Diary update: flat batteries and jump-starting the Honda E

Published: 15 February 2021

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Diary update: flat batteries and jump-starting the Honda E

The learning curve on electric cars continues: I never knew you could jump-start an EV, but it turns out you can. What with lockdown and the cold snap, I hadn’t driven the Honda E for a week or so - and one night the alarm went off. I raced outside with the key and noticed the siren was strangled and remarkably quiet and the remote fob was having no effect. Turns out the car’s battery was toast and (thankfully for the neighbours) the racket was soon over as it drained all charge. 

Resorting to the manual key that slots in behind the pop-out handle, the car’s electronic brain was dead as a dodo. Cue a look in the manual where advice is given about jump-starting the 12-volt battery (see below). Yes, EVs have regular 12-volt batteries for powering ancillaries and it turns out they too can suffer a flat battery – just not that battery.

The new Cupra Formentor stepped in to lend some charge and the electric Honda sprung to life immediately. We took it for a long drive to charge up the battery and when we got back half an hour later… nothing. Turned out the 12-volt simply wasn’t holding its charge, so we booked in with Peterborough Honda dealer Marshall to investigate.

Honda E manual details how to jump-start the 12v battery

It was my first experience of a car showroom during the Covid-19 pandemic and I was impressed by the slickness of Marshall’s protocols and the friendliness and efficiency of their staff (though less impressed by the Honda Jazz courtesy car being on fumes with just 40 miles of range). 

Turns out the E’s 12-volt battery had failed, so it was replaced under warranty and the little Honda returned fit as a fiddle and spotless inside and out. Did it dent my opinion of Honda reliability? Perhaps a little, but on reflection 12V batteries are expendable items and I guess this one might’ve been sat around unused during the E’s long gestation and transit from Japan. I was happy to give it the benefit of the doubt – until I heard from my colleague, video boss James Dennison, that a different E suffered a similar fate when he shot a film in 2020. Hmmm…

By Tim Pollard

Month 3 of our Honda E long-term test: comparing notes with a Jaguar i-Pace driver

Honda E meets Jaguar i-Pace: which EV would you choose?

Editor-in-chief Phil McNamara really fell for the Jaguar i-Pace he ran for several months, but he hadn’t driven my Honda E. So we spent a couple of hours piloting the two around the Midlands in a back-to-back comparison.

Wildly different segments (crossover versus city car) and prices (£65k plays £29k), but this duo share more than you might expect, including sophisticated chassis poise and uncanny acceleration, though the Honda doesn’t come close to the Jag’s mighty 4.8sec 0-62mph thrust.

Phil hailed the E ‘a Tokyo concept car made real’. He’s right (as usual). What unites this pair is the fresh approach to design – they’re both unencumbered by what went before, and all the better for it.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Honda E Advance

Price £29,160
Performance 36kWh battery, single e-motor, 152bhp, 8.0sec 0-62mph, 100mph
Efficiency 3.6 miles per kWh (official), 3.1 miles per kWh (tested), 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 4.2p per mile
Miles this month 484
Total miles 1355

Month 2 living with a Honda E: that digital screen

honda e ltt interior

When people find out I’m driving a Honda E, the main thing most of them want to ask about (and there are plenty of questions) is the panoramic digital screen. The outside of the E is cartoonishly striking but it’s in here where the special stuff happens. How many small cars have wall-to-wall electronic read-outs, a virtual aquarium that bobs fish across your dashboard and video cameras for mirrors? 

I may work in digital media, but I love analogue where physical form is better – a magazine crafted with love and care, for instance, and a face-to-face meeting rather than another bloody video conference call. But there’s a time and a place for digital features and after just one month I’m convinced Honda is onto a winner with this interior. 

It’s not actually one giant screen; like other ultra-widescreens, it’s actually several displays stitched together. An eight-inch read-out in the instrument binnacle clusters dials for speed and driving modes, and that’s joined by a pair of 11-inch displays to the left, stretching across most of the dash.

These two touchscreens manage to hide grubby fingerprints most effectively. Hats off also to the simple, clear typeface and general user interface, which makes menus easy to swipe through and selections intuitive to make. Honda’s clearly observed what works on mobile devices and what doesn’t. Those three digital displays are bookended by a pair of five-inch camera screens in lieu of door mirrors. They’re quick-acting and work well, although it’s still a bit strange if you try to peer around a corner by craning your neck only to see an unchanged video angle.

It might have big screens but the E has a small range, as evidenced by the 43 miles in the photo above with the battery half full. We’re currently averaging 3.1 miles on every kilowatt-hour of energy, and with the average domestic electricity cost of 14.3p per kWh, that means we’ve theoretically spent less than £30 to drive more than 600 miles this month.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Honda E Advance

Price £29,160
Performance 36kWh battery, single e-motor, 152bhp, 8.0sec 0-62mph, 100mph
Efficiency 3.6 miles per kWh (official), 3.1 miles per kWh (tested), 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 4.6p per mile
Miles this month 630
Total miles 871

Diary update: pop-out door handles struggle in the frost

Winter's finally arrived in the UK, icy frosts wrapping the ground with a crisp, crunchy cape some mornings. And it's brought an unusual problem: the Honda E's pop-out door handles were frozen on one particularly cold morning this week. As you'll see in the tweet above - they wouldn't budge an inch!

There were kids to take to school, huffing and puffing impatiently. There was me, wondering whether I could get in via the back doors and scramble into the front seats. And my guilt for having not pre-conditioned the E overnight on this occasion.

