Honda e First Drive
The Honda e is the Japanese company’s first all-electric model and shows a distinct style and appeal. Richard Gooding digs a little deeper to see if the e’s zero-emission technology shares its premium appearance desirability
What is it?
The retro-styled Honda Urban EV Concept wowed the crowds at the 2017 Frankfurt motor show. The first public taster of Honda’s new-found electric car ambitions, order books for the city car opened in early 2019 when the production version debuted. Toned down in appearance compared to the concept, and with an extra pair of doors, the Honda e is an all-electric small car with a 131-137-mile range, a cool and striking design and a very digital interior. All that style comes at a price, though – starting at ￡26,660, Honda believes the e’s cute looks and digital tech will appeal to those looking for a compact and stylish electric car.
How does it drive?
Whie it’s true the Honda e doesn’t wholeheartedly transfer the looks of the Urban EV Concept to a mass-produced vehicle, it’s hard not to fall for the styling of Honda’s first all-electric car. The e’s short, stubby silhouette is imbued with details, from the concave front and rear light panels, the black roof and alloy wheels, to the cameras mounted on the doors, which have pop-out handles. Cameras mounted on the doors? Yes, the first small car to feature a side camera mirror system as standard, the pods reduce drag by 90 per cent compared to conventional door mirrors. They relay what would be shown in a rear view mirror onto a pair of six-inch colour screens inside the car, at either end of the dashboard.
And it’s the dashboard which is the car’s other big talking point. Largely all-digital, the front of the interior space is dominated by a bank of screens. The two ‘mirror’ feeds sit at either end, with a pair of 12.3-inch LCD screens in the middle, along with an 8.8” TFT display ahead of the driver. It’s a little bewildering at first, but the set-up soon seems second nature. A nice touch is that the pair of central larger displays can be flipped between the driver and passenger, and shortcut keys also display the most recently-used apps.
The wing cameras can be adjusted just like wing mirrors, and where specified, the rear view mirror is either fed by a live camera in the rear window, or can be used like a conventional interior mirror. Despite the digital screens, there are still physical buttons, mounted atop the wood-effect dashboard, which creates an interior ambience like no other small car. High quality seat materials help create an upmarket feel and Honda equates the e’s interior to that of a ‘lounge’. It’s certainly a bold and highly appealing place to be.
The design of the e sets it apart from other electric cars, as does its stated range and price. The driving experience is more in keeping with other small EVs, but even here, the petite Honda offers enough engagement to keep drivers hooked. Available with 100kW or 113kW electric motors, the e has a 50:50 weight distribution and is rear-wheel drive, long a preserve of driving enthusiasts. A low centre of gravity is also present, thanks to the 35.5kWh battery pack being mounted in the floor. The 113kW/152bhp of the top-spec Advance model is plenty and it feels faster than its 8.3 seconds to 62mph time suggests, thanks to 232lb ft of torque.
Supremely refined for a small car, the e’s ride is very well judged. It doesn’t feel overly firm but it’s not under-damped either. Enjoying a grown-up demeanour, the e is comfortable and rides very well. However, it’s not all big-car manners: with a turning circle of just 4.3m and no power going through the front wheels, the car can be turned on the literal sixpence. The rear wheel drive set-up gives the e almost sports car-like dynamism, too, and with little body roll, it can be ushered through corners briskly, with little fuss. It’s a very engaging proposition, even if that engagement will dent the car’s already precious range.
What range does it have?
Honda has deliberately pitched the e as an ‘urban commuter’, and very firmly believes that its ‘right-size’ battery and range are where they need to be in terms of capacity and distance. That belief results in a WLTP-certified range of 137 miles for cars wearing 16-inch wheels, dropping to 125 miles when 17-inch rims are fitted. That the smaller-capacity 35.5kWh battery delivers less distance than the 238-mile range Renault Zoe’s 52kWh unit is perhaps a given, but some may see the fewer miles the e can travel before it needs recharging an issue. But, if the car is used in what Honda states is its favoured habitat, that is less of a problem. It’s perhaps unfair to compare the Honda e to cars like the Zoe anyway – the Mini Electric is more of a comparable rival in terms of its ￡24,900-￡30,900 price and 140-145-mile range.
The Honda’s range can be eked out via its single pedal control system, which allows it to be driven using just the accelerator. It works very well. As well as eliminating creep from the fixed-ratio reduction gearbox, the single pedal set-up engages more regenerative braking, the three stages of which can be controlled by the paddles either side of the two-spoke steering wheel. ‘Normal’ and ‘Sport’ drive modes allow for further control. There is no ‘Eco’ mode, as Honda believes the car is as optimised as it can be.
How long does it take to charge?
The Honda e features DC fast-charging capability as standard. Eighty per cent of range can be refilled in around 30 minutes, while a full top up takes around four hours on a 7.4kW wallbox or supply. Honda has made an obvious point of the charging flap and socket and has centrally located them towards the end of the ‘bonnet’. Lit up at night, it’s easy to find, and also informs the driver of battery charge status.
What does it cost?
Honda has kept it simple with its first electric car. Only two trims are available, entry-level e, and range-topping e Advance. Starting at ￡26,660 including the government’s Plug-in Car Grant, the entry-level car comes highly specified with adaptive cruise control, ambient lighting, auto LED lights, Bluetooth connectivity, climate control, heated front seats, parking sensors, a rear view camera, rear privacy glass, 16-inch alloy wheels, and those impressive 12.3-inch touchscreens, pop-out door handles and the side camera mirror system. The e is only available with a 100kW electric motor.
Move up to the ￡29,160 e Advance, and the 113kW motor tested here becomes an option. Only available with the more powerful motor, the more technologically-equipped e Advance adds a heated steering wheel, Honda’s Parking Pilot automatic parking system, blind spot monitor, a centre camera rear view mirror, ‘premium’ audio, and a choice of 16 or 17-inch alloy wheels. Both versions of the Honda e come with a very comprehensive array of safety systems that include functions for collision mitigation, lane keeping assistance, and traffic sign recognition.
How much does it cost to tax?
In common will all fully electric cars, the Honda e is exempt from VED charges in both the first and also subsequent years under current taxation bands. The zero-emission Honda attracts a zero per cent Benefit in Kind (BIK) rate for 2020-2021, rising to one per cent in 2021-2022, and two per cent in 2022-2023.
Why does my fleet need one?
The e is a bold statement of Honda’s electric intent, at least in terms of appeal. There’s no doubt the pinch points of range and price will come into the equation, but for fleets that operate in largely urban areas, the striking appearance and premium air will offer many chances to get noticed.
The more limited range will mean Honda’s piece of electric car jewellery isn’t for everyone or every fleet, but with plans brought forward to electrify every model in its range by 2022, the e is the first sign of things to come from the Japanese manufacturer. An additional all-electric model is on the way, which may address the e’s limited range. But for now, the Honda e is a both a highly engaging and desirable proposition if the usage case and cycle demands it.