Answer by Rory Young:
It is not necessarily safe in the slightest! It depends entirely on your guide!
Elephants can pulverise a vehicle whether it is a sedan or a specially adapted safari 4×4. This is the recent result of an elephant’s annoyance in Kruger National Park in South Africa:
Lions will leave you alone if you remain seated. However, if the guide doesn’t tell his clients or if they don’t follow safety instructions and stand up then they are no longer “a part” of the big-noisy-monster-thing and can be seen as individuals. They can go for you. Kids are a huge problem.
Here’s a little secret, I can call lions out of the bush. How do I do it? I use make a noise like a baby crying! Kid’s voices + lions = immediate interest, vehicle or no vehicle.
One of George Adamson’s lions from “Born Free” went in through the vehicle window of w a Park Warden and tried to get his baby. (The same lion later killed the gardener but that is another story).
I know of one incident of a leopard going over the bonnet of an open landrover and having a go at the driver. That though was an extreme situation and an exception to the rule.
Regarding guides and what makes a good one, here is an excellent article by Dick Pitman, a conservationist I am honoured to have known for many years: