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Old 24th July 2007, 08:51   #1
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Default Safari EX 4x4 5000 km Review and Impressions

My search for a new car started long ago in 2005. With four laning of roads, opportunity for long highway drives on the horizon and my wanderlust necessitated a highway cruiser. A list of requirements was made up in my mind.

Requirements:

Comfortable ride and ability to soak up potholes with relative ease
A good driving position for the long highway drives
Good rear-seat comfort
Value for Money
Preferences:
Seating for 4 or 5 but more preferred for occasional family get togethers
4x4 for estate runs/ stream crossings

Budget:

A Toyota Fortuner at Rs.15L would have been VFM but I wasn't keen on spending anything more.
Toyota Innova and the old TCIC Tata Safari made my list in 2005. Since the Innova is not a 4x4, I was leaning towards the TCIC Safari.

Dilemma:

The TCIC Safari was not only underpowered but had a reputation of being a lemon. And family members started telling me that we didn't really need a "big" vehicle. Being out of the country for long periods, all sorts of Sedans/ Vans were considered over a 1 year period. (e.g Versa, Esteem, Baleno, Petra). Then lo and behold, TATA introduced the DICOR Safari. I didn't think the newer Safari was worth what TATA were asking for. I really wished Toyota would bring in the Fortuner, but as time went by, it became apparent the Fortuner is not going to make it to India. Then came the news of the 2.2L Safari just about the time when I joined Team-BHP. I wanted to wait for it and considered Esteem, Baleno and Petra as a stop gap. On further research and visits to the showroom etc. Esteem and Baleno would have been ok, but the heart refused to accept what the mind was saying. Petra however won over both the heart and mind, but, the attitude of the TVS dealer down south whom we had experienced earlier, made us to run away from FIAT. Petra would have been one vehicle I would have loved to have not just as a stop gap, but alas, that was not to be. Once it was very clear after the end of last year that there wasn't going to be 2.2L DICOR anytime soon, both the mind and the heart agreed to go for the 3L DICOR in Pearl White. The EX 4x4 was deemed to be adequate as I didn't want leather or DVD. I actually bought a portable two screen players so that kids in the rear can enjoy their own movies and games when I listen to my music up front. The only feature I would've liked from the VX (besides the whole body paint and ABS) was the rear view camera. But TATA's implementation didn't attract me that much. The cam needs a larger display perhaps with some sort of distance grid overlay too.

Dealership:

I contacted many dealerships in Tamil Nadu. Two dealerships (Concorde in Madras and Kumaran Automobiles in Nagercoil) were very responsive to my queries. I decided to go with Kumaran because they were closer. The Sales Manager who I dealt with was simply awsome. He delivered the vehicle and everything (discount etc.) that was promised (except the VX grill, but I wasn't too keen on that anyway) on time. It all started with bringing even the test drive vehicle on time. I was pleased with the customer service and responsiveness of this dealer although this is a smaller dealership. The car was delivered in good condition with less than 50km on the odo.

Accessories and Upgrades:

Painted cladding to body color pearl white
Window tint only for the second and third row windows and the rear wind shield
A crash guard (aka bull bar - by Gold Sun)
PIAA 520 series driving light and Headlight upgraded to 130/100(?) with relays etc.
Roots Vibrasonic Horn extra
An aluminum luggage carrier that was promptly removed (I must say it did match the car, but we didn't need it, but perhaps in the future)

Caveats:

Since I spend more time in the US than in India, my expectations perhaps are a little different. But, for the money we pay, I expect our Indian cars to be of International Quality anyway.
Let me also be clear here. The 3L Safari is by no means a fast vehicle. It takes 18-21s to go from 0-100kmph. A car like this would be a strict No-No in the US. I look for sub 9 seconds 0-100kmph (0-60mph) for safe and comfortable highway merging. However, a big deal was made in some magazines about the small engine rpm range and power band etc., that was never ever a problem for me with the Safari. Although I drive faster than a large number of people, I like smooth transitions and when I go fast, I make every effort to stay there. For my driving style I found the Safari to be perfect with its large moment of Inertia. For the same ride comfort level, the Safari can do atleast 10-20 kmph more than smaller cars over typical roads.

