Mahindra e2o Review - The Car of the Future, Today!

By for Mahindra e2o 2016-11-26 23:57:41.0
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  • Appearance
  • Performance
  • Comfort
  • Value For Money
  • Fuel Economy
  • Overall Satisfaction

Mahindra e2o Review

I have a confession to make: I am not really a car person. Let me amend that—I’m not really an internal combustion engine (ICE) car person. ICE cars are those that run on petrol and diesel and all the other fossil fuels. When I was a child, I hated travelling in these cars. My parents could not afford a car, and so we travelled everywhere by train, bus, or auto rickshaw. I must say, I much preferred travelling by an auto rickshaw than a car, even if the former was loud and rattled enough to give you a full-body massage that would make a masseur envious. I believed that autos were more suited to city traffic, given their propensity to weave in and out of tight spots and gaps in traffic, not to mention their almost magical ability to always be the first vehicle at a red signal. This was the 1990s, when the air quality in Bombay was far better than it is now, and the vehicles that dominated the streets were mostly still Premier Padminis and Ambassadors—large, hulking brutes that dwarfed auto rickshaws by comparison and had a pickup speed that was slower than the cash deposit line at a government bank. As time progressed, India’s economy went global, and these staples of Indian roads started to be replaced by smaller, sleeker vehicles: the Maruti 800, Maruti Zen, Honda Esteem, etc. Many of my friends’ families owned these chariots of the modern age, but I never liked traveling in them very much. In particular, with the AC on, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was travelling in a coffin with four wheels. Something was missing, but for a long time, I couldn’t figure out what.

Then, one day in 2009, I saw a feature on the Discovery Channel about a young South African–Canadian entrepreneur named Elon Musk who had fought through years of financial penury and government pushback to create a company called Tesla and release an electric car into the market. An electric car? Huh? What was that? I shut my eyes tight and cast my mind back to a mostly forgotten geography lesson in school, when, while discoursing on that week’s chapter on sustainable energy, the teacher had mentioned these so-called electric vehicles, or EVs. They sounded almost mythical—like vehicles for the Gods. They were totally silent, they produced no carbon emissions, they could run on solar power, and because they wasted far less energy than their ICE counterparts, they could theoretically go farther and faster. ‘Today’s electric cars are slow and have limited range, but the day is not far when these cars will outnumber petrol cars on the roads. People will charge their cars at home instead of going to a petrol pump. When travelling out of town, people will plug in their cars at community charging stations like they fill up on gas at petrol pumps now,’ my teacher had said. Lounging on my seat and thinking of the aloo-roti my mother had packed for lunch that day, I only half listened to what my teacher said. It took Elon Musk and the Tesla Roadster to retrieve that old memory with startling clarity. And suddenly, it was like a light went on in my brain—I knew what my problem had been with ICE cars all along! They made noise, they had a tailpipe that spat out noxious gases that polluted our precious clean air, they burnt a lot of fuel and only used a fraction of the energy—the list went on and on. In a flash, I realised that my problem had never been with cars: it had always been with their noisy, wasteful ways, none of which had changed even a whole century after the ICE engine’s creation.

It was as though someone had lit a fire in my brain. I went online and read everything I could about electric cars. The most pressing question I had was, is there any Indian manufacturer that makes electric cars? I soon had my answer: it was Reva, a small Bangalore-based company run by a fellow named Chetan Maini. Maini’s vision for EVs was far ahead of its time. After a long period of stay in the US, Maini came back to India with his head swimming with visions of EVs on Indian streets. He formed Reva (named after his mother) in 1994. The company released its first (and, as it turned out, its only) EV in 2001. This was the Reva, or, as it was known in Europe, the G-Wiz. As I read more and more about Reva, I wondered why I had never seen advertisements on TV or in the newspapers for this car. In fact, why wasn’t a single Reva to be found in my area? I have no idea why the Reva wasn’t advertised enough—maybe it was due to a lack of funds—but it soon became clear why the Reva never sold well in India. First, the car was very funny looking—it had a flat bonnet and two oval headlamps that bulged out from the bonnet, giving the car a permanently surprised look. The car was small even by Indian hatchback standards, and it had just enough space for two adults and perhaps two children. Second, the car was far too expensive for India’s price-sensitive market. It cost about four lac rupees when it was first released, making it more expensive than a Maruti 800. No wonder the car never sold well. Moreover, Maini had never attempted a fresh start with a more practical car; he had instead focused on keeping the company profitable by exporting the Reva to European markets. No other Indian car company or foreign car company manufacturing in India seemed willing to experiment with electric cars or to import electric cars to India. Buying and importing the Tesla Roadster to India would have cost a small fortune, and since I wasn’t a film star or big businessman’s son, I didn’t have one. I was dejected. It looked like the utopian future that my teacher and people like Maini had envisioned was going to be denied to India.

