of interior design. The Safari is understated, with just-necessary controls. The XUV, on the other hand, comes with all the bells and whistles, including mood lighting, LEDs everywhere, a big touchscreen audio system that doubles as the information system, the whole shebang. So, you either like it or you don’t, there’s generally no middle ground here. We’ll stay this round.
Coming to the performance, the Safari is lightly based on the Aria’s platform, which is a proper body-on-frame job, with the engine placed at the front powering the wheels at the back. In fact, the same engine from the Aria, the 2.2-litre diesel engine makes its way under the hood of the Safari, too. This engine makes use of a variable vane turbocharger, which means that there is much better response at the lower end of the rev range and doesn’t compromise on power up top either. This powertrain is a little on the noisy side, but you’ll not find it lacking at any point. There’s no lag and it really doesn’t run out of steam until you’re well into triple digit speeds. Of course, even at those speeds, you’re not going to be leaving the XUV behind, No sir!
These two cars are about as evenly matched as can be in the powertrain department. Even the XUV uses the services of a 2.2-litre diesel engine that makes about the same power as the Safari does (138 bhp) with the only difference being the addition of a sixth cog on the gearbox, which will help in long highway jaunts. There is one difference though, and it’s a fundamental one, the XUV is a front wheel driven car, one of the firsts for Mahindra, and that means that while performance is fantastic, there is a bit of torque steer when you’re on the power.
There have also been a few reports of the transmissions failing because of the high power output, but rest assured, Mahindra is working on it and if you choose to buy one, you will have some peace of mind because they aren’t going to leave you high and dry.
Ride and handling
That same fundamental difference in the cars’ drivetrain layouts makes a huge difference in the way the two cars ride and handle. We prefer the slightly more planted ride of the Safari over the super-soft XUV though. Mind you, in this company, saying planted doesn’t mean that it has a stiff ride, far from it, in fact. The Safari dives and rolls as you accelerate or change directions, but at the same time, it holds onto the road pretty well, giving you the confidence to take on the corners, even though your stomach may say otherwise.
The XUV rides phenomenally well, better than the Safari, even, but in doing so, it loses out a little in the handling department. As the speeds rise (and they certainly will, with that excellent engine under the hood), the car starts to wander a little and you don’t have quite as much confidence to corner at high speeds as much as you do in the Safari. For a city based commute though, it’s the one we’d go with. It will cocoon you with its ride and make you forget the state of the roads you drive on.
So, then, all said and done, which would we recommend? This is no easy decision, really. They’re both absolutely fantastic products, but cater to two opposite ends of the spectrum. The Safari is for those that don’t really care too much about telling the world what they have, instead taking pleasure in the things others can’t experience. The XUV offers both enjoyment and also a bit of show as well, if you’re into that sort of thing. For us, the XUV ticks most of the boxes. But the Safari is in its rearview mirror. As they say, objects in the rearview mirror are closer than you think.
Mahindra XUV 500
Price (ex-Delhi) Rs10.8-12.8 lakh onwards
Kitna deti hai? 15 kmpl in our test
Fuel tank: 60 litre
Full tank good for: Over 850 km
Engine: 2179cc, I-4, turbo-diesel
Power: 140 bhp@4000 rpm
Torque: 330 nm@1700 rpm
Suspension: Good for
family of 5: Yes
Dimensions in feet: L/W/H: 15.68/6.21/5.83
Tata Safari Storme
Price (ex-Delhi) Rs9.95 - 13.66 lakh
Kitna deti hai? 14 kmpl in our test
Fuel tank: 55 litre
Full tank good for: Over 750 km
Engine: 2179cc, I-4, turbo-diesel
Power: 138 bhp@4000 rpm
Torque: 320 nm@1700-2700 rpm
Suspension: Good for family of 5: Yes
Dimensions in feet: L/W/H: 15.3/6.44/6.3