► Driving the new Honda e city car
► Tested in full production form
► 125-137 miles of EV range, from just over £26k
The Japanese managed to create a big buzz around the Honda e, even before it arrived in full production spec. That’s what you get for revealing a concept car like the Urban EV that tugged at the heart strings of car enthusiasts who could finally get excited about an electric city car with genuine character.
The production version was, unsurprisingly, not exactly like the concept, but Honda’s done a great job of retaining a lot of the styling cues and cutesy styling that appealed in the first place. Can you remember the last time a concept car made it to production and looked exactly the same? Precisely...
So the Honda e has finally arrived in full production spec and we've driven it. It follows our earlier review of a pre-production prototype on a track - and now we've been let loose for a proper spin on real roads.
First of all, how much will the Honda e cost?
At first, rumours were circling about the e costing around £35,000, and we’re pleased to report that simply isn’t the case. Available to reserve now, the entry model has a list price of £26,160 (or from £299 per month on finance, according to Honda), while a more powerful (and more kitted-out) e Advance will set you back from £28,660 (or £349 per month).
While that’s not as offensive as originally expected, it’s still a sizeable chunk of cash over other EV city cars like the VW e-Up, Skoda Citigo-e and Seat Mii Electric (delete as appropriate), and the Renault Zoe. All of these are cheaper and offer longer range, so the Honda is in a slightly tricky position. And with cars like the larger and more practical Kia e-Niro and Hyundai Kona Electric not costing a huge amount more than the top-spec Honda, it really needs to deliver on those futuristic looks.
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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 available in two power outputs – 134 or 152bhp (both with 232lb/ft of torque). That all combines for a 0-62mph dash in nine seconds for the smaller output, and 8.3 seconds for the more powerful.
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, while a home charger from Honda will take a little over 4 hours.
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. If you don’t use this function, you can adjust the ferocity of the regular regenerative braking via paddles on the steering wheel, like in many other EVs and PHEVs.
What’s the interior like?
Properly swish, and arguably a significant step on in terms of refinement and build quality for the brand.
Honda’s designed the interior to promote a feeling of being in a lounge, and the full-width set of screens and wood trim combine nicely with the light grey seats to create a lovely atmosphere inside. The seats are properly squishy, brown seatbelts are more interesting than black ones and neat touches like a two-spoke steering wheel and a cupholder that pulls out via a leather strap keep things interesting.
There’s also a surprisingly airy feel inside, thanks to those materials, big windows, standard-fit sunroof and a large area between the footwells of the front seats (there’s no transmission tunnel) all combining to good effect. The controls for driving are set high next to you between the front seats, and really simplifies the driving process without feeling stark. Bravo, Honda.
The main event inside is the the full-width display, plonked on top of the dashboard like a massive flatscreen TV. It almost looks like the desktop of a fresh-out-of-the-box laptop, and is far less intimidating than you’d expect it to be.
In front of you is a small display with all driving functions like any other car with digital dials. It’s crisp and easy to read, but the top of the steering wheel can block it if you like to have it lower down in front of you. Moving along there are two 12.3-inch LCD displays for the infotainment system. In terms of operation, it’s easy and simple with clear tiles for different functions, and the option to switch screens across. So, you can set the sat-nav on the one nearest to you and then push it over to the screen further away while you fiddle with what you want to listen to via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The passenger can fiddle as well, but not to the same degree.
Or, if you don’t want anything going on, you can choose a lovely wallpaper or a moving aquarium to calm the mood.
The side view cameras – standard on the e and much more discreet than the Audi E-Tron’s robot arm-like ones (that also cost a lot of money) – 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, plus with spray and rain blocking the view, it’s almost useless. Thankfully you can switch to a regular mirror, so it’s similar to Land Rover’s latest tech found in the Evoque.
How quick is it?
How fast does a city-dwelling electric car need to be? Given it has up to 152bhp 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 delivers a good punch of acceleration as a result, but you don’t really need it in a little city car. 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 it’s quite quick to decelerate at higher speeds. At least the brake lights come on though.
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 (but then it’s really not designed to).
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 at The Savoy as to which can do the tightest U-turn. We loved it on our BMW i3 and we love it here. It makes it a fantastic car in town.
There’s hardly any body roll, due to the Honda e’s low centre of gravity and 50:50 weight distribution. 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. And it seems to have worked. The e manages to soak up horrid bumps very well indeed. No thumps or vibrations into the cabin, and only the occasional bit of fidgeting depending on the road surface.
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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 the price higher than other city EVs.
It accelerates well enough and betrays its EV brethren by having, in some bases, better control feel, which is impressive when compared to some electric car rivals. It has 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.
It’s also done an effective job of bringing a bit of the future to the road. It looks like a concept car with an interior to match, and the fact it remains easy to use means it doesn’t have that feel of intimidation about it that could put off potential buyers.
We like it. A lot.
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