Fast forward to 2013. The world had changed a lot during this period. Obama had won a second term as US President, the Congress Party in India was being destroyed by infighting and a seemingly never-ending spate of corruption scandals, Narendra Modi and the BJP looked all set to end Congress’s uninterrupted ten-year reign, and smartphones and Facebook were now everywhere, even in Indian villages without adequate power or water supply. Alarmed by the obvious and growing signs of global warming and climate change (melting polar ice caps, freak hurricanes, drought), governments all over the world had committed themselves to taking steps to save the planet before it was too late. I had been following developments in the areas of sustainable energy and electric vehicles, and I had been paying special attention to the exciting happenings at Reva. The company had been bought out by Mahindra, one of Asia’s largest automotive empires, and the company—newly christened Mahindra Electric—had come out with a new, improved electric car in 2013, the Mahindra e2o. The e2o replaced the old Reva electric car, and it was built in a brand-new, award-winning, state-of-the-art production plant in Bangalore. Meanwhile, all over the world, car companies had taken to electric cars with a vengeance. Nissan had released the Leaf, its flagship electric car and the bestselling EV in the world, Tesla had come out with its all-electric sedan, the award-winning Tesla Model S, General Motors had announced its own flagship electric car, the Chevy Bolt, BMW had released the BMW i3, and many other manufacturers had retrofitted their existing vehicles with electric powertrains or had committed to developing new electric cars, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids. The age of the electric car had truly begun.

I read all I could about the e2o. The car was launched by Mahindra with much fanfare in 2013. A slew of promises were made: a network of fast charging stations across India, solar charging stations for the e2o, the ability to use the e2o to power your home, etc. I had only recently joined the workforce in 2013, and so I couldn’t afford a car, especially one as expensive as the e2o (priced about INR 7,00,000 2013). Instead, I was forced to stand by and watch as each of the above promises crumbled under a single, devastating reality: the e2o simply wasn’t selling enough. Mahindra shipped about 20 units of the car every month, while comparable hatchbacks were shipped by other companies in triple digit units every month. I was saddened by the fact that despite the progress made in the EV arena in the rest of the world, India still wasn’t willing to adopt electric cars yet. I waited for Mahindra to call off its electric endeavour and let the e2o die a quiet death.

Fast forward to 2016. To my surprise, not only did Mahindra not kill the e2o, it committed its electric division (now renamed ‘Mahindra Electric’) to creating new electric cars (including a four-door version of the e2o) and retrofitted versions of its existing cars. I was amazed by Mahindra’s seemingly genuine desire to make strides in the EV arena, and it was one of the things that finally made me decide that the time had come for me to buy my own car, the Mahindra e2o. I placed an order for the car in January, and I finally received the car in March, after TWO MONTHS of agonising waiting. In March 2016, I drove out of the Thane Global Gallerie showroom, the proud owner of a silver Mahindra e2o. At the time of writing this review, I’ve driven about 9000 km the car, which should give some indication of just how much I love my Little E. In the following paragraphs, I will discuss and rate (one a 5-point scale) important aspects of the car. There is a little technical talk involved, but I’ll try not to put you to sleep :)

The Outside (3/5)

