UK Drive: The Honda e is a funky electric city car like no other
Honda’s ‘e’ is a radical departure from this Japanese firm’s norm. Ted Welford finds out what it’s like.
What is it?
While Honda has had the occasional ‘wild’ moment in its history, in more recent years it’s become better known for its safe and sensible models. There’s the long-running Civic, the practical-but-uninspiring Jazz and also the dependable CR-V SUV. All fine cars, but ones that you’d struggle to get excited about buying or owning.
However, Honda is keen to let its hair down again, which is what leads us to the ‘e’. Yes, not a typo. It’s the Japanese firm’s first EV in Europe, and shows a very different side to Honda, but is it a good side or is the firm best sticking to the safe and sensible it knows best?
The Honda e was first shown in concept form in 2017 with the Urban EV, which developed into the almost production-ready ‘e Prototype’ in 2019, before arriving in dealers in mid-2020. This compact EV is Honda’s smallest car, and offers a very different design to its other models, with retro-inspired styling that’s mirrored at both the front and rear.
This tiny car is absolutely packed full of technology as well, with its interior filled with screens, while even the door mirrors are replaced by cameras – this Honda being the first mass-market production car to be offered with this as standard.
What’s under the bonnet?
Though Honda used to offer the e with a choice of a regular trim or a more powerful Advance model, it’s only the latter that’s now offered.
Using a 35.5kWh battery and an electric motor producing 152bhp and 315Nm of torque, drive is sent to the rear wheels – setting it apart from rivals like the Fiat 500 and Mini Electric. Getting from 0-60mph takes 8.1 seconds, with the top speed capped at 90mph.
The trouble with using a small battery is that the range is compromised. Honda claims 137 miles, or 131 in the case of our test car with the larger 17-inch alloy wheels. However, we struggled to see anything close to this, and expect more like 90-100 miles if you’re driving outside of a city. This really compromises its use to those doing any longer trips, though its small battery can be charged to 80 per cent in half an hour.
What’s it like to drive?
This is a brilliantly fun EV to drive, and that rear-wheel-drive layout really gives it an advantage, as you can feel the car pushing you around the corner, and means it’s a joy to take down your favourite road. The way it picks up speed is impressively zippy, too, feeling quicker than the figures suggest.
Though you won’t want to take it on a motorway for any extended period of time because of the impact on range, it’s surprisingly good here, feeling refined and quiet, while the suite of driver assistance technology is impressive. The digital mirrors, which relay images onto screens either side of the interior, do take time to adjust to, however. Even once you do get used to them, they’re an unnecessary substitute for regular ones.
How does it look?
You’ll often hear people saying how ‘all cars look the same’ these days. If you want to argue against this, show them the Honda e. It’s a model that looks like nothing else, and gets an impressive amount of attention on the road, helped by the intrigue that comes from a lack of mirrors.
The big round headlights, surrounded in a gloss black strip, are pretty much repeated in the same design at the rear, and only adds to the funkiness of the e. It’s a cliche, but this Honda looks like a concept car that’s escaped the motor show halls.
What’s it like inside?
That funky look extends to the Honda e’s interior, which – again – looks like nothing the brand has ever sold before. There are an almost-ridiculous six screens in the cabin; there’s one for the touchscreen, passenger touchscreen, digital dial display, the two side mirror screens, and even the rear-view mirror can change to a digital display to make up for the average visibility. Though it looks superb, the central touchscreen isn’t quite as slick as you might hope, and the second screen on the far side of the cabin doesn’t really add anything other than visuals.
However, the quality throughout is very good, helped by cool wool-effect seats and wood trim around the gear selector and across the dashboard. Though the front of the car feels big and airy – helped by a floating centre console – rear space is tight, and the boot is tiny at 171 litres while the charging cables take up about half of this load area if you’re carrying them onboard.
What’s the spec like?
A city car has probably never come with so much equipment as the Honda e. It’s remarkable just how many features have been crammed into something measuring less than 3.9m in length.
There are around-view cameras, a premium sound system, heated seats and a heated steering wheel, on top of the array of safety equipment that could rival a luxury SUV and the impressive suite of screens.
The downside? You may for the privilege, as the Honda e starts from an eye-watering £36,820, and you can add up to £1,000 just for paint. It makes it almost £8,000 more expensive than the cheapest Mini Electric and £6,000 more than the most affordable electric Fiat 500, which is a huge amount to pay for such a small car.
The Honda e is one of those cars that you can’t help but love. From its original looks to its tech-laden cabin and fun driving experience, there is truly nothing quite like it on the market today.
But this is sadly a car that brings some big compromises, namely its poor electric range and cramped boot and interior, not to mention the price. However, if you’ve got the cash to splash, don’t do many miles or need a lot of space, this is one of the most charming, characterful and enjoyable electric cars you can buy.