Honda e first drive
Discover EV attends the UK contactless launch of the all-new Honda e. Boasting minimalist design, cutting-edge technology and dynamic handling, it is one of the best small electric cars on the market despite its short range.
Discover EV expert verdict...
- Quirky, cute styling
- Fun to drive
- Advanced electronics, connectivity and safety systems
- Poor range
- Small boot
- Expensive compared to rivals
The Honda e is the brand’s first pure electric BEV in Europe, and leads the way to an exciting future as it prepares to electrify all of its mainstream car line-up by 2022. Built on a dedicated EV platform and designed from the ground up, the Honda e boasts up-to-the-minute technology all wrapped up in simple, effective design – it’s the perfect showcase of how electrification can change the way you think about a car and how it’s packaged. Following a drive-through cinema-style presentation (most definitely a first for all of the journalists who attended) we then spent the afternoon behind the wheel of what Honda calls its urban commuter. Here’s what we thought.
If we were to liken the Honda e to any of its rivals in terms of the driving experience it would be the MINI Electric, except that it’s rear-wheel drive, and when you combine that with a high-performance motor it’s a lot of fun.
Honda’s engineers apparently paid a lot of attention to enhancing the chassis to deliver an engaging experience behind the wheel - and it shows. There a number of factors why this car feels so agile yet stable round the corners: wide front and rear tracks and minimal overhangs (placing the four wheels in the outmost corners), exceptionally low centre of gravity (500mm from the ground) and 50:50 weight distribution. Yet despite its go-kart feel, with MacPherson strut independent suspension for each wheel and a low spring rate, the ride isn’t bone-jarringly firm.
There is no wheel spin out of corners either – despite 232lb-ft of torque offered up from zero rpm and I really was trying my best to get it sideways around roundabouts. I could only get it to slide out on a gravel car park (perhaps I wasn’t trying hard enough!). It probably helped that my car’s 17 inch wheels were shod in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres (the entry-level grade gets 16 inch wheels).
Steering is light and precise but it’s also ridiculously manoeuvrable round small city streets with a turning circle of 4.3m. The car feels like it’s pivoting from the middle, it made parallel parking a doddle (and no, I didn’t use the Honda Parking Pilot, which will guide the car into a space for you).
The electric servo brake system has been calibrated to ensure a consistent pedal feel, even when engaging with the regenerative brake system, which some EVs don’t do very well. The car uses 280mm discs all-round, with ventilated items at the front, and I must say performance and pedal feel is very good. The Honda e offers Single Pedal Control, which when activated, allows you to accelerate, slow and stop the car using only the go faster pedal. It is much more effective than Nissan’s LEAF e-pedal. If 0.18g of deceleration proves too much however, you can adjust the strength of it by using the steering wheel-mounted paddles.
There are two Drive Mode options: ‘Normal Mode’, which is said to provide easy-to-control, smooth acceleration and ‘Sport Mode’, which offers a quicker throttle response and stronger acceleration. I must say that I didn’t notice a huge difference between the two and kept it in Normal to optimise the range.
Range and running costs
Let’s address the elephant in the room here, and the main criticism from other motoring journalists – the range. The 35.5 kWh battery provides a range of 137 miles (WLTP) in the entry-level Honda e, and up to 125 miles in the Advance. So, okay that’s not as much as the comparably priced Nissan LEAF 40kWh with 168 miles, but Honda say with a long range vehicle there are a lot of drawbacks, namely, cost, size, weight and consumption. The Honda e is positioned as an urban commuter so it doesn’t need 300 miles plus, and with a smaller battery size it allowed for better dynamics and unique styling. Honda says that the average commute in the UK is around 23 miles left, and if you have access to a charger – whether that’s on the street your place of work or home – it really isn’t a problem.
In our time with the Advance, we found real-world range to be around 100 miles. We started on 98 per cent charge and 105 miles and after completing 82 miles of mixed driving, we finished with 23 miles and averaged 3.5 miles/kWh. I cheekily extended the recommended press route to include a lot more motorway and dual carriageway, I wasn’t shy with my right foot and I had the air con on most of the time, so I’m pretty impressed.
With its quirky styling and a price tag of £26,660 for the basic model, I can really see this car being a fashion accessory for the wealthy city dweller or a second car for the upper middle class who have ditched urban life for greener country living. I say wealthy because it is more expensive than the entry-level versions of the Renault Zoe, Peugeot e-208 and Mini Electric (all of which have a longer range). Honda has at least offed a great finance deal which starts from £299 per month for the base grade with a £6000 deposit (£349 for the Advanced with a 23% deposit). This is most certainly a car you buy because you love the way it looks and drives.