Many people have complained that the e2o is a funny-looking car even if it’s a massive improvement over its predecessor. Personally, I think this is a matter of taste. The exterior of the car was designed by renowned car designer Dilip Chhabria. The car is available in red, yellow, green, blue, white, and silver colours. The colours are not painted on, but impregnated directly into the high-quality plastic of the car. The car looks fairly normal from the side, except for the two extraordinarily large doors. The doors are really big, and if you’re used to the more conventionally sized doors of hatchbacks like the Maruti Alto, the e2o’s doors will take some getting used to. The front of the car is what most people seem to have a problem with, as the car has an unusually large front grille that would be more suited to an SUV like the Bolero. On the e2o, the grille just looks funny. However, the headlamps, which wrap around the car’s sides, more than make up for the grille. The headlamps are expensive halogen projector ones, which are typically found in cars that cost more than 10 or 15 lac rupees. Mahindra really splurged here. However, the back is where the car truly shines in the exterior department. The tail lamps are LED ones, and they also wrap around the sides of the car. There are two labels, announcing to the world that your car is ‘Automatic’ and ‘Electric’. How cool is that? From the back, the car looks truly futuristic and a real head turner. The plastic body of the car is extremely durable and is highly resistant to low-impact collisions. I’ve twice faced cases where another car accidentally swerved into the side of mine, and all that happened in both cases was that my car got a little paint from the other car on the side (the other car was obviously left in bad shape and in need of a paint job).

Overall, I like how the car looks from the outside, but if I could change just one thing, it would be the prominent wheel arches. The wheel arches simply bulge out from the sides in a way that reminds me of Vito Corleone’s prominent jowls in the Godfather! If the grille was a bit smaller and the wheel arches were toned down a bit, I’d have almost no complaints.

The Inside (4/5)

The most important thing to remember about the e2o is that while it’s a two-door car on the outside, it’s actually a five-seater car on the inside. Yes, you read that right. It’s a five seater. Don’t believe me? Maybe you’ve seen pictures of the back of the car on the inside and thought, no way can that seat five people. Well, let me ask you something. How many times in your life have you travelled in an auto-rickshaw with three people and thought to yourself, if only this seat was just a little longer, it would comfortably fit three people? The same principle applies to the back seat of the e2o. The seat only looks like it was designed for two people on the outside, but it can easily seat three people of average height and weight. How do I know this? Because I’ve travelled with three people in the back many times. Whenever I have to go out with my family, I insist on taking the e2o even though we have a Maruti Alto that my mother takes to work. My family consists of four people: my parents, my brother, and me. When we go out together, I let my driver drive the car. My mother, who’s the broadest among us four, typically sits in the front. My father, my brother, and I—all men of average height and weight (5.5–5.7 feet; 60–80 kg)—sit in the back. All of us are quite comfortable for the duration of the journey. Having said that, it would be nice to able to stretch our legs out underneath the front seats—which we can’t do because the car’s batteries are positioned underneath the front seats. Also, there’s a prominent bulge in the middle of the floor in front of the back seat, because of which the middle passenger is forced to place his or her legs on either side of the bulge. However, this is a minor niggle.

Coming to the front seats, I think Mahindra made a huge mistake by placing the ‘gear lever’ in the middle of the two front seats. Since the car is powered by direct drive transmission (more on that later), the gear lever—which does not really control any gears—could theoretically have been placed anywhere, even on the dashboard. In fact, one of the original concepts for the e2o contained a dial that you could rotate with your hands to change the car’s functions (like in the new Renault Kwid Automatic). This design was eventually abandoned in favour of the traditional gear lever, possibly because Mahindra didn’t want to deviate too much from what Indians expect from cars in general. However, this was a total missed opportunity, because without a gear lever in the middle, the traditional bucket seats could have been expanded into bench seats, making the e2o a three seater like the Mahindra KUV or the good old Premier Padminis or Ambassadors of yore. At any rate, the bucket seats are quite comfortable. They can be controlled using two mechanisms: the first one is a kind of bar that is placed just under the front of the seat. You can pull on the bar to unlock the seat from its current position and make it go forwards or backwards, thus increasing the amount of legroom you have. I should mention that even with the seat pushed all the way forward, the amount of legroom is tremendous. With the seat pushed backward to my driving position as a man 5.5 feet in height, there is also adequate room for the back seat passenger. The second mechanism is a knob placed at the side of seat. This knob is used to push the back of the seat down or up. Pushing it down gives you access to the back seat. Pushing it up and all the way backwards allows you to recline comfortably. You can also spend an extra 15,000 rupees to buy genuine Mahindra seat covers. They have a two-tone colour scheme—black and off-white—and they really make the seats look much classier.

