Zipping past the traffic on Mumbai's sea facing roads, the Monday afternoon is anything but lazy for this writer. Direction changes are quick, and I've had little opportunity to slow down barring the stop lights. The Ather 450 is my companion for the day and on its first outing outside South India, a year after we sampled the pre-production version in its hometown Bangalore. Expectations were high from this indigenously developed electric scooter and it left us impressed. But that was a prototype from over a year ago; and our test vehicle is the same production-spec that is delivered to customers. Changes have been aplenty on the Ather 450 and while the mechanicals remain the same, the electric scooter has received a host of over-the-air (OTA) updates.
Also Read: Ather 450 First Ride Review
It's an interesting product this. The Ather 450 received five major updates ever since deliveries began in September last year. So the same scooter is now more improved than it first rolled off the factory floor, but probably didn't have to show up at the service centre for any of the changes to be physically made. Would that make yearly facelifts a thing of the past? Probably! Do we need better ageing designs then? Always!
The full-colour display on the Ather is where all the action is on display. It's easy to read and fancy to look at, but the 7-inch capacitive touchscreen isn't as responsive to the finger as a smartphone is. Not to say it isn't effective, but it just takes a little more effort. The Linux-based interface has received a new look since we first rode the e-scooter last year. It's a lot more functional too with additions like the pinch-zoom function, two manual trip meters, a new engine kill switch indicator on the screen and a sound alert when the motor is turned on; all of which were added based on customer feedback. The Eco mode that was present on the prototype has been renamed as Ride, and there's a Sport mode too. Ather tells us that it plans to reintroduce the Eco mode as a third option later, which will further dull the acceleration in a bid to improve efficiency. There's reverse function as part of the Park Assist feature, a first for scooters. The feature has the speed limit of 2 km on the reverse function, which makes the Ather 450 feels easy to maneuver in tight spaces and gradients, especially considering its heavier (118 kg kerb) than your average 125 cc scooter.
There's a new real-time economy indicator as well, and the backlight on the digital display starts turning red once you start twisting the throttle more often. The maps have received regular updates on the 450 and it now gets the Home, Work and Favourite buttons on the screen for convenience. While our test version did not have this specific feature running, it was just a firmware download away. That's handy we say!
In fact, a host of functions on the Ather are handy. There's dual accessibility with the buttons activating several functions once you start riding. The touch only works when the scooter is stationary. The Ather app will also show you the nearest charging points, and the telematics of your last ride including the average speed, kilometres travelled, route taken, riding style and more, all of which is recorded with the help of a six-axis IMU and saved on a cloud-based server connected via a SIM card.
Should you want to make a milk run that you wish to keep secret, there's an Incognito mode that disables GPS tracking. It disables navigation too, so you better know your way back home. While Ather uses Google maps as its base, the navigation system is designed in-house and is functional.
Any Design Improvements?
Unlike the incognito mode, discretion isn't the Ather 450's forte. The electric scooter is conventional in appearance but well styled and looks better than a similar scooter on sale. The design is a reminder of larger step-thru scooters given the large proportions but that's really where the similarities end. The scooter receives no design changes over the pre-production model and has a prominent presence thanks to the large 12-inch alloy wheels, long wheelbase and a high ground clearance. The white colour scheme (the only one available) is distinctive with green highlights and the black plastics. The green plates are also an easy identifier of its electric nature.
The most impressive bit is how well the scooter is built. Compared to the prototype that used 3-D printed components, the production version gets machined parts that are now a part of series production. Most components feel built to last and the sharply designed side stand and rear-view mirrors deserve special mention. Do notice there aren't any rear foot pegs either and the extended floorboard has a base for the pillion to rest their legs. The scooter gets all LED lights, while we really like the self-cancelling indicators. The absence of a conventional motor and fuel tank liberates ample of space under the seat, which can easily gobble a full-sized helmet. An LED strip is cleverly placed for the under-seat storage and a rubber lining at either side is a thoughtful touch.
How Is the Ride?
The Ather 450 is fast and quick to put a smile on your face. The electric nature of the scooter hands you all the 20.5 Nm of peak torque right from the start, and there is a fulmination of power that makes it quick off the line. The digital speedo shows the scooter hitting 80 kmph in no time with that distinctive whirring sound of the electric motor. There is some more juice left but you wouldn't be doing those speeds within city limits anyway. The IP66-rated power mill sends power to the rear wheel via a belt drive, which the company says offers minimum loss of energy and is easier to maintain. The fact that there's almost no lag from the motor makes the throttle input so much fun. The Ride mode offers conservative acceleration but at no point it feels slow. In fact, it is better than a lot of other electric scooters in terms of performance. But it is the Sport mode that amplifies this experience by ten-fold. 0-40 kmph comes up in just 3.9 seconds and there is a burst in the throttle response. The adrenaline rush is not too different from that of a fast, larger capacity motorcycle.
Powering the e-motor is a 5.1 kW lithium-ion battery that is strategically placed below the floorboard concentrating most of the weight in the centre. The Ather 450 gets a weight distribution of 51:49 for the front and rear, making it more agile than standard rear-biased scooters. And that's obvious once you are out on the open road. Emphasis has been given to the riding experience and the development of the chassis also feels in that direction. The scooter comes across as well balanced for most of the ride, especially with the stability at high speeds. The ride quality itself is firm but not back breaking for the rider and pillion, courtesy of a nicely tuned suspension set-up.
A strong point are the brakes with discs at either end. The ByBre sourced units are extremely sharp but can lock up under heavy braking, which might be dangerous for a newer rider. While the 450 does get combined braking system (CBS), we would like to see ABS on offer, to manage the brakes better.
What's real world mileage like?
The Ather 450 has a limited range with an ARAI certified efficiency of 107 km per charge, which translates to a realistic 60-70 km. That's not much to begin with, and that's why the charging time needs to be at a minimum. Ather says a charge up to 80 per cent via its charging stations will take 2 hours and 4 minutes, while a regular charging point will take about 4 hours for the same capacity. Thankfully, the charging chord is much like a laptop charger and can be plugged in a standard socket. For the first customers, Ather is installing the charging stations free of cost at their homes. The company is also building an electric charging network and has about 37 public charging stations in Bangalore and seven in Chennai. It plans to set-up more stations across the country and has allocated ₹ 130 crore for the same. As far as ownership costs are concerned, a battery replacement will be the biggest cost on the scooter at about ₹ 35,000 and will be needed in about five years. You will need to pay a subscription of ₹ 9,900 every year for the cloud storage, SIM, and service cost to keep those features running.
While electric vehicles are positioned as environment-friendly transport solutions, the Ather 450 is that and more. What it is then is the future of mobility, albeit on sale today. It is a viable alternative to a conventional scooter offering impressive performance, excellent riding dynamics and sheer practicality despite the limited range. The scooter's tech laden nature also makes it quite the gadget to have. With an asking price of about ₹ 1.25 lakh (on-road, Bangalore), the Ather 450 isn't too differently priced than the top-of-the-line iPhone. In either case, it's a premium for what's on sale but we do think it's a worthy buy, for you will enjoy the experience. Not to forget, the 450 has an average running cost of 30 paise per km, as opposed to about ₹ 2 on a petrol scooter, making it easy on the pocket too. More than a mode of transportation, the Ather emerges as a fun machine that has universal appeal.