Ather 450X: First Ride Review
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Are the updates on the Ather 450X comprehensive enough to outdo the already tech-laden and capable 450?
There’s no gainsaying that when the electric two-wheeler industry in India was mostly limited to lead-acid powered scooters, it was Ather that revolutionised the segment with the Ather 450.
Launched in June 2018, the 450 came packed to the brim with many modern features like a 6-axis Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), touchscreen with connectivity, and even fast charging supported by an ever-growing infrastructure. At that point of time, all these sounded a little too hard to believe but after riding it, we were surprised at how well put-together and functional the whole scooter was! The amount of engineering that had gone into the scooter was not only a geek’s fantasy come true but also a discerning consumer’s delight. Ather eventually earned the unofficial title ‘The Tesla of two-wheelers’ in India, and deservedly so!
- Warp mode literally warps our notion that EVs are slow.
- Extremely agile handling.
- Decent range for everyday commutes.
- Limited availability.
- Rear disc brake frequently locks up wheel under hard braking.
- Switchgear quality could’ve been better.
- Warp mode takes the performance of the scooter to a whole new level!
- Comes with a bigger battery and more powerful motor for better performance and range.
- Ather Experience Pack changes the way we see vehicle variants. It also makes customers eligible to avail future upgrades.
The Ather 450 was already a modern-looking scooter. It looks fresh even two years after its launch, so Ather figured, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, Ather has introduced a couple of new colours: grey with yellow highlights and cyan with white and red highlights. I particularly love the grey variant as it makes the scooter feel even more premium. The cyan variant is pretty funky and looks nice in the flesh, although it isn’t to my taste.
From the front, the scooter exudes a distinctively feminine feel to it thanks to the hourglass-shaped apron. And from the side, it looks pretty lean and mean, with sharply cut and raked-out body panels.
Behind the sleek side panel lies a properly generous 26-litre underseat storage. Open the seat and a strip of LED lights up instantly. The underseat space is large enough to fit in a proper ECE-certified MT Helmet length and width-wise. However, it isn’t deep enough, running short of an inch and a half to shut the seat properly with the helmet inside. That said, regular-sized ISI-certified helmets will easily fit in, with additional space to keep your knick-knacks. There are extra cavities on the sides too -- to secure smaller essentials like toolkit, first-aid kit and paperwork. For extra practicality, there’s a retractable hook mounted on the apron, good for hanging grocery bags up to 8kg. There’s no extra hook below the seat, though, as the exposed frame gets in the way.
The ergonomics are not all that different from a typical scooter. You sit upright, and the seat is wide enough to move around. But those who are taller than average might find the handlebar ends bumping with their knees while turning lock to lock. It’s too early to comment about the cushioning on the seat as we didn’t get to log enough time on the scooter to make that judgement. That said, the cushioning is well-balanced to keep your backside happy -- at least as long as the scooter’s range will allow you to go.
The pillion seat, same as the one on the 450, is pretty wide too. So while we didn’t explicitly test the rear seat on the 450X, we can infer from our previous test of the original 450 that there’s plenty of room for pillion riders. In fact, the ingenious floorboard design which extends into the pillion footrests on either side makes for an extremely comfortable rear seat experience.
Technology & Features
This is where the Ather 450X delivers some and then more. Like the 450, the new 450X also gets smartphone connectivity, navigation, over the air (OTA) updates and the works. But the company has switched from Linux to Android operating system for easier upgradability, fewer bugs, and a more seamless and stable user interface. Even the processor has been upgraded with one that’s reportedly 30 per cent faster.
More importantly, the 450X comes with 4G connection via an electronic sim card, an upgrade from the 450’s 3.5G connectivity. Thanks to the e-sim, you can change your service provider to whichever one works best in your area without the need to install a physical sim. Ather claims the overall data transfer, navigation, OTA update speed is significantly increased with 4G, and we have no reason to doubt them.