Disappointments:
  • For a Rs.10L car, the fit and finish of the Safari is not on par with a 10 year old car in the US. The Visors are made of cheap plastic which reminded me of a rental Dodge Neon that I had few years ago. I will say this though. Not all plastics are cheap looking. The panel gaps are big, but I have seen worse US cars.
  • Cladding. Why do we need a cladding on this car? A strip moulding or something would have been perfect. I wanted to paint the cladding gold initially to have a pearl white/ gold combo, but the cladding comes up so high over the rear wheel well I decided to go all Pearl White.
  • The A/C is weak. Not only we need at least two more fan speeds, the front vents don't have a lot of range. Hard to adjust the direction of flow. Rear A/C is a must which the EX comes with.
  • The "tilt" of the steering wheel is a joke. Awfully small range. The feel of the wheel itself is super, but it obstructs some portion of the Instrument Panel.
  • The clutch pedal travel is huge compared to other cars I have driven and Was pretty difficult in the beginning. Unfortunately, half clutch is still half clutch with the travel it has. Lots of discomfort moving my heel completely off the floor initially.
  • This is a major gripe. I didn't realize fully that there is no slip in the drive line even on 4HI mode. When there is no slip, one can't really use the 4x4 on the tarmac. I wish TATA had given us some slip on 4HI and no slip on 4LO. I don't think its too much to ask. When it rains on the mountain twisties, it would have been advantageous to have 4HI with some slip. Anyway, such is life.
Advantages:

One word to describe it: COMFORT! The rear seat comfort is unequalled. The Toyota 4Runners and Ford Explorers of the world can't match the rear seat comfort of Safari.

I expected more Vibration/ Noise from the 3L Dicor engine, but I was amazingly surprised. Petrol cars will obviously be better however in this category. Noise doesn't protrude the cabin at cruising speeds either, although there is some significant wind noise beyond 100 kmph that gets progressively worse.

The high stance of the car and multiple adjustments of the driver seat are very helpful. I drove for 17 hours continuousy with minimal breaks and I could've driven for another 10 hours or so without much difficulty or fatigue. The steering is boosted by the right amount.

The four wheel drive (4LO) came in handy when I had to turn around on a gravelly estate road. The car wasn't moving on 4HI, but with one turn of the switch to 4LO, I got out of dodge with no difficulty.

Safari remains stable even at high speeds. The weight and weight distribution of the vehilce has something to do with it.
Decent fuel economy for a vehicle of this size. Over 5000 km, the average hovered around 11 kmpl (10.83 to be exact).

Huge Luggage Space even with the jump seats open for kids. I am told it does get a little bumpy at the rear where the jump seats are.
Although not very much true in Kerala and in some cities, people do move out of the way when they see the Safari coming. It has massive road presence.

Run In (first 2000 kms):

