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Short-range urban runabout is filled with interesting tech; too impressive to drive out of town for its own good
Steve Cropley Autocar
22 July 2020

What is it?

It’s well-made, well-equipped and extremely cute, but you might as well know from the start that your opinion of Honda’s new supermini EV is going to depend almost entirely on how you view its relatively meagre WLTP cruising range of 125 miles.

This dominant statistic (low compared with most other electric cars currently being rushed to market) directly controls who will buy the Honda E and how it will be used. It’s even more important even than the relatively high price, which starts just over £26,000 for a basic version (after the £3000 government grant) and runs close to £30,000 once you’ve bought the plusher, faster Advance version and added obvious options.

Knowing that range talk will be dominant, Honda is careful to describe the new car as an urban runabout, relentlessly pointing out that the average British motorist’s commute is only about a fifth of the little E’s range, which means its battery has plenty of juice for most suburbanites. If you need more, it implies, better to buy something else. Or own a second car.

The flaw in that argument comes from the E’s innate eye and driver appeal. Its modern, simple reprise of the styling of the 1972 Civic – itself a new kind of Honda back in the day – makes it uniquely appealing among current small cars. Once you’re behind the wheel, it soon dawns on you that the E is also dynamically different from the horde: it avoids the disappointingly oversprung and underdamped suspension of many electric cars (especially those towards the bottom of the size/price range), and that’s another inducement to the driver to use it for more than the low-grade errands implied by the words ‘urban’ and ‘commuter’.

Mind you, it’s easy enough to understand what Honda is saying: the E is a small car, just 3.9 metres long and, even with its modest 35.5kWh battery, the lightest of the two varaints weighs 1514kg. Give it a big battery and you would add 20cm or 150kg and get a car with an entirely different character and price. Other car makers have shied away from uniquely engineered small EVs, and this is why.

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What's it like?

One virtue of the E’s small battery is that it can be charged quickly: about half an hour on a rapid charger lifts it from 20-80% and most home chargers need four or five hours to restore it completely from depletion. If you park the range subject, or reach your own accommodation with it, suddenly you’re talking about a rather special little car.

Honda certainly feels so: it points out that it could simply have strapped a battery under the recently launched front wheel-drive Jazz hybrid (longer and a bit more spacious in the back), but it instead chose to give the E a new platform to give it dynamically pure rear-wheel drive, plus a 50:50 weight distribution and MacPherson strut-type independent suspension at either end. The move away from front-wheel drive also allows the steered wheels to turn very tightly, which yields the taxi-beating turning circle of 8.6 metres between kerbs.

The E’s single electric drive motor sits between its rear wheels. In the base model, it makes 134bhp, while the Advance we tested gets 151bhp. Both are good for 232lb ft of torque (from standstill), but the Advance’s extra power shaves 0.7sec off the 0-62mph time of 9.0sec, even though its extra gear adds around 30kg. Power is fed into the battery via a Type 2 socket under a flap in the bonnet that neatly doubles as a styling feature.

Almost every dimension of the E points to its central purpose. It occupies about the same road footprint as the current Mini, but it’s nearly 10cm taller, so it feels pleasantly high, has a spacious and upright driving position, offers a great view of the road and affords easy cabin access front and rear. The 2530mm wheelbase is one of the longest going for a car of this length; combined with wide tracks and an ultra-low centre of gravity (courtesy of that underfloor battery), this lets the E muster impressive stability and good roll control.

Rear seat room is decent, given the car’s length, but the boot is small, because it has a high floor, due to the drive motor lurking beneath. The interior is a fascinating combination of trim that deliberately uses furniture-influenced fabrics and a matt wood finish across the dashboard (it’s much better than it sounds) to create “a lounge-like experience”. A complete contrast is the flat-fronted fascia, with no fewer than five screens across the dash.

