Faster, lighter and better range. Ather ups the ante on India's popular e-scooter.
The rate at which electric two-wheelers are proliferating our market seems to be increasing by the day. From rebranded Chinese imports to well-finished, technologically advanced, made-in-India e-scooters, there seems to be no dearth of options. Ather Energy is a shining example of the latter – a start-up that showed that it's possible to make an electric scooter with reasonably good performance and range without compromising on design or build quality. And while we, and many others, hailed the Ather 450 as one of the best e-scooters to hit the market, the company isn't resting on its laurels. The result of continuous improvements has spawned this evolution of the 450, which is what you see here. Badged the Ather 450X, it promises improved performance, battery range and other features. The question is, does the 'X' multiply the Ather electric experience?
How does it look?
One glance at the Ather 450X will tell you that the new scooter looks identical to the 450, which isn't a bad thing, at all. In fact, the Ather 450 has always stood out for its futuristic design, whether it's the sharp-as-a-suit front apron, the neatly integrated LED headlamp, or the exposed subframe. The plastic panels, which form a shroud around the edges of the front apron, are a clever addition as well, making it easier to replace the panel in case it gets scuffed in an accident. The only elements that distinguish the X from the 450, then, are the... erm... 'X' badge and three new colour options.
The matte grey you see here looks rather fetching and goes with the 450X's fluro-yellow rim stripes and exposed subframe; but if you are the flamboyant kind, Ather has also introduced a mint green option. It'll surely stand out in the sea of scooters that dot our roads, whether electric or conventional. However, I personally would’ve liked more colour options, because the 450X as a canvas is ideal to experiment and Ather does agree to this, considering a large number of current 450 owners who've experimented with various aftermarket colours and decals. Nevertheless, if you like playing it safe, the X can be opted in the traditional white shade as well. It's also worth mentioning the quality of its parts as well as the e-scooter's fit and finish both feel premium; and unlike what you’d expect from a product of a young startup.
Sit behind the bar and you'll notice a brand-new touchscreen instrument panel that packs in more features. The Android-based system (plain Linux in the 450) includes Bluetooth/ Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing users to pair their phone to get incoming call alerts or listen to music on the go via the Ather app. One can simply tap the screen to change music tracks or answer calls. If you dislike the idea of taking your hands off the bars, the toggle switch can be used to carry out the same function.
The touch responsiveness has also improved considerably, making it easier to operate, even with a gloved hand. The second new feature is a 'Dark Mode' option (quite like Instagram, these days). But all of these improvements wouldn't make sense if not for faster internet connectivity. This was achieved by installing a new 4G eSIM (Jio) which makes loading navigation maps and installing Over The Air (OTA) updates a lot quicker. But as similar as the 450 and 450X may be when it comes to design, it's a whole different story underneath the bodywork.
What else is new?
There's no denying that weight is the most crucial factor to determine performance and efficiency, even in the case of the an e-scooter; and Ather seems to have kept this in mind while developing the 450X. Most of the weight-savings are at the front end, achieved by installing a lighter instrument cluster, removing the on-board charger and installing a conventional tubular handlebar. The result is about a 4kg drop in weight over the 2019 Ather 450 and a whopping 11kg over the 2018 version, which is quite significant. But the other effect of this weight loss is a shift in weight distribution ratio from 49:51 to 47:53. This has made the front end decidedly lighter, which has had an effect on the way it handles. More on that later, because we can’t go any further without mentioning the 450X’s brilliant performance.
So what is the performance like?
In order to improve performance and efficiency Ather developed a new Lithium-ion battery, an efficient battery management system and re-tuned the motor to develop higher peak power. The new battery is bigger, with each cell measuring 21mm by 70mm and much more power dense than ever. The installed battery capacity is 2.9kWh (up from 2.71kWh in the 450) and that translates to an improved battery range, from 75km to 85km in Eco mode. It takes about 5hr 45min to charge the battery to 100 percent, using a standard home-charging point.
The motor, on the other hand, develops a peak output of 6kW(up from 5.4kW). More importantly, the peak torque has gone up from 20.5Nm to 26Nm!