I took the vehicle all over Tamil Nadu and Kerala during the run-in period. On most highways cruised around 110 kmph but was careful not to exceed ~2000rpm. Consisted of a trip from TN to Kerala and then from Kerala to Madras. From Madras a drive along the east coast to Tharangambadi/ Thanjavur/ Trichy and back down south. Halfway through the trip I guess the run in was over. However got two flat tyres due to nails. My alloy wheels got beaten up by uneducated grease monkeys who pretended that they had the right equipment when they actually didn't. It turns out that the dealerships recommend 30PSI tyre pressure all around. The manual however recommends 32PSI in the front and 35PSI in the rear. There was a little rattle coming from inside the dash board during this trip which I chose to ignore. Besides the problem with the flat tyres everything worked beautifully. The ride was amazing to say the least.
One problem I faced during this trip: I didn't have my driving lights fitted at the time and I felt the 60/55 headlights were inadequate not on undivided highways, but on the divided highways. The windshield scattered oncoming light significantly and I had difficulty, perhaps because I had put the headlights at the wrong level. The lo-beams have a very sharp cut-off like the projector lamps and I am still surprised about them. So, it seemed to me either the cutoff remained so high or so low it was hard to adjust. With the 130/100 (or is it 130/110), this improved only slightly and I still felt that the wind shield was scattering lights coming from the opposite direction mainly on divided highways. But, the driving lights (85W ion crystal driving pattern) filled the void. I have not faced this difficulty in any of the other vehicles I have driven.
I also found the horn was inadequate to move people at times. So, went for Roots Vibrasonic. Should've gotten the Stebel Nautilus Airhorn, but hey, I don't want to pollute more than what is necessary. Even this Vibrasonic is so loud, I might go deaf if I am forced to use it on a regular basis!

Next 3000 kms:

The next 3000kms saw me driving around Tirunelveli - Kottayam - Coimbatore - Ooty - Madurai - Tirunelveli and small trips from Kottayam to Thekkadi and Kottayam to Wagamon. Safari handled beautifully along the twisties and I never felt the engine struggle. I could easily do some of my climb from Mettupalayam Ooty in the 3rd. However, it did feel a little sluggish compared to a small petrol car.
No problems during the drive at all. Came back gave the car for oil change/ first service in Tirunelveli and the Tata service here is not that great. Cost of oil change about Rs.1000. They also did an alignment check etc. Took the car to Nagercoil and got the rattle from the dash taken care of. The service people at that time found a problem with the starter motor and replaced it.
Got to use the four wheel drive in one of the estate roads. Felt that the clutch oil buring smell was coming in the four wheel drive mode, but the service fellows checked out everything and pronounced A-ok. On the way to the 5000km service the A/C conked out. This was traced to improper tightening of the compressor belt that had caused a blown fuse.

Suggestions for TATA:

Get rid of the convex mirror on the driver side and give a regular flat mirror.
Make ABS optional on all trims
Give traction control and perhaps a tyre pressure monitoring system
Give us real aluminum finish for the dash. Its easier to clean. Atleast fake plastic wood. Even the VX finish is yucky!
A wood/leather multifunction steering wheel.

Queries:

I do hear some faint noise pressing the clutch when the car is running and in neutral. Does any one else hear this? I have never heard similar noise in any of the cars I have owned, but the service guys say this is not a problem.
What is the real tyre pressure to use? I am somewhat concerned about the obvious differences between dealer recommendation and the manual. The SUVs in the US most of them recommend 35PSI all around and most of them are lighter than the Safari.

The Picture

The roots vibrasonic was installed between the PIAAs (not in the Picture).


Shot at 2007-07-23

Last edited by Samurai : 25th July 2007 at 07:38. Reason: Image too big, keep it within 800 pixel horizontally
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Old 24th July 2007, 10:34   #2
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The U, Your review is spot-on!

Last edited by Samurai : 25th July 2007 at 14:39. Reason: No need to quote a huge section of the post.
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Old 24th July 2007, 11:38   #3
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Quote:
both the mind and the heart agreed to go for the 3L DICOR in Pearl White. The EX 4x4 was deemed to be adequate as I didn't want leather or DVD.
Good choice of variant and colour

Quote:
Window tint only for the second and third row windows and the rear wind shield
Does this not affect the defogger?

Quote:
A crash guard (aka bull bar - by Gold Sun)
Please take this off.

Quote:
For the same ride comfort level, the Safari can do atleast 10-20 kmph more than smaller cars over typical roads.
Yes, and on bad roads, you don't have to slow down that much.

Quote:
The A/C is weak. Not only we need at least two more fan speeds, the front vents don't have a lot of range. Hard to adjust the direction of flow. Rear A/C is a must which the EX comes with.
Never felt this actually. I use the rear A/C only when I have rear seat passengers. Level 2 has been more than adequate for daytime runs.

