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 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 I can kickstart the EV movement. So will the e2o find early adopters?
As a pure EV, the e20 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 limted 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.
DESIGN AND ENGINEERING
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, a point driven home when you tap the body as well. 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. So, like the Nano, the e2o sports a rear ‘engine’, rear-wheel-drive layout.
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 830 kg. The e2o uses 10 onboard 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 sun 2 Car system can get you a free 50-60 percent charge every day, sunlight willing).
The e2o is similar in size to a Nano, but is 180mm longer and 20mm wider, and it has a conventional suspension setup. The front uses independent, Macpherson struts and the rear is non-independent coil springs.
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 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. In fact, the amount of gadgets you get in the e2o is really impressive. Apart from goodies like a navigation system and a reversing camera, you get comprehensive information from the vehicle monitoring systems. What’s really impressive is the integration of the range countdown in the GPS system and a list of charging points within your range. The state of charge (SOC) and the remaining range are the displays you will always have an eye on.
When the car is charging, the display tells you how much time is left for a full charge and a edicated 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 pedal are offset and the power window switches behind the gearlever are trucked 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. It’s a bit fiddly and you need a couple of tries to get it right, which is a bit of a nuisance.
The cabin is fairly quiet as you would expect from an electric car, though the accompanying whines and hums of the electrics motor and its ancillaries can always be heard. What’s impressive is that road noise is quite subdued and the suspension works quietly too.
ENGINE GEARBOX & PERFORMANCE
The e2o is powered by a three-phase induction motor, which produces 25.5 bhp at 3750 rpm. Making 5.40 kgm 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 60 kph. The Mahindra e2o does the same spring in 12.87 sec, so there is no question about it being anywhere close to the performance level of internal combustion cars. The top speed is just 81 kph, 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.
RIDE & HANDLING
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 angile 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.
RANGE & COSTS
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 62 km.
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 kilometer, 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.
Now feels more like a normal car but still too expensive and impractical.
As an EV that appeals to those with strong green credentials, the e2o does an admirable job. It’s got sufficient range for short commutes, there’s enough room for four and, for such a small car, the boot is a decent size too. It’s an excellent town car that will happily keep up with the traffic. To pamper owners, Mahindra has equipped the e2o exceptionally well and the innovative tech it’s packed with is a big part of its appeal as well.
However, for those simply looking for an everyday city car, the e2o can’t compete with conventional cars. The price is ridiculously high and the limited range makes it thoroughly impractical. But what the e2o does that no other can is make you feel good about saving planet Earth.
Narrow cabin is spacious enough for four but rear access is difficult.
Performance is decent but only for in-town use.
You will only hear the electric motors whining and whirring.
Very expensive despite its green credentials and low running costs.
Doesn’t get airbags or ABS even as an option.
Low-speed ride is decent but it gets choppy over sharp bumps.
Heavy steering but the tight turning radius is a boon.
BUILD & QUALITY 7/10
Plastics body looks durable but cabin quality could have been better.