Bajaj Chetak first ride review: An electrifying start
It is not uncommon for brands to keep old flames burning. Jawa is the latest example. However, what ties them together is a shared thread. Consequently, it’s hard to justify a sea change with a similar name, case in point being the Kinetic 4S, which tried to sell new wine in a tired, old bottle, with disastrous results. Hence Bajaj understandably took a massive gamble reintroducing the Chetak as an electric offering, that too at a price point which puts it squarely up against the benchmark so far, the Ather 450. We swing a leg over to find out what the fuss is all about.
At first glance
The first thing that strikes you is the proportions. The Chetak is similar in size to the ICE-powered scooters of today, which means that two full-sized adults can fit comfortably. Additionally, the 12-inch tyres means the handling is also very scooter-like, but more on that later. Viewed from the front, the DRL bezel around the headlights looks distinctive. The sweeping rear LED indicators, though, are a class apart. However, the indicators and the split taillight are positioned too far apart and on the edges, and may get damaged by careless roads users, in crowded parking lots or pillions swinging a leg over. Overall, it’s got a very European look that’ll appeal to many, even those looking out for a Vespa. The fit and finish is top notch too with minimal panel gaps. Everything on the scooter oozes quality except the front stowage box which seems a bit flimsy. But the jury’s out on that till we can test it for a longer period.
Moving to the switchgear, and the buttons on our test bike seemed inconsistent, sometimes activating in one go, while at other times needing a few firm pushes, especially the buttons on the handle lock, reverse gear and seat/glove compartment which need a long press for certain functions. Another quirk are the indicator buttons which follow the logic put forward by Harley-Davidson, with the indicators activated using individual buttons on both sides, which again may need some time getting used to. Lastly, the negatively lit LED cluster, though informative and clearly laid out, is very difficult to read, especially with the sun overhead.
The Chetak is powered by a Bosch-sourced electric package, with a 3kWh battery mated to a motor churning out 4kw. The range is class-leading at 95km in Eco mode and 85km in Sport mode, though we think re would be closer to 65-75km in real world conditions.
From the saddle
Like most ICE scooters (and the Ather) the Chetak too needs either of the brakes to be pulled in and the start (D, in this case) button pressed to be ‘fired up.’ Once on the move, the progress is gradual but linear, and does not have that initial ‘kick’ (in keeping with the brief of an urban runabout) which people usually associate with electric scooters. The low centre of gravity (as with most electric scooters) means it is easy to manage on potholed roads, helped by grippy MRF tyres and soft suspension which impart a comfortable ride. However, the steering feels flighty and inconsistent at low speeds and needs one to keep making corrective steering inputs, which may rob some confidence especially during lock-to-lock turns.
The Chetak gets two modes, Eco and Sport, which can be toggled with the press of a button, and even gets a reverse assist mode, to help riders easily get it out of tight parking spots. Sport mode makes the acceleration a bit sprightly, and during the 40 or so km that we tested it, didn’t really drain the battery significantly, courtesy the regen feature kicking in whenever the battery charge drops below 85 per cent. However, when in eco mode, any time the throttle is wrung more than 80 per cent (during overtaking manoeuvres or even climbing onto a slightly higher road from the shoulder), the Sport mode gets automatically engaged with an audible beep; and, every time the throttle is dialled back, the Chetak shifts back to Eco mode, again with a beep. This continuous auditory stimulus, though aimed at the range-conscious crowd, seems like overkill considering our stop-and-go urban traffic, and the fact that the company claimed 85-95km range means the Chetak will usually be confined to city commutes. There is a small caveat, though. The regen works as soon as you get off the ‘gas,’ and thebump which indicates the regen has kicked in seems more prominent the faster you’re going.
On open roads though, the Sport mode is quite, well, sporty; the seamless electric motor builds up speed instantly (top speed was limited to 70kmph on the test bike), with the MRF tyres hold their line well. And when the usual unmarked speedbreaker shows up, the combo of the disc up front and drum at the rear, with the added safety net of CBS, ensures the rear wheel hardly steps out.
Bajaj has said it will install a wall-mounted home charging station free of charge with every purchase. Further, the charging station will be connected directly to the individual home’s power line. Next, the power cord for the Chetak stays in a pouch kept within the front glove compartment and can be plugged into any 5amp socket. A charging time of one hour gives 25 per cent and up to 100 per cent charge is possible in five hours, (no fast charge option, as Bajaj says it compromises long-term battery life) with a cut-off ensuring no power loss. The charging plug also has an adapter, for the home charging socket, or public charging sockets as and when the infrastructure comes up.
The final word
With its combo of easy ergos, manageable power and adequate range, the Chetak has all the ingredients of a perfect city commuter. The welded steel frame and metal body give it a solid feel conspicuously missing in the other Chinese-built electric scooters. At Rs 1.19 lakh (on road Pune and Bengaluru), the Chetak is expensive when compared to petrol-powered scooters. In fact, it’s even costlier than the Ather 450 by Rs 6,000 in Bengaluru. But while the Ather appeals to the younger audience who crave the Thrill of Riding, the Chetak is for someone who likes to sit back, relax and do his bit for the environment while hopping from grocery stores to malls and everywhere else. The Chetak, like its discontinued brethren, has a lot of character. It’s comfortable, offers peace of mind thanks to Bajaj’s backing and wide dealer and service network, which none of the other electric scooter makers can offer. Bajaj has also put up Apple Store-like Chetak Experience centres that bring out the idea that you’re investing in an experience and not a product. And that’s a great start for electrics we must say!