Quote:
The high stance of the car and multiple adjustments of the driver seat are very helpful. I drove for 17 hours continuousy with minimal breaks and I could've driven for another 10 hours or so without much difficulty or fatigue. The steering is boosted by the right amount.
Absolutely agree. You'll also find yourself immediately comfortable in the driver's seat with the possible exception of the clutch pedal travel.

Quote:
Decent fuel economy for a vehicle of this size. Over 5000 km, the average hovered around 11 kmpl (10.83 to be exact).
The FE depends to a large extent on the way it is driven. In the city, I hardly go to 4th gear and the FE hovers around 9.5 (the A/C is always on) and on the highway, tacho planted at 2000 rpm in 5th, it returns ~14 kpl.

Quote:
I do hear some faint noise pressing the clutch when the car is running and in neutral. Does any one else hear this? I have never heard similar noise in any of the cars I have owned, but the service guys say this is not a problem.
Never heard this noise as you describe it but have heard the power steering pump hiss on full lock.

Quote:
What is the real tyre pressure to use? I am somewhat concerned about the obvious differences between dealer recommendation and the manual.
I stick to 32 PSI in front and 35 PSI for the rear and the spare.

Nice review. You haven't mentioned anything about the tyres but if you're on Bridgestone Duelers, watch out for some aquaplaning on really wet patches. Nothing uncontrollable but something to be aware of.

An update on my Pearl White EX 4x4: The 3rd service (15000 km) is due next week. My beast is 6 months old today and has 14750 km on the odo. What can I say - I'm one happy Safari owner.
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Old 24th July 2007, 11:56   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by THE-U- View Post
M
I do hear some faint noise pressing the clutch when the car is running and in neutral. Does any one else hear this? I have never heard similar noise in any of the cars I have owned, but the service guys say this is not a problem.
It used to come in my uncles safari too. The workshop guys said no problem, when we insisted the checked it and found that the AC condenser fan was touching some wires slightly. It so happened that this noise used to be there when vibrations changed while clutch depression.
Its a design flaw, wires running so close to AC condenser system.
It gets fixed quickly by twisting the wires and tucking them away.
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Old 24th July 2007, 12:12   #5
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A very well presented report, keep us updated as the Kms clicks on.

Quote:
Originally Posted by THE-U- View Post
Disappointments:
  • For a Rs.10L car, the fit and finish of the Safari is not on par with a 10 year old car in the US. The Visors are made of cheap plastic which reminded me of a rental Dodge Neon that I had few years ago. I will say this though. Not all plastics are cheap looking. The panel gaps are big, but I have seen worse US cars.
I wonder why they dont improve the plastics in their vehicles when their own subsidiary TACO has a good customer base to which they supply the plastic parts including Honda, Toyota, Ford and Hyundai (see attchmt here). I think its a matter of willingness and enlightment .
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Old 24th July 2007, 13:46   #6
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Very good report. How about adding few more pics of the beast..
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Old 24th July 2007, 13:51   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by THE-U- View Post
For the same ride comfort level, the Safari can do atleast 10-20 kmph more than smaller cars over typical roads.
Agreed - this is the real reason why this is such a fast vehicle. The 0 - 100 times are meaningless unless you're into traffic light GPs, but if you're into those you shouldnt be in an SUV to begin with.

On regular highways it is able to maintain the speed advantage you mentioned over 'faster' cars.


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Originally Posted by THE-U- View Post
[*]The A/C is weak. Not only we need at least two more fan speeds, the front vents don't have a lot of range. Hard to adjust the direction of flow. Rear A/C is a must which the EX comes with.
Thank you! Everyone else here seems to think the A/c is more than adequate, but I've always felt the throw of the front a/c vents is not sufficient given the volume they need to ventilate.

