Ather 450 Electric Scooter: First Ride Review
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Ather started off with one aim, to make the best (not just electric) scooter in India. This means the 450 needed to be peppy, practical, well built and most importantly aspirational. And because it’s electric, it needed to have a practical city range as well. So is the 450 up for the monumental task?
For something to eventually be accepted by a vast majority, it first needs to become an aspiration. It happened with cars when they first came out, mobile phones too. But sadly, electric scooters aren't part of that list. Why? Because to make them affordable, manufacturers have compromised, and made them cheap, tacky and oh so slow. But not Ather.
The 450 began life as the S340, but constant refinements meant power and range kept on increasing as well. And now, the company plans to offer both versions of this electric scooter. Fair warning, there is a LOT to talk about this incredible machine, not only in terms of the how it rides but also the technology it packs. So here we go!
Look at that!
The Ather 450 does look like an electric scooter, but not in the conventional tacky/flimsy way. It looks so because it is lean and edgy. The design, in fact, of the whole scooter is built on the theme ‘Clean’. All the panels are very simple with just one body line running across to lend it some sharpness. The front panel gets a long and narrow headlight which of course is an LED. Below it are two floating panels which lend the scooter some mass. It runs on 12-inch wheels at both ends with 90/90 section rubber. A slightly wider setup would have looked better, but Ather chose to go with these for their lower rolling resistance, and hence increased efficiency.
From the side, the scooter’s radical design really comes into play. The white rear bodywork has been given a floating design by striking a contrast with the black floor panels. The seat gets a practical and well designed two-point hinge which is finished in green and adds to the scooter’s high-tech look. A wonderful design touch is the side stand with its 4-bar-link which sits flush with the body panel. The only thing that felt a little odd personally was the high set front mudguard. Personally I would’ve preferred it to sit a bit lower for a slightly more traditional front end design.
The tail lamp design takes the centrestage at the rear. The slim LED unit outlines the top edge of the rear bodywork and transitions into sliver-like LED indicators on each side. Even the green exposed monoshock here works as a design element which does add quite a bit of visual appeal. In terms of paint options, you get none, this is it.
Rest assured, the scooter gets a lot of attention in the city, with people wanting a second look to reassess what they just saw. It doesn't look as premium as something like a large maxi-scooter, but is still a lot smarter than almost everything out there.
Packed to the gills
The technology on the Ather 450 is two-fold. What’s immediately visible sits on top of the dashboard in form of an 800x480 pixels, 7-inch, full-colour capacitive touchscreen. It displays pretty much all the standard information while also showcasing realistic range, full-screen navigation via inbuilt GSM and even your vehicle registration documents. You also get a smart toggle switch on the right to accept/reject new navigation routes pushed from your smartphone or accept/reject reroutes, as touch is disabled while the scooter is moving.
The other part of the technology lies below that screen where the brain of the scooter is located. It's a combination of the Vehicle Control Unit and Load Distribution Unit. Designed in-house, these two systems are constantly analysing your riding data, not just from the scooter’s sensors, but from the navigation system as well. And these work towards giving you the maximum range possible according to your riding style. It keeps on learning your riding style on particular routes and displays the expected range on the dashboard customised to your usage, and not just a generic number.
Then come the electronics. The Battery Management System has also been designed in-house by Ather. While charging, the system can detect if the battery temperature is getting too high, or if a particular cell is not charging at par with the others. It can then lower the charging current or focus on that particular cell to automatically optimise charging and maximise battery life. The BMS also communicates with the motor and ensure equal discharge and optimum operating temperatures across all cells.
The Ather 450 also gets a 6-axis IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit). But don't get your hopes up for a traction control system; Ather uses it primarily to control the self-cancelling indicators. A combination of the IMU and GPS linked to maps decide if you have completed the turn to automatically kill your indicators. A bit of an overkill? Well, that's just the beginning.
Hardware and storage
The scooter’s aluminium frame is covered entirely with plastic body panels which exude great build quality and top notch paint finish. Nowhere on the body do you find a flimsy or a cheaply built panel.