The gear lever looks a lot like the kind of gear levers one finds in automatic cars. It has four settings: Reverse, Neutral, Forward, and Boost (more on Boost mode later). I’m not sure why Mahindra changed the traditional ‘Drive’ to ‘Forward’. Maybe they thought a lot of Indians would be unsure about what ‘Drive’ meant? Whatever the reason, it’s definitely a bit odd. The lever is pretty smooth and easy to operate. The settings are clearly marked (although I wish they glowed in the dark for easier night driving) and a press of a button on the lever unlocks it from its current position and allows you to smoothly slide it to the position you need. Behind the lever are the switches for the front windows. Unfortunately, only the front windows can be opened and closed. The back windows are fixed in place. I understand that Mahindra wanted to keep costs down by not providing rear doors, but they could at least have allowed the rear windows to be opened and closed. The decision to keep the back windows is truly baffling, especially considering the hot Indian summers we tend to have. Having said that, I was never truly stifled in the back seat, even with the windows open on a hot day. And when the AC is on, its powerful enough that back seat passengers feel sufficiently cooled.

The dashboard—except for the speedometer display, which may be the single coolest feature of the car—is pretty standard. First, let’s get the other aspects of the dashboard out of the way. There’s a regular glove box with a decent amount of space. The four AC vents are circular in shape and quite large; they are positioned such that there are two vents in the centre of the dashboard and two on either side of it. There’s space for an infotainment system under the centre AC vents, which you’ll need to buy separately. The steering wheel is also pretty standard and does not contain wheel-mounted controls. Coming to the speedometer display, like I said, it’s pretty sweet. It’s a giant blue display, and everything on it is digital. A badge at the top of the display under an arch proudly proclaims, ‘Reva’. Underneath this, you have numbers indicating the cabin and ambient temperatures, and underneath that, the display shows the speed at which you’re travelling in large font. On the left is displayed your chosen gear and, on the right, your driving efficiency. You’re advised to keep the efficiency metre at no more than three bars at all times, or else you’ll find the battery being drained rapidly. At the bottom of the metre is a label called ‘E gen’, which refers to the e2o’s regenerative capabilities. When you build up enough momentum and then let go of the accelerator pedal, or when you’re going downhill, regen kicks in and the momentum is converted into energy which is fed back into the batteries. A combination of careful driving and wise use of regen will give you the full 120 km range that Mahindra promises. Overall, this display highlights the status of the e2o as a vehicle of the modern age like no other aspect of the car does.

Finally, you have the brake and accelerator pedals. There is, of course, no clutch pedal because there are no gears. The brake pedal is located where the clutch would normally be, which takes some getting used. I drive using only my right foot, because sense memory may make me forget that the brake pedal is not the clutch pedal and make me press down hard on the brake pedal. Using only my right foot allows me to remember the functions of the two pedals clearly. The brake pedal is quite large and extremely sensitive. The brakes are really powerful, and even a light touch can slow you down considerably. Slamming down on the brakes forces the car into a dead stop as suddenly as though it has slammed into a brick wall. The best practice is to use regen to slow down the car and then to tap the brakes lightly whenever needed. To come to a complete stop, you should press ever so gently on the brake pedal until the car decelerates and slowly comes to a stop.

In sum, the interiors of the car are excellent, and there are only a few minor niggles to be found. If only the exterior of the car was as good as the interior!

