Mahindra’s electric car e2o may not be a practical everyday hatch but it is easy to drive, high on tech, and has what it takes to get the job done, writes Shapur Kotwal

Electric cars, although not a new or novel concept anymore, have failed thus far to penetrate the mainstream auto market. But today, considering the environmental implications of using fossil fuel-powered vehicles, lowering emissions has become quite an important factor. Although this need for vehicles that use clean energy should logically result in electric cars taking off, electrics still occupy the fringes. There are fundamental reasons for this. Batteries, even modern lithium-ion ones, are woefully inadequate when it comes to energy density; they just don’t hold enough power for their weight and the space they occupy. In addition, topping up batteries takes forever; how’s two minutes for a tank of fuel versus five hours for a full charge on a car like the e2o.

Its range of approximately 80km-90km in the real world is sufficient for your daily commute and you can easily install an electric plug point where you park your car, so charging takes place overnight. You’d get zero tailpipe emissions on one hand and low running costs on the other. There are other practicalities to consider too.

Walk up to the e2o and some things are quite apparent. Luggage space is limited, even by hatchback standards. Mahindra has done a decent job of translating Dilip Chhabria’s NXR concept into the production e2o, but as often happens, a considerable amount has been lost in translation. Fit and finish of the multi-layer, high-impact plastic body is improved, but some large gaps, like the one for the door remain. Reva says it has been done to take care of expansion. Then there’s the fact that the e2o is a two-door car. Getting in the back is fine, but getting out needs the dexterity of a ballet dancer. and the supple limbs of a contortionist. And there’s absolutely no way you can make an elegant exit, especially with the big fat battery pack sitting under the front seats. In addition, the rear windows don’t wind down; they are fixed, so it could be like a sauna in there come summer if you have to keep the air-con off.

The big surprise, however, is that the rear seat is actually quite comfortable and useable. The squared-off roof means there’s plenty of headroom, legroom is adequate, and even the seat base and seatback are substantial and comfortable. The front seats are more comfortable. There are a couple of Mahindra parts visible, like the vents and some buttons on the central console, but the large touchscreen interface has been well integrated and the monochrome digital speedo-slash-information pod looks sufficiently high tech. There are a few tacky bits like the gear selector and the power window switches, but overall, the insides do work.

Settling down behind the wheel and finding a good driving position is easy too. What is a bit awkward, is the massive offset of the pedals; they are way over to the left, so the accelerator now sits where the brake should have been. Selecting ‘F’ for Forward via the gearlever also is a bit fiddly and can take getting used to. Squeezing the accelerator and taking off from rest, however, makes you forget all these niggles. The e2o’s take-off is smooth and jerk free, there’s a nice linearity to the throttle and there’s isn’t much ‘electric whine’ at low motor speeds. It’s nice to see that along with the much improved interior and greater comfort has come greater mechanical refinement as well.

The e2o responds to a tap on the throttle quite smartly, but without that sudden spike you often get with electric cars (electric motors make their maximum torque instantly), and squeeze the throttle a bit harder and it still responds well. But ask for more power or a sudden burst of acceleration and the e2o disappoints. For that you need to select ‘B’ or ‘boost’ via the gear selector. Throttle reposes are slightly sharper here and there’s a bit more tug in the mid-range, so it’s perfect for when you are in a hurry or want to overtake someone.

Acceleration till around 40kph is quite strong, but after that the rate of progress slows down again. Hold the throttle down and the e2o will whine a bit and pull all the way to 80kph.

After the thumpy Reva, the ride of the e2o comes as a pleasant surprise. It is silent, very compliant and even large craters don’t elicit a shudder from the heavy batteries. The soft, typically Mahindra suspension means that there is a bit of body roll when you steer into corners though. As with all electric cars, the regenerative brakes feel spongy and weird underfoot. They do deliver a reasonable amount of confidence when you step on them hard and their stopping power is pretty decent.

Of course, the e2o is anything but normal under the skin — make no mistake, this is a seriously high-tech piece of kit. The chassis, however, is pretty old fashioned. It is made up of box and tubular sections, it has crash-absorbing structures in the nose, a coffin-shaped battery box with 48v lithium-ion batteries under the front seats, and a 19kW electric motor between the rear wheels. It’s rear-wheel drive, of course. The compressor of the air-conditioning system displaces a mere 16cc and uses an inverter for greater efficiency. Cars today are all about electronic controls and checks, and the e2o embraces the techie trend wholeheartedly. It has ten onboard computers; one for energy management, another for the motor drive, one for the charging system, yet another for connectivity and one for the air con as well, among others.

Electric cars and ‘range anxiety’ go hand in hand, so Reva has come up with a number of innovative solutions for which it filed 30-odd patents. You can plan your trip with the help of Google Maps, the software telling you how far you can go before having to turn back. You get an additional 10km of ‘limp home’ range before your battery completely dies and Reva can even ‘revive’ your dead battery and give you a further 10km still. A 15-minute quick charge can also get you 25 additional kilometres. Each owner can, if they so choose, be connected to their car via a phone app and each and every e2o (anywhere in the world) will also be constantly in touch with the service centre via a data sim card placed in every car. This isn’t your conventional family car, that’s for sure.

Accept its limitations, however, and the e2o is a surprisingly nice city car. Though the Government hasn’t stepped up to the plate, there is a subsidy available in Delhi and this has allowed Mahindra and Reva to price the e2o at Rs 5.9 lakh (on-road, Delhi). But even at this price, this is a car you will have to buy more with your heart (assuming you like electric cars) than your head.

Price

Rs 5.96 lakh

(on-road, Delhi) onwards

Length 3280mm

Width 1514mm

Height 1560mm

Wheelbase 1958mm

Power

19kW (25.5bhp) at 3750rpm

Torque 5.40kgm

at 0-3400rpm

Battery 48V Lithium-ion

Steering type

Rack and pinion

Front suspension

Independent,

MacPherson strut,

anti-roll bar

Rear suspension

Non-independent,

coil springs

Brakes

(f/r) Discs/ drums

Tyre size

(type) 155/70-R13

(tubeless low-resistance)

Kerb weight 830kg

Ground clearance 180mm

Top speed

81kph

Charging time

Five hours to full charge