When it comes to storage, the underseat bin has a capacity of 26-litres - the largest for any scooter in the market. What's most impressive is that it easily holds an international-spec full-size helmet with space to spare around it. The storage compartment also has rubber-lined cubby holes on the sides and a beautiful LED strip on the top edge for illumination.
And then there’s the way the seat opens and closes. It is mounted on a long hinge which gives it a lot of rigidity and allows the seat to rest on the handlebars when open, so that you don't have to hold it up. The boot also gets a rubber strap to keep the emergency charging cable, or any other luggage from getting tossed about. But, the best trick is the way it closes. Simply drop the seat from a short height and the clamp falls perfectly in the lock with an assuring ‘thunk’. No hassle to press the seat - neat indeed! There is also a hook on the front apron which sits flush and the floorboard is large enough to easily hold a rather large laptop bag.
Powered by Faraday's Law
Powering the Ather 450 is a 5.4KW (7.34PS) brushless motor which churns out 3.3KW (4.4PS) of continuous power. Doesn't sound too much? Well, it also produces a mammoth 20.5Nm of peak torque (TVS Ntorq - 9.2PS/10.5Nm), and that's just outright impressive. What's even more impressive are the numbers it manages to clock. Ather claims that the 450 can do 0-40kmph in 3.9 seconds. To put things into perspective, the 125cc TVS Ntorq, one of the fastest scooters we have tested, does it in 3.68 seconds, whereas the Honda Grazia takes 4.19seconds for the same.
Though the claimed numbers seem to be a little optimistic, at par with Indian 125cc scooters, we hardly doubt them. Right from the word go, the 450 is silently peppy. It's a new experience as you get an instant burst of torque as soon as you twist the throttle. It remains linear till you hit about 55kmph and all you can hear is a shallow whining sound from the motor while you accelerate swiftly past almost everyone in traffic. Even post the 55kmph mark, there is no real lull in the acceleration and the Ather 450 keeps on going till a true top speed of 80kmph (nearly 90 on the dashboard).
Because the electric motor makes almost all of its torque instantaneously, the response of the motor has been dialled down when you’re just getting off the line. This makes it smooth in high traffic conditions as the on-off throttle response does not make the ride jumpy. But, whack it open when you’re already rolling, and the way it leaps ahead is uncharacteristically quick for a scooter. This roll-on acceleration has to be the most impressive part of the 450’s performance that also makes it really ideal for city commutes.
There is also a park assist mode which lets you reverse the scooter at speeds of upto 2kmph and go forward at upto 6kmph, engaged by either swiping into it from the dashboard, or holding down either brake lever, the indicator kill switch and the ignition together. You can switch between moving forward and backward in the park assist mode with a simple click of the ignition button, making it very easy to move around tight parking spaces.
Enough E-juice for the daily chores... and more
Moving on to the biggest question of them all - the range. Well, let me start off by saying that it is damn impressive. Unlike other manufacturers who give out an optimistic range achievable only by the slow and steady, the Ather 450 manages more even while outpacing the rest. Ather claims range figures of 75km in Eco mode, 60km in standard mode while the ARAI certified range is 107km.
Surprised? We were too. Our job while riding the scooter was far from getting the optimal range. I decided to take on the early, empty Bengaluru streets as fast as possible. We started with the dashboard indicating 60km in the morning, and about 40km later the dash still showed 18km of range left. My colleague, Priyadarshan, was riding a lot more sensibly and had 25km more in the “tank” after our day was done. This helped us realise that the realistic range of the scooter is as claimed, if not more.
In the Eco mode, the performance of the motor is capped in terms of outright acceleration, to give it a better range. That said, it still does remain pretty usable in the city. If you have to take on an unplanned trip in the middle of the day, the Eco mode will help you get there and back. Also, as you roll off the throttle, the regenerative braking takes over. This provides a very natural retardation. If you want a more aggressive retardation, just go negative with the throttle and the regenerative braking is dialled up!
In Bengaluru, Ather has set up something called the Ather Grid - their DC fast-charging stations at 30 locations across the city. These are placed in malls, coffee shops, restaurants and gyms so that you can spend your time comfortably while the scooter charges up. Also, these charging ‘Points’ have been scattered in such a way that one is no more than 4km away from the other.