After a minute of prodding and trying, the frost thawed, the handle released and I was in. No special measures required. Still, I was left nonplussed. It wasn't even that cold: a night hovering around, and perhaps just under, zero. A heavy frost, granted, but I was suprised that the Honda's door handles were stuck solid.

I'll be using the pre-heating more often in the weeks ahead, and keep an eye on what happens when the temperatures really plummet.

By Tim Pollard

Month 1 of our Honda E long-term test: introducing the baby battery car to the CAR magazine fleet

Honda E long-term test: CAR magazine lives with the electric Honda city car in 2020 and 2021

It’s good to be back in an electric car. Research has proved that deciding to own an EV is pretty much a one-way gate; few take the plunge and then go back to internal combustion. Yet my automotive CV has yo-yo’d wildly back and forth in recent years – from a BMW i3 to a Tesla Model S, via an Audi A8 (diesel, yuk!), Lexus RX450h (hybrid halfway house) and on-the-spectrum Bentley Continental GT (V8, petrol, sledgehammer fast). 

It’s one of the perks of this job that we move between brands, segments and motive powers. And I’m glad to be in a battery car for the next six months.

Why? Because EVs are inherently interesting to live with and write about. Electrification is an irresistible tsunami transforming the car industry, and the benefits are manifold and tangible. I’m hoping I’ll again enjoy the silence and peace of driving an EV every day. The feeling that I’m not pumping noxious pollutants into the local environment from a tailpipe. The addictive thrust so readily on tap from a 152bhp motor driving the rear wheels. And waking up every morning with a ‘full tank’.

Electric cars: further reading

Our guide to the best EVs on sale
How much does it cost to charge and EV?
The most affordable electric cars

So I’m feeling optimistic about life with the Honda E. I have good reason; I penned the Giant Test for CAR magazine, where it took on and damn nearly toppled the Peugeot e-208 and Mini Electric. This is a very special car, one of those once-in-a-generation cars for the marque – ‘the most significant Honda since the 1989 NSX’, I mused. Only its short range and cramped boot held it back from sweeping to victory. Whoops, I’ve blurted it out early: the E does have some compromises, but this test will allow me to judge them afresh.

Ours is a top-spec Advance model, likely to be picked by most buyers. And just look at it! It’s unlike anything else on the roads and is already garnering interest left, right and centre. I imagine the stillborn Apple car project might’ve looked like this – that crisp, minimalist vibe that Silicon Valley would kill for, but backed up with the reassuring Honda badge. 

The early omens are good. The exquisite engineering integrity that so impressed on the group test reminds me of the i3 I lived with back in 2016: the compact footprint, rear-wheel-drive handling and steering feel, extraordinary turning circle and bold purity of concept. The baby Beemer was all the more impressive for arriving seven years ago and Honda’s blazing fewer trails as a result. 

Honda E long-term test: 36kWh battery makes for a short electric range

Get past the cartoonish exterior, slide into the cabin and prepare to be amazed. The first thing that grabs your attention is the wall-to-wall digital interior, huge touchscreens stretching from A-pillar to A-pillar, bookended by electronic door mirrors like on the Audi e-Tron

Will it stand the test of time? I can’t wait to see if the virtual instrumentation works, or whether it’ll be used as much as those dozens of apps you download when you get your first smartphone and never use. 

But you then notice the wool-upholstered seats, the well-judged wooden trim, the carpet-trimmed door caps and the wonderful sense of space cultivated by the flat floor and lack of centre console. You prod and stroke and tap and realise it’s all beautifully built – and the materials are a step up from the usual Honda stuff. 

It’s safe to say I’m really looking forward to spending time in the E. The raw maths of its tiddly 36kWh lithium-ion battery mean I’m expecting to be hamstrung by the limiting (claimed) 125-mile range, but I’m trying to adjust my mindset to accept that. It’s aimed at day-to-day chores and shorter inter-city hops, not long drives to the airport or far-flung family holidays. It has points in the bank for its utterly captivating charms, but real life is about to test the Honda E’s mettle harder than any streetside cooing ever will. Stay tuned.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Honda E specs and running costs

Price £29,160
Performance 36kWh battery, single e-motor, 152bhp, 8.0sec 0-62mph, 100mph
Efficiency 3.6 miles per kWh (official), 3.2 miles per kWh (tested), 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 3.6p per mile
Miles this month 37
Total miles 241

Spec secrets: how we specced our Honda E Advance

Honda E: some of the most cutesy cartoony styling this side of a manga comic

Which one are we running? 
Picking a Honda E is simple: there are only two trims available – the regular model retailing at £26,660 and this top-line Advance model for £29,160. Both prices are after the £3000 discount afforded by the government’s Plug In Car Grant. That’s a tenth off!

Advance: fully loaded!
Our Advance is well equipped as standard and comes with precisely no options at all. What you see on the spec list is what you get: radar cruise and lane keep, sat-nav, digital everything, keyless entry and ignition. It’s absolutely loaded for a small car. 

No spare wheel
Those 17-inch alloys are decidedly cool: a dual-tone mix of painted black and polished brightwork which look simultaneously retro-kitsch and modernist. There’s no spare wheel, just a can of gunk under the flap of the boot floor. I hope we never have to use it... 

Pay-as-you-go: Honda E finance deals
If you think nearly 30 big ones for a city car is absurd, may we present to you the tempting PCP packages  doing the rounds. At time of writing, Honda will flog you a base E for £249 a month after £5704 down over three years at 5.9% APR interest. Nifty. 

Searing paintjob is Charge Yellow. It’s a no-cost option on the E and contrasts splendidly with the black roof, charging flap, light facias front and rear, and alloy wheels.

More long-term tests by CAR magazine

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet