Mahindra e2o detailed road-test review

Autocar India
First Published: 12:20 IST(17/5/2013)
Last Updated: 17:49 IST(18/5/2013)
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If you think about it, the e2o is the first ‘car’ that Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) has developed in-house and it’s an electric one. The Verito doesn’t really count as it’s been handed down by Renault and the rest of M&M’s products are all UVs, SUVs, trucks and even bikes. Call it a leap of faith or an attempt to gain the first-mover advantage, but M&M has just launched the only electric car on sale in India, putting it first in line to cash in on an Electric Vehicle (EV) revolution that’s yet to happen. In fact, the world has far from embraced EVs. The reasons are well known – EVs are not a viable proposition due to their high price, limited range and an overall lack of practicality, and India may take a generation more than the developed world to see an en masse shift towards them. However, with the e2o, M&M is hopeful that it can kickstart the EV movement. So will the e2o find early adopters?
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As a pure EV, the e2o has a lot going for it. For starters, it feels like a proper car, unlike the toy-like Reva-i that it’s replaced. It’s a pukka four seater, it’s fairly well equipped and it comes across as a car that you can live with. Huge hurdles still remain, like the limited range and the lack of practicality. But the biggest one is the on-road price, which is Rs. 6.24 lakh for the T2 variant in Delhi (despite a Rs. 1.8 lakh subsidy) and soars to Rs. 7.67 lakh (on-road) in non-subsidised Bangalore.

Is the e2o worth making a shift to green motoring? We’ve put this car through a rigorous test to see if it’s worth the extra money and how easy it is to live with. 

The Mahindra e2o is based on an all-new platform, first seen as the NXR concept designed by DC Design. Built on a ridiculously small 1958mm wheelbase, it’s got awkward proportions, accentuated by the massive grille which, on a car with no radiator, looks like overkill. However, this unconventional design, full of quirky elements instantly tells you that this is no ordinary car. All the body panels are made of ABS plastic (claimed to be dent proof) and bolted onto a tubular frame steel chassis with the electric motor sitting behind the rear wheels. The e2o uses independent, MacPherson struts and the rear is non-independent coil springs.

The all-important (and heavy) lithium-ion batteries are placed low below the front seats, which goes a long way in the keeping the centre of gravity down. However, the bulky battery pack pushes the kerb weight to a not-so-light 830kg. The e2o uses 10 on-board computers and Mahindra has come up with a number of innovative solutions for which it has filed 30-odd patents. You can plan your trip with the help of Google Maps, the software telling you how far you can go on your current battery charge before having to turn back. You get an additional 10km of ‘limp home’ range before your battery completely dies, and the e2o can even ‘revive’ your dead battery and give you a further 10km still, all via a remote link to your car. A 15-minute quick charge can get you an additional 25km, you are connected to the car via a phone app that can start your air-con for you and lock and unlock the car, and the company will even sell you a solar charger for a pricey Rs. 1.5 lakh (the Sun2Car system can get you a free 50-60 percent charge every day, sunlight willing). 

Compared to the futuristic exterior design, the cabin of the e2o feels conventional. The overall fit and finish is an exponential improvement over the Reva’s but not quite as good as a modern conventional hatchback. It still has a slightly ‘handmade’ feel to it, both inside and out, and that’s simply down to the fact that small volumes don’t allow for huge investment in expensive (and quality) tooling. However, apart from some tacky bits (like the gear selector and door latches) the insides really do work.

The neatly laid out dashboard is dominated by a large steering wheel (to give better leverage in the absence of power assistance), while the touchscreen interface and the bright blue-backlit dial that shows all essential info, look sufficiently high tech. Apart from goodies like a navigation system and a reversing camera, you get comprehensive information from the vehicle monitoring systems.

When the car is charging, the display tells you how much time is left for a full charge and a dedicated smartphone app allows you to view the car’s charging status remotely on your mobile phone. You can even switch on the air conditioning remotely.

The front seats are wide and have enough cushioning to make short city commutes comfortable. The big surprise, however, is that once you are sat in the back, the rear seat is reasonably roomy and useable. The driving position is set modestly high (those batteries are under the seats, after all) but ergonomically, it is a bit flawed. The pedals are offset and the power window switches behind the gearlever are tucked low down and are hard to reach. Even starting the car is quite tricky. Unlike a normal keyless-go system, you always have to authenticate the key near the start button after pressing it. The cabin is fairly quiet as you would expect from an electric car, though the accompanying whines and hums of the electric motor and its ancillaries can always be heard. What’s impressive is that road noise is quite subdued and the suspension works quietly too. 

The e2o is powered by a three-phase induction motor, which produces 25.5bhp at 3750rpm. Making 5.40kgm of torque from the word go, we weren’t expecting punchy performance, and driving the car didn’t throw up any surprises either. It is responsive, offering enough of a surge to not let you feel exposed when mixing with faster traffic, but this comes at the expense of the car’s range, and after the initial punch, rapidly tapers off.