I've decided that the lack of throw in front is on account of those stupid floor level rear ducts - that long ducting must be taking away quite a bit of ventilation. Hence I'm about to get those blocked from the dash level itself - that should improve front ventilation quite a bit.

Quote:
Originally Posted by THE-U- View Post
What is the real tyre pressure to use? I am somewhat concerned about the obvious differences between dealer recommendation and the manual. The SUVs in the US most of them recommend 35PSI all around and most of them are lighter than the Safari.
My Michelin tyre dealer recommends 28 all round!!!! So I compromised and settled on 30 all round, and it does make a huge difference from the 32 / 36 recommended by the company.
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Old 24th July 2007, 19:50   #8
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Thank you all for your comments, Su-47, dicorex4x4, tsk, dadu, Vikram and Steer.

Now about the bullbar: Its not my first choice, but I don't think I can mount the PIAAs and the Roots Vibrasonic elsewhere. I certainly don't want to drill holes on my bumper. Its funny though, I really used the bull bar to nudge some bulls on two occasions - one during my trip from Kottayam to Thekkadi and the other in Tamil Nadu, places where they have this markets for Livestock (mainly bulls though).

Su-47, as Steer mentioned I feel the a/c is weak. I don't think its just due to the Madras heat. I needed to use the highest fan speed on couple of occasions to keep cool. I have never ever needed more than fan speed #2 in the many cars I have driven at higher temperatures outside than what Madras will ever see. Of course one needs to start off with higher fan speeds. May be the glasses are not insulated well enough too.

Dicorex4x4, I don't think the film affects the defogger on the rear wind shield although I wouldn't bet on it. Seen a lot of cars all over the world with film on the defogger.

Tsk, thanks for the info on the noise. I will get it checked out. It is a faint noise so I didn't to push the service guys too much.

Steer, thanks for the info on the tyre pressure. 28PSI sounds too low! The dealers recommend 30PSI apparently for ride comfort. In Tata's case, perhaps one should trust the dealer more than the manual. They still had some stuff about the pencil beam driving light in the manual which is obviously from the previous generation Safari.

A few additional things I missed in my first post:

I was looking for the smoke problem, but generally it has been minimal. I noticed the black smoke very rarely and its not too dense.

Surprisingly, the vehicle lacked the typical diesel smell. I smelt sulphur more than the diesel. Even the Mercedes Benz E320 CDIs smell diesel, there is no mistaking it. Perhaps due to the fuel quality - more sulphur?

The space around the ignition key cylinder got me a couple of times. TATA should have a better finish here.

Otherwise, this is one comfortable VFM car. It really shines on the highways, although its certainly not bad in the cities either.
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Old 25th July 2007, 05:27   #9
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congrats THE-U! (by the way how did you come up with that name?)

1.a bull bar will transfer any harsh impact directly onto the chassis and prevent the bumpers from absorbing the shock first (which is what the bumpers are designed for).may also affect crumple zones on the car and deployment of airbags (not applicable to the EX).
if you must have one for the addititional headlamps try a cosmetic and lighter bull bar like a 'carryboy'.

2.the a/c sadly is not a chiller.tata needs to work this out.its a big car.the fan is dismal.makes more noise than the 3.0 engine!
they need to redesign the vents and change to circular ones for better throw.the vents on the door trims hardly spew out any air.the rear foot vents should have an independent fan setting.(the roof a/c is a life saver.)

3.if you have stock bridgestone duellers try F:32 R:34 if single driven.F:32 R:36 if fully laden.

4.the ABS and EBD on the safari is a rib tickler.nothing like what you're expecting bro.(suman is gonna torch me if he reads this .)
its only a tad better than the brakes you have on the EX that too only on tarmac.on gravel and loose rocks one has to have a behind made of steel to use them.
tata should give an over ride switch to choose between ABS and regular braking.