The 450X also comes with Bluetooth connectivity, which was absent on the 450. With this, Ather has been able to equip the scooter with a ‘Find My Vehicle’ function, the ability to control phone calls or music via the left switchgear, and even a voice assistant. That last one is still in the prototype stage but Ather should be able to polish it in a couple of months and send out an OTA update to all its 450X scooters. It also gets WiFi connectivity which acts as a supplement to the Bluetooth and helps in data transfer.
Ather also says Bluetooth makes the scooter ready to be compatible with additional features like, say, a tyre pressure monitoring system. The brand says the accessory will be an off-the-shelf component for which there will be a native integration via Bluetooth, instead of relying on the smartphone to read the information. Another accessory which will be introduced in the near future is a Bluetooth-connected helmet, with which the voice assistant, call and music function, will be even more fluid. Ather says it will ensure native integration for all the accessories it might come up with in the future. So as far as the tech side of things go, the scooter should be properly future-ready as the core components are in place.
Motor Performance & Range
Most of us have the notion of electric scooters being slow and boring. With the Sport mode in the 450, Ather challenged that perception. However, in the 450X, the brand has introduced an even higher performance mode called Warp mode. If you thought Sport mode was a wild cat, Warp mode feels more like a feral feline from the depths of hell.
Switch to this mode and the acceleration is phenomenally relentless from the moment you twist the throttle, even if it is short-lived. It felt surreal as I tried to come to terms with the kind of velocity the scooter was building, accompanied by its characteristic whine. There’s plenty of grunt up to 65kmph. Post that, the momentum eases off gradually until 80kmph - its claimed top speed (same as the 450). All in all, despite having the same top speed as the older scooter, the peppiness has gone up considerably. Warp mode makes the Ather 450X quicker than any scooter we’ve tested before, and we’re not talking just electrics here!
Ather has been able to achieve this by updating the firmware and tweaking the permanent magnet AC motor to generate more power and torque. From 5.4kW of peak power in the Ather 450, it has gone up to 6kW. The torque output has gone up considerably from 20.5Nm in the 450 to 26Nm in the 450X. You can actually feel the massive bump in torque while riding in the real world, especially in Warp mode.
Ride mode, one of the four modes in total, makes the scooter feel pretty much like any 110cc scooter. It isn’t something to brag about but it has enough grunt to keep you going fuss-free. On the other hand, the Eco mode is ideal only if you want to extract the maximum range out of the scooter. Speaking of which, the 450X gets an all-new Battery Management System (BMS), a new battery pack which uses the same cells that Tesla does in its Model 3. This offers significantly better power density and performance, without requiring to change the packaging. Consequently, the usable capacity has gone up from 2.4kWh to 2.61kWh. So the ARAI-certified range has gone up from 107km to 116km. Here’s a table comparing the claimed real-world range of both the 450 and the 450X:
Since it’s a connected scooter, Ather has been able to use its rider data to further optimise the scooter. Collating and poring over over 60 lakh km of real-world riding data, Ather says its average customer covers about 30km a day and tends to charge the scooter when the battery level reaches 56 per cent. Hence, switching to Eco mode wouldn’t theoretically be necessary unless it’s a special case scenario where the rider travels a lot more than usual. In fact, Ather figures that the average customer covers about 52-53 per cent in Ride mode and uses Eco mode only for 13-16 per cent of his/her journey.
Ather says it is actually under-promising the claimed real-time range of the 450X. It says the longest customers have reached in a single charge is 124km in Bengaluru and 86km in Chennai. These numbers and data should ease your range anxiety, at least to a certain extent. And oh, thanks to the better battery pack, the fast-charging rate has also gone up from 1km/min to 1.45km/min. That’s a 45 per cent increase in the charging speed.
Ride & Handling
Ather says it has reduced weight in the dashboard area, bringing down the steering inertia by a big margin. A lot of weight reduction has also come from optimising the electronics packaging. So, overall, the scooter’s kerb weight has been reduced from 118kg in the first-generation scooter to 107kg in the 450X!
