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New car review

Honda e test drive

Honda’s new e might look the part, but does it drive as a fully-fledged electric vehicle should?

This is the new Honda e, and it’s what the Japanese manufacturer calls an ‘urban commuter’ car, designed for those who are undertaking regular, but shorter journeys. So while you’ll find no headline-grabbing range or huge battery pack here, the e positions itself as a car which is more than happy at dealing with the day-to-day of driving.

The question is, is it any good? We’ve been out behind the wheel of the Honda e to find out.

What’s new about the Honda e?

Make no bones about it, the Honda e is a completely new thing. You’ll find no platform sharing here, with the e underpinned by a bespoke platform unique to the dinky little Honda. So instead of being moulded around a preexisting base, the e has been designed from the ground up and this allows for a little more freedom when it comes to packaging.

So while the vast majority of EVs currently on sale are either front- or all-wheel-drive, the e sends power to the rear wheels. Why’s that? In order both free up space in the cabin and allow for a much smaller turning circle since the front wheels can turn to a much sharper angle without an engine or motor to compete for space with.

How does it look?

With its cutesy styling, you’ve got to say that Honda has nailed the tie-up between futuristic and retro with the e’s design. The way the front lights mirror the rears, the shortness of the overhangs and the rounded, ‘bubble’ nature of the way the e looks turns it into a real head-turner.

It’s clearly inspired by the original Honda Civic of 1972, but avoids the outright retro look of a Fiat 500 or Mini. During our time with the car, there were very few people who didn’t stop, stare and point at the little Honda e as it went past.

Against rival offerings, it’s a genuinely exciting alternative and one we’re sure will be a hit with buyers. It’s a real testament to the original design that this road-going Honda looks so similar to the concept we first saw at the Geneva motor show three years ago.

What’s the spec like?

It’s when it comes to equipment that the Honda e really moves things forward. It’s a car practically bristling with technology incorporated into nearly every area of the vehicle. The main infotainment setup, for instance, combines two 12-inch high-definition screens in the middle of the dashboard; in total, there are five screens. It’s here where you can access information about the car’s battery status, as well as media controls and satellite navigation. It operates much like a smartphone, with configurable panels making tailoring the display to your own needs easy. The passenger can also take control of the screens too.

The Honda e also includes a futuristic side camera mirror system that displays rear view information onto two screens inside the car, one on either side of the vehicle. These use cameras located on the outside of the vehicle to display an image of what’s behind to the cabin. It’s not a feature reserved for tip-top versions – this is a bit of tech which all e models get, regardless of trim. It’s an exceptional level of equipment and represents a genuine step-change in the segment.

As yet, the Honda e has not faced crash testing by Euro NCAP or anti-theft testing by Thatcham Research. Like most things, these testing programmes have been put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic, and are expected to start resuming during the second half of 2020.

What’s it like inside?

The cabin of the e has been executed extremely well and though it’s dominated by the technology described above, the general standard of fit and finish is very good indeed. Wood trim pieces blend well with the high-tech elements, while the relatively high up driving position and flat dashboard allow you to have an extremely clear view of the road ahead. Visibility out of the back is good, too.

If you have any reservations about the side camera mirror system, we can report that it works very well in practice and takes almost no time to adjust to.

Space in the rear of the e isn’t bad for a car of this size, but because of the battery located at the rear of the car, the boot is quite small. At 171 litres it’s enough for a weekly shop, for sure, but not large enough for family’s luggage.

What’s under the bonnet?

The Honda e uses an electric motor with 153hp (or 113kW in EV-speak) which is powered by a 35.5kWh lithium-ion battery. It helps the e to go from 0-60mph in just under eight seconds, while flat-out it’ll do 100mph. Honda claims a range of 125 miles from a single charge; it’s a figure which is a fair bit under rival EVs, but likely to be enough for daily commutes.

Charging-wise, it’ll take just half an hour to complete a full charge via a 50kWh CCS fast charger, or just over four hours when using a standard AC home wallbox. Thinking of charging your e with a regular three-pin plug? That’ll take about 19 hours.

Given the speediness of a quick charge, however, it won’t take long to significantly boost the e’s range when out and about. The charging port is located on the front of the car too, underneath the black accent in the middle of the ‘bonnet’.

What’s the Honda e like to drive?

Take a glance at the e’s short overhangs, compact proportions and relatively brisk performance figures and it’s easy to see that it has been designed with the city in mind. And fortunately enough, it’s superb in urban environments. The acceleration is zippy and ideal for darting in and out of spaces, while the button-small turning circle makes u-turns an absolute breeze. Dinky dimensions will make it less of a headache to park in areas where spaces are at a premium, too.

But there’s fun to be had here too. The steering, which is well weighted and positive, enables you to have fun in the corners while the rear-wheel-drive setup gives the e plenty of balance through the bends. Even out on the motorway it’s hushed and refined, while only the smallest amount of jarring was transferred through to the cabin, likely as a result of the 17-inch wheels fitted to our higher-spec test car.

A single pedal driving system means you rarely need to go near to the brake as the car’s regenerative system slows the car down. You can adjust how much regenerative braking you want, in fact, via the steering wheel-mounted paddles.

Verdict

Given the amount of interest in the original concept, it could’ve been that the production Honda e arrived as a bit of a damp squib. However, that simply isn’t the case. It’s a groundbreaking little car, this, and one which will undoubtedly prove immensely popular. Yes, you could say that the range restricts it, but for those who want a car which is easy to nip here and there in – charging on the fly – then it more than fits the bill.

It’s simply so desirable as an object too, which is an attribute which rarely graces the EV segment. One thing is for sure – the e is going to prove to be a popular electric car option.

Similar cars

Mini Electric | Peugeot e-208 | Renault Zoe | Skoda Citigo iV | Smart EQ Fortwo | Vauxhall Corsa-e | Volkswagen e-Up!

Key specifications

Model as tested: Honda e Advanced
Price as tested: £29,160
Engine: Electric motor + 35.5kWh lithium-ion battery
Gearbox: Single speed automatic
Power: 113 kW (153 hp)
Torque: 315 Nm

Top speed: 100 mph
0-60mph: 7.8 seconds
Range: 125 miles
CO2 emissions: 0 g/km
Euro NCAP safety rating: Not yet tested
Thatcham security rating: Not yet tested

Jack Evans
Jack Evans
Articles by Jack Evans are provided for The Car Expert by PA Media (formerly the Press Association). They include test drives of the latest new cars and features on various aspects of automotive life.

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