Usual cost savings are made because it’s electric, of course, such as being road tax and congestion charge exempt. Residual values for electric cars are also better than they used to be, and we expect there will always be demand for the retro-styled Honda, and recharging costs a lot less than refilling with petrol. Even charging at a rapid charger you’ll be paying around £7 for 100 miles. You can almost half that cost charging at home on an EV-friendly tariff, though it will obviously take a lot longer. Topping up to fully charged takes just over four hours from a 6.6kW Type 2 charger, or over 18 hours when plugged in to a regular three-pin socket; in comparison recharging (to 80 per cent) from a 100kW fast charger takes 30 minutes.
Styling cues from the original 1970’s Civic lend this Honda e its retro look (didn’t you recognise those circular light clusters?). But it’s more than old school cool. The clean lines and smooth surfaces means it looks unlike any other model in Honda’s current line-up. PR & Corporate Affairs Department Manager, Simon Branney, likened it to a typical child’s drawing of a car and he’s absolutely right; at the same time however, it also offers a glimpse into how cars might look in the future.
The devil is in the details is a very clichéd overused term but it’s really apt when describing the Honda e, from the flush door handles (that, unlike the Tesla Model 3, pop out as the driver approaches with the key fob or Digital Key for ease of use), to the stepless A-pillars and the world-first Side Camera Mirror System (which replaces conventional door mirrors with compact cameras that provide live high-definition images to two six-inch screens inside the vehicle). Not only are these safer, extending the field of vision further than with conventional side mirrors and reducing blind spots (by around 10 per cent in normal view and approximately 50 per cent in wide view), but they deliver superior visibility in poor weather, low light and night-time conditions with no dazzle or glare. Furthermore, the SCMS contributes to an approximate 3.8 per cent improvement in efficiency and range, and there is a significant reduction of wind noise at higher speeds. Even the radio, GPS, and mobile data antennae are integrated into the top edge of the rear window.
The modern, simple design is carried through to the interior too, with tactile materials and fabrics employed to create a lounge-like feel and a wide rear bench and LED ceiling spot lamps providing the ambience of a modern living space. While it’s a small car, the landscape aspect of the full-width LCD touchscreens and wide panoramic windscreen enhance the sense of spaciousness.
Comfort and practicality
I must admit that after sitting through a 26-minute presentation and then driving the car for 3 hours my buttocks were in pain – but you’d probably find that in most cars. Passenger space is comparable with that of cars in the segment above thanks to a relatively long wheelbase, while storage is versatile and plentiful.
With the rear seats up the boot offers 171 litres of capacity, folded flat it increases to 861 litres. It’s certainly smaller than its rivals but the lack of boot lip at least allows for easy loading of bulky items.
Where the Honda e comes into its own is its multiple advanced technologies. The full-width digital dashboard for example – the party piece – includes five screens: The Side Camera Mirror System screens are ergonomically placed at either end of the dashboard, while an 8.8-inch TFT meter instrument display sits in front of the driver presenting key vehicle information and dual 12.3 inch LCD touchscreens dominate the centre.
These are the primary infotainment displays, giving access to a range of intelligent applications and services, and are both highly intuitive and customisable. Having owned the Tesla Model 3 for three months now I can testify how useful it is to have a screen for both the front seat passenger and driver, there would be no arguments in this car with the ability for each person to access their favourite or most-used apps. I like the fact you can swipe through recently used applications in the app history display, to avoid excessive menu navigation. Should you wish, favourite apps or functions can also be easily exchanged between the two screens. The comprehensive suite of in-built apps can be supplemented by seamless smartphone mirroring, via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, too.
Safety features are pretty comprehensive, with the basic model only lacking Blind Spot Information, the Centre Camera Mirror System (which can be switched on to relay the image from a central rear-facing camera to the rear-view mirror display), Multi View Camera System, front windshield de-icer, heated steering, Honda Parking Pilot and Premium Audio speakers.
Honda’s first electric car is more than a pretty face, it’s crammed with tech and rewardingly fun to drive, but you can’t get away from that limited range and hefty price tag. The truth of the matter is range anxiety is just that, the majority of us don’t need to feel anxious with a 100 plus miles of range. I guess you’ve got to weigh up where your priorities lie - if you want to pay a bit less money for an EV that’s less equipped and blends in with the crowd then you should consider a VW e-Up, Skoda Citigo-e, Seat Mii Electric or Renault Zoe. Otherwise, go for the Honda e.
2020 Honda e Advanced (Honda e)
Price (RRP OTR): £29,160 (including plug-in grant)
Top speed: 90 mph
0-62mph: 8.3 seconds (9 seconds)
Power: 151hp (134hp)
Driving range WLTP: 125 miles (137 miles)
Charging time: (7.4kW Type 2, 0 to 100%); 4.1 hours (100kW rapid charger, 0 to 80%) 30 mins
Insurance group: 25-29
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited miles; 8 years or 100,000 miles (battery)