► Driving the new Honda E city car
► Prototype tested at Frankfurt facility
► Only 124 miles of range and £35k (est)
Even before anyone’s been anywhere near the steering wheel, Honda’s E electric car (formerly Urban EV) has generated serious buzz. That first concept car considerably whetted our appetite but hoisted Honda upon its own petard in the process; the near-production reality meant some were checking themselves into hospital after experiencing symptoms of a broken heart.
What has resulted from that cartoonish concept, though, is something very interesting indeed, and we’ve been for a spin in a pre-production model.
Has Honda said how much it will cost yet?
Honda’s new electric city car will go on sale towards the end of 2019 with a price expected to come in at around £35,000, but that’s still unconfirmed. We’ll have to wait until the full 100% production version, expected to be at the 2019 Frankfurt motor show, for a nailed-down price.
Hovering around that price puts the e in the crosshairs of the Tesla Model 3 and Nissan Leaf e+ (both of which have better range), let alone the cheaper Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia e-Niro. This puts it in a tricky position, when you remember the Honda boasts an electric range of 'more than 200km' (or 124 miles), roughly half those rivals...
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Kohei Hitomi, the Honda E’s Large Project Lead, told us: ‘We hope that the price is not a determining factor – if you’re price-conscious, then maybe an EV in the first place is not the right choice. We are aware that this car is designed for a certain customer profile, but this is our proposal – we believe and hope that people opt for the car because of the design or the features.’
What’s under the skin?
Something that Honda’s engineers are very proud of. The batteries are mounted as low as possible in the floorpan and this supermini is rear-wheel drive; the latter attribute being rather rare in the current landscape of more conventional EVs (although the BMW i3 is also RWD).
The Honda E's battery capacity is rated at 35.5kWh, which is paired to a single electric motor making 148bhp and ‘more than’ 221lb ft. Honda hasn’t officiated some of the E’s specs just yet, but we expect around an eight-second sprint time to 62mph – perhaps even quicker.
Crucially, Honda is quite chuffed that it’s managed to keep a 50:50 weight distribution, and the use of a rear-wheel drive layout means the turning circle is a rather tiny 4.3m. Bang on for the E’s main remit of nipping around in the city, then.
Honda says 80% of the battery can be charged in 30 minutes using a 100kW fast charger via a CCS2 plug and there’s also a button for one pedal driving, much like this Nissan Leaf. Ease off the throttle and the regenerative braking is remarkably strong.
What’s the interior like?
Properly swish, and arguably a significant step on in terms of refinement and build quality. That says a lot when we’re talking about a Honda, and a pre-production Honda to boot. Our time with the E was rather brief, but the bookshelf-like dashboard and simple centre console just look so smart, and the wood applied to the dash topper has a really sweet-feeling grain to it. That’s supplemented by some kitsch details like the light two-spoke steering wheel and thickly-padded grey cloth seats.
The full-width display, plonked on top of the dashboard like a massive flatscreen TV, wasn’t fully functioning during our time but the graphics looked better-than-HD sharp and clean. It almost looks like the desktop of a fresh-out-of-the-box laptop.
The side view cameras – standard on the E and much more discreet than the Audi e-Tron’s robot arm-like ones – display their view at the bookends of the information display. The positioning might be lower than your average door mirror still, but it feels right; not distracting when you’re not looking but offers a wide view with a smooth and crisp camera feed when you do. Less than can be said for the rear-view mirror camera; the display on that felt like a lower resolution to the point that your eyes have to readjust before looking through it properly.
How quick is it?
How fast does a city-dwelling electric car need to be? Given it has 148bhp and more weight to heave around than a comparable ICE city car it’s… good enough. The Honda E punches harder than a Renault Zoe from a standstill, with the torque curve quickly falling off after 50mph in traditional electric car form.
Honda has added a Sport mode, which remaps the motor to provide max torque a little earlier. It also sounds like the Starship Enterprise when it drives past, which, frankly, is just cool.
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So how does the Honda E drive?
Let’s get the simple stuff out of the way first. For an EV with its batteries under the floor, the Honda E has an entry height that’s like any other city car and a driving position that does without compromise, unlike the Nissan Leaf, for example. There’s even reach and rake adjustment in the steering column (basics sometimes forgotten on other EVs).
Pedal weighting is definitely pretty ‘normal’, too – the throttle isn’t overly light and the brakes provide smooth progression – something many other electric and hybrid cars can learn a thing or two from. The ‘Single Pedal Control’ has a smooth application of the brakes when you lift completely off the throttle but, as with all one-pedal driving usage, it’s best just to use it at lower speeds.
As for the steering, grasping that two-spoke wheel, there’s a reassuring heft at turn-in. Again, it’s not video game-light and hollow, but the E doesn’t corner as eagerly as something like a bantamweight Suzuki Swift or Ford Fiesta.
It’s far from completely lifeless to drive like some electric cars at low, obstacle-ridden speeds, but doesn’t exactly hand you excitement on a silver platter, either. What is impressive is that tight turning circle – you’ll be having face-offs with black cabs in the centre of London as to which can do the tightest U-turn. We loved it on our BMW i3 and we love it here.
There’s hardly any body roll, due to the Honda E’s low centre of gravity. Although we’d like thicker side bolstering on the well-appointed seats for when we’re whizzing around big roundabouts, the lack of head tilt chucking it around some twisty corners certainly didn’t faze the E one bit.
That’s also due to the suspension set-up; it’s a four-corner McPherson strut configuration, with geometry and damping that’s been benchmarked against larger cars, with testing project lead Takahiro Shinya opining that ‘the i3 or Leaf is not enough for the target setting in terms of vibration or driving comfort.’ Ouch. We’ll have to reserve judgment on that for now, though, given our test route was on completely faultless and flat tarmac in the middle of Honda’s Frankfurt-based Academy.
Honda E electric car: first impressions
What an interesting little conundrum the Honda e is. Its dinky size, cute face and properly cool interior are the biggest draws in its charm arsenal, so much so that some might overlook the low-ish available range and expected-to-be-lofty price tag.
It accelerates well enough and betrays its EV bretheren by having, in some bases, better control feel, which is impressive when compared to some electric car rivals. While our time with this pre-production model was short, it certainly opened our eyes to how electric cars should drive, even if the clever chassis layout didn’t exactly wow us from behind the wheel.
Perhaps, when we drive a full production Honda E, its charm might win us over a little more.
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