Drive Quality (4/5)

One of the best aspects of the e2o is how incredibly easy it is to drive. Seriously, a child could drive this car (although he or she shouldn’t!)! You just get in, press the head of the key fob to the circular ‘Start/Stop’ switch (very cool feature by the way; can we all agree that an actual car key that you need to turn to start the car is thoroughly antiquated by now?) after turning the switch on, and wait for the light on the switch to turn green from orange. Just like that, with no engine revving sound (because there is no engine to rev!), the car is ready to go. Then all you need to do is push the gear lever from Neutral to Forward mode and very gently press down on the accelerator. You need to be really gentle, because electric cars tend to have all their torque from the get-go, unlike ICE cars. What this means is that all of the electric motor’s power is fed directly to the tyres without going through hundreds of tubes and wires. If you slam down on the accelerator, the car will take off like a rocket ship. This is especially important if there’s an obstacle, or worse, a person, in front of you. Another thing to remember that because the energy from the motor is fed directly to the front and back wheels, the car is just as fast when reversing as it is when going forward. This can take some getting used, especially the first time you drive the car. There’s a very good chance that you may forget you’re not reversing in an ICE car and press down hard on the accelerator. Just remember that if you do this, the car will literally fly backwards. Hence, be careful.

The Boost mode sends a little more juice from the battery into the car, giving the ride quality a little more pep and zest. It’s a nifty little feature that allows you to make quick overtake manoeuvres or be the first person to clear a traffic signal when it goes from red to green, but the feature is not a substitute for Forward mode. It tends to heat up the battery pretty quickly, and so it should be used sparingly.

The suspension in the car isn’t great. I’m getting this out of the way right now, because there’s really no way around it. You definitely will feel the bumps on the road while travelling in this vehicle, especially because there’s no engine vibration in the cabin to absorb some of the impact. This also takes some getting used, but once you do get used to it, you learn to take it in your stride. The suspension isn’t bad after all; it just needed to be better. After you get used to the crashes and thuds whenever you go over a bad patch of road, you’ll learn to tune them out. One more thing to note is that the suspension is massively improved once there are more than two people in the car. The best results are achieved when there are four or five people in the car, with one person sitting on one wheel, so to speak. The car takes the extra weight beautifully, and the suspension instantly becomes softer.

I should mention that the e2o isn’t a race car. Therefore, one cannot expect it to travel at supersonic speeds. The car has a maximum speed of about 88 kmph, which is already quite fast. You won’t be travelling faster than 40 to 50 kmph inside the city anyway. And one the many occasions when I’ve driven the car to Poona and back, I’ve found the speed to be quite adequate. Also, the e2o is primarily a city car, but this doesn’t mean that it can’t handle itself on the highway or expressway. It can actually acquit itself very well on the highway. Sharp turns are a bit unnerving at first, because the car has quite substantial body roll, but it’s nothing to worry about.

Overall, the e2o is an absolute joy to drive, and it totally transforms driving in the city from a madness-inducing pain in the neck to a genuine pleasure.

Range and Value for Money (4/5)

This is the point in the review when one talks about mileage. However, since this is an ICE car, calculating its mileage is out of the question. Hence, I’m going to talk a bit about range. The range of the e2o is something a lot of people had a problem with, even though the 120 km range was a massive improvement over the old Reva, which had a range of only 80 km. Let’s face it, 120 km is more than what you need to travel in the city. People can try all they want to convince themselves otherwise by coming up with scenarios where you can run of range on the road, but the cold fact is that the likelihood of that happening is almost nil. I live in Bombay, and I’ve driven from Mira Road to Churchgate and back, which is a distance of about 120 km. That’s right, you can travel from Mira Road to Churchgate and come back with the range this car provides. How much more range could you need? Every scenario in which your car could run out of range is an emergency scenario—one that is likely to occur extremely rarely. There are two things you need to do to ensure you never run out of range: (1) Make sure your car is fully charged when you leave home. Charge your car regularly, and don’t get lazy about doing it. If you go out and come back, remember to plug your car in again. Plug the car in before going to bed at night. Even if you’ve used only 20 km out of the 120 km range, plug the car in and get that extra 20 km back. Don’t give up your range advantage, no matter how small it is. (2) Plan your journey. Don’t simply set out from home thinking that you have enough range. The whole point of electric cars is to drive smarter. Leave your ICE car thinking behind when driving an electric car. EVs are meant to be driven sensibly. Every kilowatt hour should be treated like a precious resource, the way we’ve failed to treat oil for the last 100 years. If you do these two things, you’re guaranteed never to run out of range.