Our performance tests were done in B (boost) mode, which is what you end up using because F (forward) doesn’t give you the sense of urgency you want in everyday driving. It’s only when we came perilously close to running out of juice that we switched to F as a fuel-saving measure.

When we put normal family hatchbacks through the paces, they normally manage times of around 6.5 seconds to 60kph. The Mahindra e2o does the same sprint in 12.87sec, so there is no question about it being anywhere close to the performance level of internal combustion cars. The top speed is just 81kph, which wouldn’t work on a highway, but in town, the e2o offers a usable and safe level of performance. 

In fact, the reality of having the full 5.40kgm of torque going to the rear wheels from zero revs to 3400rpm gives a real urgency to the power delivery that an equivalent combustion engine can’t deliver. In peak, rush-hour, stop-go traffic, the ultra-responsive e2o, with its seamless and jerk-free power delivery, actually feels more comfortable to drive than a conventional car.

Not so seamless are the regenerative brakes, which have sufficient stopping power, but come with an inconsistent feel and a disconcerting sudden bite at the end of the braking action, which is difficult to get used to. The electrically actuated (as opposed to internal combustion-generated vacuum) servo assistance is the culprit for the e2o’s grabby brakes and is something that needs to be sorted out by M&M. 

The first thing that strikes you when you drive the e2o out of a tight parking spot is the lack of power steering. It’s not quite as heavy as the Nano’s, but for such a small car, it calls for undue effort. As you pick up speed, the steering lightens up, but it’s not very precise and, sadly, doesn’t play to the car’s agile nature (the turning circle diameter is a dime-sized 7.8m) and diminutive dimensions.

The e2o is great for darting in and out of traffic, but there is a fair amount of body roll. What’s more, beyond 60kph, crosswinds affect the e2o, and it rocks from side to side, especially more so when a large vehicle overtakes at speed. However, the amount the car leans looks more alarming than it actually is. That’s because the hefty battery pack keeps the centre of gravity quite low, and once you get used to the unusual dynamics of the car, it gives you a certain confidence, even at top speed.

The ride quality is quite decent for a car with such a small wheelbase and on gentler imperfections, the soft suspension works impressively. However, sharp edges and deeper ruts crash through with the suspension using up all its travel and transmitting the shock to the cabin. 


Mahindra claims a range between recharges of 100km but the fine print says that this is ‘under test conditions’. In the real world (we put the e2o through our urban cycle test with the aircon on constantly), the range is a function of how you use the e2o. Sticking to F mode and driving gently, we could safely cover 88km. Driving in Boost mode only (until the car automatically switches to power saving mode when there is less than 20 percent charge left), saw the range drop to 62km.

It would be easy to view this as a very limiting factor, but considering that the vast majority of e2os will be second cars and used for limited commutes, you can quite easily live with this range.

The long five hours it takes to charge is not very practical and you have to plan things in advance if you are going to use the car regularly. Another drawback is the 15 amp socket required, which is not easy to find.

It’s hard to calculate the running costs of the e2o, but for all practical purposes, the cost of electricity is negligible. However, each full charge should cost Rs. 50 and for a comfortable range of 75km that should work out to 66 paise per kilometre, which is nearly Rs. 3 lower than the most fuel efficient diesel car today.

A bigger cost is that of the battery, which can cost upwards of Rs. 2 lakh and is likely to need replacement after 4-5 years. Unlike an internal combustion engine however, the regular maintainance costs for the e2o are likely to be negligible.

Fact File
What it costs
Ex-showroom (Delhi)              Rs. 6.24 lakh on-road Delhi
Warranty                                3 years/60,000km (battery and motor)
Engine
Installation                               Rer transverse
Type                                       3-phase induction motor
Bore/stroke                             NA
Compression ratio                   NA
Valve gear                              NA
Power                                    19kW (25.5bhp) at 3750rpm
Torque                                   5.40kgm at 0-3400rpm
Power to weight                     30.72bhp per tonne
Torque to weight                     6.50kgm per tonne
Transmission
Type                                      Automatic
Dimensions
Length                                   3280mm
Width                                    1514mm
Height                                   1560mm
Wheel base                           1958mm
Boot volume                          NA
Chassis & Body
Construction                      Welded tubular structure, 3 crumple zones complying to European Safety norms
Weight                               830kg
Wheels                              13 inch alloy
Tyres                                 155/70R 13 tubeless, low-resistance
Spare                                Full-size
Suspension
Front                                 Independent, MacPherson strut, anti roll bar
Rear                                 Non-independent, coil springs
Steering
Type                                Rack and pinion
Type of power assist        NA
Turning circle                   7.8m
Brakes
Front                                Discs
Rear                                 Drums
Anti-lock                           NA
Performance
0-20                                  2.87
0-40                                  6.03
0-60                                 12.87
Economy
City Range                     75km
Highway Charging time    5 hours

 


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