The Ola S1 Air: First Ride Review

  • Aug 10, 2023
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Does the long-awaited Ola S1 Air deliver on all its promises of being the perfect budget version of the S1 Pro?

The drop in the FAME II subsidy has hit EV buyers pretty hard and different EV makers have taken different approaches to remedy this by making their offerings more affordable. As for Ola, they’ve built this, the brand new S1 Air. Yes it does look like the S1 Pro, but underneath, it’s a whole new scooter, which has a lot of changes to make things more affordable. So what are these changes and how do they affect the way it rides?

Underpinnings

One of the most obvious changes on the S1 Air can be seen up at the front. Gone is the single-sided suspension found on the S1 Pro; the S1 Air gets a conventional telescopic fork instead. It's also running on 12-inch pressed steel wheels (not alloys) and it's got drum brakes at both ends (instead of discs) with CBS.

The drum brakes on the S1 Air feel pretty ok for the most part. But as is the case with all drum brakes, brake hard a few times, and you immediately get some fade. This would’ve been fine if the S1 Air’s price was Rs 80,000 like Ola had originally promised. But at Rs 1,09,999 (ex-showroom), we would’ve expected a disc brake at least at the front.

Even at the back, the changes are very obvious. Gone is the angled monoshock, replaced by more conventional twin shocks and instead of the S1 Pro’s single-sided cast aluminum swingarm,, it's got a box-section steel swingarm.

On the butter-smooth roads outside the Ola Future Factory, we really couldn’t test how the S1 Air rides with this new suspension setup. But what we did observe was that the front rebound was pretty sharp while the rear rebound felt quite slow. How this will affect the scooter on the bumps and potholes in the real world is something we’ll have to see once we get the S1 Air for a proper road test.

Motor & Performance

But the biggest change on the S1 Air is, of course, its hub motor. While the S1 Pro gets a mid-drive motor and a belt drive, the S1 air is driven by a hub motor that’s a lot less powerful than the S1 Pro. 

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Ola S1 Air

Ola S1 Pro

Motor

Hub Motor

Mid-mounted, belt drive

Nominal Output

2.7kW

5.5kW

Peak Output

4.5kW

8.5kW

Claimed acceleration (0-40kmph)

3.3 seconds

2.7 seconds

Claimed Top Speed

90kmph

116kmph

The S1 Air only comes with three riding modes: Eco, Normal and Sport. Unlike the Pro, this doesn’t get Hyper mode which, honestly, is fine, as Sport Mode does feel quite peppy and should be quick enough for most things. Normal mode works well too, and would be our go-to mode for city riding. Eco though… well… just like on the S1 Pro, feels really slow and almost unusable under load. That said, it just might  work if you’re hypermiling and trying to extract maximum range.

The one issue we found on the S1 Air was the throttle calibration. Rolling on the throttle felt a bit jerky, especially in Sport mode. To top that off, regen braking, even in the medium setting, feels a bit too aggressive. And the negative throttle to engage regen braking feels a little too soft. So you can very easily engage the overly strong regen braking, making it feel like you’ve hit the brakes, when you simply just want to roll off the throttle. Also, as soon as you touch either of the brakes, the throttle cuts off instantly, which could make maneuvering in tight traffic a rather tricky affair.

But the throttle had an even larger issue, and that was even when you let off the throttle, the scooter kept accelerating for another half a second or so. Now this may feel irritating at times, and at other times could be downright dangerous. Of course, Ola told us that the models we were riding were all pre-production examples, so there are still some issues that have to be worked out. But an issue so potentially dangerous shouldn’t have passed muster at all.

Battery & Range

 

Ola S1 Air

Ola S1 Pro

Battery Capacity

3kWh

4kWh

Claimed full charge time

5 hours

6.5 hours

Now to really keep costs in check, Ola has given the S1 air a smaller battery pack of just 3kWh. But the best part of the battery pack now being smaller and lighter gives the S1 Air a flat floor board. Now it's not a very big floorboard, mind you, but it's big enough to carry a backpack very easily. Having the flat floorboard is also great because on the S1 Air, the underseat storage has gone down by two litres. Still, at 34 litres, it’s a pretty huge boot.

Of course a smaller battery pack means lesser range and Ola claims an IDC range of 125 kilometres for the S1 Air, as compared to 181km for the S1 Pro. But as we found out in our long-term test of the S1 pro, this number is a bit on the higher side. What you might get in real life is closer to 100km on the S1 Air in the real world, though that's quite all right.

The biggest benefit of the smaller battery pack and the reengineered chassis is a lighter kerb weight - a full 13kg lower than the S1 Pro. And this really makes the S1 Air feel light on its feet while changing directions. While we didn’t get to test this thoroughly, we believe the S1 Air will be a breeze to manoeuvre through city traffic.

Features

The best part about the S1 Air is that it gets almost the exact same features as the S1 Pro. Sure, the Air’s 7-inch touchscreen console runs at a lower resolution than on the Pro, but that’s something you’ll rarely notice in everyday use. As for features, it gets the whole shebang - map-style navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, proximity unlock, music playback/control, built-in speakers, Party Mode, user profiles, riding moods, document storage, remote boot unlock, reverse Mode and OTA updates.

Verdict

At Rs 1,09,000 (till Aug 15, 2023; Rs 1,19,999 after, both prices ex-showroom), which is about Rs 30,000 less than the Pro, the S1 air does make a good case for itself. But there are some issues that Ola must work out before we can recommend one. First, of course, is the throttle, which does feel very scary at times, and secondly the overall quality feels a bit inconsistent. The panel gaps all around, for instance, are a little bit off, and even the paint quality, at close inspection, looks a little bit suspect

But as mentioned before, Ola said we were the riding pre-production scooters, though at the same time we got to observe the S1 Air under full production at their Future Factory. So take what Ola says with a pinch of salt. 

Summing up, should you buy an S1 Air right away? Well, if I were you, I'd hold for a little while and see if Ola can work out all the kinks. But when they do, the S1 Air will make quite a lot of sense.

Ola S1 Air Video Review

Ola S1 Air
Ola S1 Air
Rs. 1.03 Lakh
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