Filling the tank
At home, when charging through a 5-amp AC socket, you can get an 80 per cent charge in 2 hours and 40 minutes, while getting to 100 per cent takes a total of 4 hours and 18 minutes. But, if you opt for the fast charging Ather Grid, you can have a range of 60km in an hour, at approximately 1km/min. If you buy the 450, however, Ather will come to your place and install a ‘Point’ charger (albeit still 5-amp AC, not DC) for you, free of cost. Even charging the scooter at any of the Grid points will be free, at least for the first year.
Conquer the urban jungle
The Ather 450 feels fast in terms of outright acceleration. And to help it feel a little sporty, the suspension is set up on the firmer side. But, with a softer seat and a progressive rear monoshock, the ride doesn't get too hard. The suspension setup filters out the road surface well, but the harshness of the broken roads can be felt.
With a low centre of gravity, a 51:49 front:rear weight ratio and zero lateral offsets, the Ather 450 is quite manoeuvrable. It is a little too quick to tip in and needs some getting used to in traffic. But that's a short learning curve and this agility is soon a welcome thing. Even at speeds close to 75kmph, the scooter feels quite planted, again thanks to the low centre of gravity.
Another key point to highlight here is the pillion seat comfort. With a wide, long and soft seat, the pillion remains comfortable and the footrest built into the chassis is positioned fantastically. All things put together, this is one of the best pillion seat experiences we have ever had on any scooter. And even with a payload of over 160kg on the scooter, acceleration was brisk and the balance remained undisturbed.
The 200mm Bybre front disc brake setup feels on point. Feel and feedback are well tuned and offer a confident braking feel. That said, the bite on the rear 190mm petal disc is a little too sharp and locks easily. But, the scooter does offer combined brakes as standard and when you use both levers together, the braking result is quite reassuring.
The sore edges
To be honest, there are none. And if we were to nitpick, a brake lock and centre stand should have been part of the package and the toggle button for the touchscreen could’ve have been a 5-way joystick to incorporate more functionality. Also, the initial power cap for a smooth pickup felt too safe and a little more power off the line would’ve been welcome. Well, Ather says that they are considering a brake lock and anything to do with power, software and electronic systems can easily be altered via a simple OTA (over the air) update.
The scooter comes with a 2 year/30,000km warranty and the battery pack itself comes with a 3 year/ unlimited km warranty. All this and the screen comes with a bunch of IP certifications to make sure they are not damaged by water or weather. In fact, the scooter has a water wading capacity of 300mm till which the battery and the motor can completely be under water and still keep working.
But, even with all of this being tested for over 3,50,000 km, the first few batches might face some software issues. Luckily, they can be fixed overnight via an OTA update. Also, because the only consumable parts on the scooter are the brakes, Ather has no service centres and the scooter does not require a periodic maintenance either. If ever you were to end up in trouble, folks from the company will personally visit you, fix the problem or pick up and drop it back at your doorstep.
First of all, you cannot buy the scooter anywhere in India, but Bengaluru. That too, the production will be limited in the beginning. The second phase will include cities like Chennai and Pune, but that will happen close to next year when Ather sets up its Grid there. So, it's super exclusive, at least for now.
Then, there is the question of price. At Rs 1.24 lakh (on-road Bengaluru), it’s the most expensive scooter manufactured in the country. And if it was up to us to judge, this 450 deserves every last penny because it comes with a charging point installation at home, free charging for one year from home and the Grid, GSM and RSA facility, all included in the price. If you want to spend a little less, the lower-spec 340 is priced at Rs 1.09 lakh (on-road Bengaluru).
Ather just did not make a scooter, they made one of the best there is in the country that can easily replace the conventional ones, at least for urban use. And then, they did not just stop there, but went ahead to make it smart, connected and brimming with technology which even a lot of cars on the road don't have. The result is not just a regular electric scooter, but a premium experience and a taste of the future. Ather has done what it set out for - made a no-compromise scooter that finally makes the electric two-wheeler space aspirational.