Let’s talk about how value for money the car is. Mahindra says that the running cost of the car is about 0.80 rupees per kilometre. For an ICE car, the running cost would be between 3 and 5 rupees per kilometre depending on the car’s mileage capabilities. This means that the e2o will save you a TON of money on oil. Plus, you won’t ever have to stand in line at a petrol pump again, except if you need to fill air in your tyres!

Many people have complained that the upfront cost of the car is pretty high, and I agree with the sentiment. Seven lac rupees is a lot to ask for a small car with only 120 km range, not least because the government subsidy of 1.5 lac rupees, while large, is nowhere close to what the governments in countries like the US and UK offer. But look at it this way: once you buy an ICE car, your expenses don’t stop there. There’s the monthly cost of 2000 to 3000 rupees on petrol, if not more. Then you need oil changes, brake fluid changes, coolant replenishment, and so on and so on. The list of maintenance requirements for an ICE car is simply endless. This is because ICE cars are antiquated and out-dated pieces of technology, and it takes a lot of money, time, and effort to keep them running. Electric cars, on the other hand, while predating ICE cars by a good few decades, have witnessed many amazing new innovations in recent years. They have become faster, more durable, and more reliable than ICE cars. One of their key characteristics is that they require almost no maintenance. If you buy the e2o, chances are you’ll only need to have it serviced once a year, if that. And the servicing will include extremely minor things like brake fluid changes and suspension checks. Next, if you’re willing to spare an extra 1.5 lac rupees, you can install a solar charging unit at your residence (provided you have enough space) and charge your car for FREE on 100% clean energy! How cool is that? No other car in India offers this privilege.

In sum, what you get for seven lacks is a five-seater car that costs almost nothing to maintain and run and is a breeze to drive. If you want further incentive, what if I told you that it’s possible to take the car on long weekend trips out of the city. No, I’m not joking! Granted, the car cannot travel very far, but there are a number of places where it can go: Khandala, Lonavala, Poona, Lavasa, Mahabaleshwar, Wai, Shirdi, Ahmednagar, Vapi, Daman, and Udvada. I should mention that I’ve been to these places myself (with the exception of Mahbaleshwar, Wai, Shirdi, and Ahmednagar). There is a rapidly growing network of charging stations across Maharashtra and the rest of India. In a couple of years, these stations, which now number in the hundreds, will number in the thousands and beyond. Additionally, once there are more electric cars in the market and more manufacturers building EV charging stations, travelling from city to city in your electric car will become the norm. Thus, in buying the e2o, you’re buying into the future today. If that isn’t worth seven lac rupees, then I don’t know what is. Besides, the cost of cars is rising all the time. Governments all over the world are increasing pressure on automobile manufacturers to make their cars greener and safer. The manufacturers are passing these costs on to the consumers. Because of this trend, the cost of cars in India is bound to keep increasing with time. The e2o may seem expensive now, but the new variants of electric cars that will enter the Indian market in the future are likely to be twice as expensive. All of this makes the seven-lac rupee asking price seem low in comparison.

Final Rating (4/5)

For years, electric cars were like the dullard younger siblings of ICE cars. Slow and boring, they were laughed at and dismissed by everyone. But as issues like global warming and climate change become more and more difficult to ignore, electric cars increasingly began to enter the mainstream. The 2010s look all set to be the decade in which the electric car came into its own. The Nissan Leaf, the Tesla Models S, X, and 3, the Chevrolet Bolt—all of these cars have captured the imagination of an entire generation who grew up feeling appalled at the excesses of the human greed for consumption and its devastating effect on the planet. Under the circumstances, I can’t help but feel some measure of national pride that a home-grown Indian brand, our very own Reva, is trying to make a small but significant contribution to the EV movement. Not only is the e2o a pleasure to drive and a source of pride for me to own, it is an important milestone in the EV movement in India—one that will be written about in automotive history books 10 or 20 years from now. I’m glad that I get to be a part of this movement, and I invite all Indians to be a part of it too by going out and buying this marvellous vehicle, the Mahindra e2o, today!

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