The reduced steering inertia coupled with the 11kg drop in weight is immediately noticeable on the move. Pair this with the low centre of gravity and you get a scooter that can be flicked from left to right almost telepathically. Petrol-powered scooters generally lack the stability of larger-wheeled motorcycles and are tippy to the point of feeling twitchy. The Ather 450X is practically free of such issues. Like the 450, the scooter is well-balanced with neutral weight distribution, so it stays stable at higher speeds too. The front and the rear suspension felt a little stiff for my weight but it isn’t bone-jarring either. In fact, the stiff setup really helps with the scooter’s agility on well-paved roads, and this is something enthusiasts will appreciate. The ground clearance has remained unchanged, at 160mm, which is 11mm less than the Honda Activa 6G’s (claimed to be the highest in segment). Nevertheless, the ground clearance is good enough to not be a problem over bad roads.
The 12-inch wheels wrapped with 90-section MRF tyres offer good grip while cornering. Ather is also offering fatter TVS Remora tyres (100-section front and 110-section rear), which provides better feedback than the MRF tyres, as an option. However, these tyres end up increasing the scooter’s rolling resistance and thus might reduce the real-world range. All in all, casual riders would be better off sticking with the MRF rubber.
The only chink in the scooter’s dynamics is the rear brake. While the 200mm petal disc brake up front is really powerful and offers great feel and progression, the rear 190mm petal unit tends to lock up rather quickly. To compound that, most riders are used to having a rear drum setup, so we tend to grab the rear lever by handfuls. Consequently, the rear locks easily and steps out, which can be alarming for casual riders. The presence of dual-channel ABS, while not common in most scooters, would've greatly helped here.
Ather offers two performance packs to go with the scooter: Plus and Pro. Here’s what they offer:
Ather says customers will have to opt for one of these packs compulsorily. The main advantage of these packs is that they effectively offer an unlimited km warranty on the battery irrespective of its condition. The icing on the cake with these packs is that the customer can avail all the future updates/ upgrades from Ather, thus rendering the scooter virtually future-proof. If Ather comes up with an even denser battery pack in the future (provided it is of the same dimensions as the current battery), one can get the new battery installed for free under this plan.
However, despite these perks, the pricing for these plans feels like they’re on the higher side. Effectively, this is comparable to the monthly maintenance of a petrol-powered scooter. Spending around Rs 20,300 every year for as long as you have the scooter feels a little too much, especially considering one of the major selling points of an electric scooter is reduced running costs.
To counter this issue, Ather has announced an upfront pricing plan for both the packs too. The Ather 450X with the Plus Pack costs Rs 1.49 lakh whereas the one with the Pro Pack will set you back by Rs 1.59 lakh, both ex-showroom, Bengaluru. Thanks to the bigger subsidy in Delhi, the price for these two versions go down to Rs 1.35 lakh and Rs 1.45 lakh, ex-showroom, respectively, including subsidies. This will be ideal for those who do not wish to get into the whole recurring expenditure business. Under these pricing schemes, Ather offers a three-year battery warranty and the prices are inclusive of GST and FAME II subsidy. However, one will have to opt for the Ather Connect subscription plan (to avail connectivity, Over The Air Updates, public charging service and the likes) compulsorily.
At Rs 99,000, the Ather 450X undercuts the Bajaj Chetak electric by Rs 16,000. You may feel that paying almost a lakh for an electric scooter is a bit much but with the current level of technology, the price is actually pretty competitive. In fact, it also undercuts the TVS iQube Electric scooter by Rs 16,000. All the prices are ex-showroom, Bengaluru, including subsidy.
But is it really more affordable than Chetak and the iQube Electric in the long run? Not exactly, if you factor in the compulsory subscription cost. The recurring expenses pretty much makes it comparable to running a petrol-powered scooter. We did the math with the standard 450, which should give you a fair idea. In a market like India, customers tend to perceive vehicles more as a one-time investment than a subscription-based commodity. And even the upfront price plan seems a bit too expensive for what’s, at the end of the day, essentially a scooter.
Is it a worthy upgrade for those who already own the Ather 450? Unless you’re an Ather enthusiast, not really. That’s because the base 450 itself offers almost all the crucial features you might need for your commute. But for newer customers, the 450X seems like a great proposition considering it offers much better features, performance and range.