You are here
Feature: Plug and play
The Ather 450 has one mission: to provide an uncompromising motoring experience in an electric package. Does it succeed?
The fact that you’re reading this magazine means it is highly likely that you’ve got a raging hard-on for old-school V12s and V8s. You also probably think that turbochargers are the spawn of the devil and electric vehicles are no better than beard shavers. Well, it’s happening. Whether you like it or not, the internal combustion engine is dying a slow and painful death. Electricity is the future. Governments are pushing for it, manufacturers are investing in it and even Big Oil is dipping its fat fingers in it. The status quo is being challenged — traditional automobile manufacturers are being shown up by newbies — Tesla’s success being the most prominent example. And plenty is brewing closer to home.
HomegrownFeast your eyes on the Ather 450. Here’s a scooter that has the potential to make electric scooters go mainstream. So far, every electric scoot we’ve ridden has forced you to make compromises. In a bid to create a package that doesn’t require you sell a kidney to afford, performance is reigned in, the styling has been questionable and dynamics are an afterthought. But Ather is uncompromising. It has rethought the very fundamentals of how an electric scooter should be built, found solutions to the unique problems that plague electric vehicles and has ended up with something rather likeable. Take the battery pack for example. It isn’t under the seat or in the boot, instead, it makes up the floorboard and acts as a stressed member in the frame. The attention to detail is maddening. Take off the fairing and the naked frame is worthy of being hung up in your living room as art. Most of it is made of aluminium as it helps with battery cooling and obviously, in keeping the weight down. Proper stuff.
It’s interesting, because Ather doesn’t even consider itself an automobile company, but an energy company. And it wants this product to be able to take on the best conventional scooters out there. No compromises. What started out as a frame with a battery strapped on to it has evolved into this over the course of four years. It took longer than anticipated, but investment did come in (Hero has invested `205 crore) and drive things forward. The Ather 340 was first unveiled in 2016, but the company kept at it and has now created a product that surpasses its initial self-imposed benchmark by a mile – hence the 450. The manufacturer has simultaneously developed a fast-charging network spread across Bengaluru (and will come to more cities) called the Ather Grid – it already has 17 points up, with more in the works.
Beat the NormOn paper, The Ather 450 looks pretty formidable. But paper is made from pulped trees and this doesn’t go down well with Ather’s clean image. So, instead of holding up a spec sheet, they handed us the keys and let us have a go to see what we think of it ourselves. First impressions are very impressive. What really stands out is the weight distribution. Conventional scooters have most of their weight concentrated at the rear, and this is apparent when you ride them. Not the Ather 450. The motor is tucked away right above the swing arm mount and even the monoshock is centrally-mounted (and not offset to one side) as far ahead as possible. This leaves it with a front-rear weight distribution of 51-49, with zero lateral offset. The fact that the batteries are on the floor keeps the centre of gravity low. When you’re on the Ather, it feels stable and its dynamics are predictable. It turns in with confidence and remains planted when you weave and slice through traffic.
Then there’s the acceleration. Theoretically, an electric motor allows you a 100 per cent of torque from zero rpm, however, this has been dialled down to prevent you from spinning the wheel on low-traction surfaces. So now, torque is fed linearly until you’re on the move, and only then is all 20.5Nm delivered. This is a low-torque, high-speed motor (peak power is 7.2bhp) and drive goes through some reduction gears before being sent to the rear wheel via a belt. The Ather 450 is quick — 3.9 seconds to 40kph is what is claimed, with a top speed of 80kph (although the speedo did throw up 88kph when I was gunning it). Acceleration is more than adequate for the city, and the throttle response is immediate. There is no rubberband effect of a CVT, just a constant surge when you crack it open. It does get an Eco mode that dulls acceleration to increase range, but you’re going to be much happier just keeping it dialled to the max. And no, the acceleration isn’t accompanied by the sound of chirping crickets. The motor has a mechanical whir to it that keeps you rather entertained.
The combi-brakes are another highlight. Sourced from Bybre, they’re sharp and extremely confidence inspiring. The front gets a three-piston caliper while the rear gets a single one – yet, the rear is rather easy to lock if you’re ham-handed with it. Nevertheless, they are extremely communicative and give you the confidence to push the scooter hard. Even in terms of ride quality, it feels very pliant over city roads. It isn’t soft to a point where it wallows over bumps, but instead, it absorbs potholes with finesse. It has a telescopic fork up front, and a monoshock at the rear. The chassis is extremely communicative and you always know what it is up to under you. It is really commendable that a company that has no prior experience of building automobiles has come up with a product this refined. Everything has been designed and built in-house, and it has ended up with something that has the potential to challenge the veterans.
The Good StuffYes, Ather has got its fundamentals pretty darn sorted but that hasn’t stopped it from equipping its scooter with some insane tech. It’s got – hold your breath – a six-axis IMU (in a scooter!), in-built GPS, an independent internet connection, access to the Cloud, a smart motor and battery, thermal management for the battery, auto-cut off for the charger and a total of 46 sensors that are continuously monitoring what you are up to. It’s also got some cool tricks like Park Assist that acts like a reverse gear, a 7-inch touchscreen enabled with Google Maps and can also store digital copies of your license, RC book and insurance. PUCs? What are you on about! Your scooter is constantly sending data to and from the Cloud, so Ather knows when something is wrong with a scooter, and they can even send you over-the-air updates over time.
Going the Distance
The Ather 450 will do 60km (75 in Eco) of real-world riding. This should suffice for your daily commute, and then some. However, range anxiety should not be much of an issue. A full charge at home takes a little over four hours, while an Ather Grid point replenishes 1km of range per minute. The fact that your scooter is doing all your thinking for you means it will warn you if you’ll run dry before your destination and reroute you to the closest charging station instead. Want one? Well, you can only have one if you’re a Bengaluru resident right now. The cost is split into two parts – an upfront payment and a subscription. The S450 costs `1.25 lakh (on-road) upfront, but this cost includes anything you will possibly incur in your first year. That means all service, maintenance, labour, roadside assistance and data services are included. This cost also includes unlimited riding, which means charging at any point on the Ather Grid is free and you are reimbursed for the electricity you consume at home. Post the first year, you pay `9,912 for these services annually. There’s also the Ather 340, which is slightly less powerful (4.4kW/ 20Nm) with a little less range (60km in Eco) that you can have for `1.1 lakh.
There’s no denying that the Ather is a solid product, one that has the breadth of abilities to take on traditional scooters. You could even call it value for money, it makes no compromises and offers plenty of features. The fact that it has the performance and styling to match that really makes it desirable. If you’re in the market for a scooter because it is the most affordable mode of personal transportation, the Ather 450’s price will make you baulk. But if you are looking for something to take you around your city, and don’t mind shelling out a little more cash for something that has been built with immense thought and attention to detail, the Ather S450 makes sense. The fact that Ather is heavily investing in its grid across the country just gives you all the more reason to take them seriously.