Just as is the case with the the 450, there are three riding modes on offer: X-Eco, Ride and Sport, each liberates more performance and, consequently, quicker acceleration. But the icing on this performance cake is the new 'Warp' mode that turns everything up to 11.
I've never felt an electric scooter surge ahead with such alacrity – and that's saying something. Whack the throttle open and you actually get thrown back as the scooter gathers pace rapidly, the numbers on the digital dash struggling to keep up. 0-40kmph comes up in 3.3s while the sprint from standstill to 60kmph is dispatched in 6.5sec. That's almost a 1sec quicker than the fastest petrol-powered 125cc scooters; however, top speed remains capped at 80kmph. But that's only one side of the story. It's the roll-on acceleration, especially between 20-50kmph that makes this e-scooter super responsive and I think that should make it easy to keep up or even zip past big city traffic. I've never enjoyed riding an electric scooter before I got on the 450X, but for the first time not once did I miss a conventional scooter.
But as entertaining as it may be, here's the caveat. All of this brisk performance comes at the cost of a subscription plan that will set you back by Rs 1,999 – every month. Dubbed the 'Pro' package, it gets you the best possible acceleration and range (85km) along with access to fast charging at 1.5km/min. Customers can also choose the Plus plan, at Rs 1699, that drops the motor's peak output to 5.4kW and torque to 22Nm. The battery's range also falls by 10km to 75km in Eco whilst usable capacity (which is always lesser than installed capacity) sees a reduction to 2.4kWh (2.7kWh in the Pro plan). Think of it as a cellphone data plan where you'd pay more for faster browsing and buffering speeds.
The 450X can also be purchased without the subscription plan for Rs 1.49 lakh (for the Plus) and Rs 1.59 lakh for the Pro. This doesn't include the cost of the Ather connect pack, that's needed for OTA updates. Buying upfront doesn't give you access to the free fast-charging Ather Grid network either. Subscription guarantees OTA updates, the fast-charging network and an unlimited battery warranty (3 years without subscription).
So, in essence, you'll have to continue paying a monthly fee over and above the Rs 99,000 (ex-showroom) that you'll shell out before rolling off on your new Ather 450X. Ather says customers can always choose to switch between plans; and the scooter will be upgraded to the plan's specifications via OTA updates.
The only issue we see here is the question on everyone's mind: How long would a customer continue to put money into running an electric scooter, especially on a monthly basis over the course of two-three years. But then again, we do fill our petrol- powered vehicles with fuel to keep them running, so one has to think of these subscription plans as similar to tanking up at a fuel station.
While the 450X's performance is genuinely entertaining, it's of no use if the chassis isn't up to the task and we are happy to note that Ather hasn't tinkered too much with the setup.
How does it ride?
The steel-aluminium hybrid chassis is identical to the 450's and so are the 12-inch wheels, the brakes and suspension units. The only difference is that the telescopic forks have been stiffened for added firmness. Upon riding the 450 and 450X back to back, it was apparent that the X felt lighter and quicker to steer. The scooter was also notably more flickable. That said, the firm setup at the front made it thud over potholes; which wasn't the case with the 450, with its relatively plush setup.
The rear monoshock remains the same, however, it could do away with the pogo like effect that occurs at low speeds over a series of undulations. Maybe some more fine tuning could fix this in the next iteration. That said, the handling is pretty confidence-inspiring, as long as you stay within limits. But for those who want to push the handling envelope even further, Ather will also sell a set of TVS tyres that are wider; both at the front (100/80-12) and rear (110/80-12)
That electric scooters are here to stay is an understatement.The fact that not only start-ups like Ather, but also mainstream manufacturers like Bajaj and TVS want a slice of this delicious pie, has created quite a buzz in the electric two-wheeler space. What works in the Ather's favour with 450X is its unique styling, finish levels and technology. But above all of that, it has a sense of desirability that one just can't ignore. I, for one, can't believe that an electric scooter can be a lot of fun; and as much as I love petrol-powered scooters the Ather 450X has caused me to pause and think. They may not make complete sense yet, but they're definitely starting to look more and more tempting.
(All prices, ex-showroom Bengaluru)