5.hope you're using system D along with your regular diesel.next time you take it to TASS ask them to check the fuel sedimenter.
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Old 25th July 2007, 12:36   #10
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Very nice review The U

Safari in white really stands out.

Quote:
tata should give an over ride switch to choose between ABS and regular braking.
LOL that is not possible buddy.

Quote:
I don't think the film affects the defogger on the rear wind shield although I wouldn't bet on it.
The film doesnot affect the defogger at all, i can assure you that.
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Old 25th July 2007, 13:49   #11
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Hey, nice review, good to see that you're enjoying the experience. I second the advice from various people about removing the bullbars

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4.the ABS and EBD on the safari is a rib tickler.nothing like what you're expecting bro.(suman is gonna torch me if he reads this .)
Nah, no torching. I do agree that it will not be like the ABS on a sedan but, as I keep saying, its helped me on a number of occasions where a non-ABS would have resulted in wheel lock up & a bang!
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Old 25th July 2007, 14:15   #12
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Cladding. Why do we need a cladding on this car? A strip moulding or something would have been perfect. I wanted to paint the cladding gold initially to have a pearl white/ gold combo, but the cladding comes up so high over the rear wheel well I decided to go all Pearl White.
Cladding protects the body when going off-road. In the event of damage, You would rather replace one single plastic part than dent / paint a body panel.
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Old 25th July 2007, 14:48   #13
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THE-U, U the MAN.

Fantastic review, couldn't have come at a better time for me. After looking at the Passion Red Safari snap and then your Pearl White, I am switching to Pearl White. It is also metallic paint unlike Passion Red.

Quote:
PIAA 520 series driving light and Headlight upgraded to 130/100(?) with relays etc.
Isn't this wee-bit over the top? Shouldn't 100/90 do the trick? It can literally blind the oncoming traffic. Also, the reflectors might melt or fade.
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Old 25th July 2007, 19:22   #14
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Thanks everyone for your comments.

doctorkats and suman: Your comments about the bullbar are well taken. Will try to find an alternative. I still think TATA should make the ABS optional across all variants.

Being far away from big cities, I am not able to find System D additives. Are there specific brand names for this? I couldn't even find proper windshield washer fluid, had to use water! doctorkats, good to know that you are following the manual for tyre pressure. I do have the bridgestone duellers.

BUSA, Thanks. I love Pearl White. It has a shine that no other colour can match. Lots of politicians in TN apparently prefer arctic white Safaris!

GTO, I understand what you're saying about the cladding. I thought its a little bit of an overkill covering more than 50% below the waist line, but it might save some money as you say. I wish they would make the cladding a bit more elegant.

Samurai, Thanks. Pearl white/ arctic frost colour is my favourite. I did consider passion red and it was my second choice. I thought passion red was a metallic colour as well from the paint chip the dealer had. As I mentioned earlier, I was going to paint the cladding and bumpers gold, and passion red/ gold might have been a good combination as well. I might have still gone for Passion Red if Pearl White had a long wait, but that wasn't the case.

Regarding the 130/110 headlamp, it wasn't a thought through decision. I went to the dealer to fix my driving lights and mentioned to him that the headlights were weak. The technician there at that time said he upgrades all the Safaris to this wattage and I didn't really question him further. I am on my lo-beam most of the time so hope this doesn't blind the oncoming traffic. Once in a while I do blind oncoming vehicles who refuse to dip to lo-beam, however, my driving lights are properly aimed for lighting the road. They are only turned on when I can't see the sides properly and I turn them off immediately afterwards.
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Old 26th July 2007, 22:36   #15
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The -U- had posted "
"This is a major gripe. I didn't realize fully that there is no slip in the drive line even on 4HI mode. When there is no slip, one can't really use the 4x4 on the tarmac. I wish TATA had given us some slip on 4HI and no slip on 4LO. I don't think its too much to ask. When it rains on the mountain twisties, it would have been advantageous to have 4HI with some slip."

What does this mean ? Sorry if I seem ignorant.
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