The pair at its extremities provide rear vision: the E uses video cameras, not side mirrors, to look rearward. Ahead of the driver, there’s a classic TFT screen providing all-digital information that’s configurable in a variety of ways, and the rest of the dash is filled by a pair of 12.0in touchscreens, again very versatile in their configurations, but mostly used to control the sat-nav, ventilation and infotainment. A neat switching arrangement lets you swap the contents of the two centre screens so your passenger can juggle music or phone calls or request a new navigation route, then switch it back.

The HMI system will accept requests in a normal, conversational style if you preface them with “Okay, Honda”. The whole thing is a source of fascination to passengers and new drivers; we suspect an owner would need several days to gain full familiarity.

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On the road, the E combines the best of small cars and electric cars to make a really enjoyable driving experience. It’s not truly sporty, given the high hip point and the sit-up-and-beg driving position, and some say the seats rather lack side-support for hard cornering. But the combination of a small steering wheel (three turns lock to lock), the tight turning circle and the narrowness of the body (relieved of the usual extra 20cm of mirror width), allied to the built-in low-speed precision of a very good electric powertrain, make the E a great little car for confined areas.

It zips through small traffic spaces and slips easily into tight parking slots. In the Advance, there’s an automatic parking system to help (you still work the brakes), along with an almost bewildering array of electronic crash prevention and traction-keeping measures. No small car has more, all visible and configurable via the screens.

The E is pretty decent on open roads, too. Its long wheelbase, low centre of gravity and lack of overhangs mean it resists pitching far better than most cars of this size, and it efficiently insulates occupants from road noise and bump crashes.

Should I buy one?

Honda benchmarked this EV against bigger cars for refinement, and it most definitely shows. This is one car you can drive in urban areas without being constantly reminded of the ravaged state of Britain’s roads. Altogether, driving the E is an uplifting experience, which shows a new way for small cars – or at least for small cars that weigh 1.5 tonnes...

The exhaustive launch bumf for the E is succinct about only one thing: that it represents “the start of Honda’s electrification journey”. On the showing of the Japanese brand’s first UK-bound EV, this could well be a bandwagon worth boarding.

Honda E Advance specification

Where Berkshire, UK Price £28,660 (after government grant) On sale now Engine single electric motor Power 151bhp Torque 232lb ft Gearbox single-speed automatic Kerb weight 1542kg Top speed 90mph 0-62mph 8.3sec Battery 35.5kWh Range 125 miles (WLTP) CO2 0g/km Rivals Renault Zoe, VW e-Up!

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Comments
31

22 July 2020

This is Honda doing what it does best, going its own way and not following the herd. Sometimes it works and the company achieves true brilliance, but not always. Time will tell whether the decision to build a ligher, smaller EV with less battery capacity than others was the right thing to do - but it gives buyers more choice and that has to be a good thing. And by all accounts it rides well, which is another good thing, especially for Honda which has a habit of screwing up in this area. 

Just one thing. I notice that dealers are widely advertising this car with a £3000 discount (save £3000 the ads proclaim). I assume this is just a way of making the government subsidy a bit more prominent, but it could be seen as misleading.... 

23 July 2020

With the NSX, Type-R and now this, Honda is back to its very best.

22 July 2020

Not going to help Honda's ailing car sales in Europe but at last they're beginning to see the BEV  light.  But Honda should look at why they're always behind on what way the current market is going, slow to do diesel and by the time they did diesel sales were starting to dive, slow to do down sized turbo engines, slow to do a Nissan Leaf competitor. The only thing they were ahead on were ugly cars and Hydrogen and we know how badly that went. 

22 July 2020
xxxx wrote:

Not going to help Honda's ailing car sales in Europe but at last they're beginning to see the BEV  light.  But Honda should look at why they're always behind on what way the current market is going, slow to do diesel and by the time they did diesel sales were starting to dive, slow to do down sized turbo engines, slow to do a Nissan Leaf competitor. The only thing they were ahead on were ugly cars and Hydrogen and we know how badly that went. 

 

at the other extreme, they were early to hybrids with the Insight then bailed out just before they got popular. it seems their engineering departments are great, their market forecasting department less so. 

22 July 2020
Bob Cat Brian wrote:

xxxx wrote:

Not going to help Honda's ailing car sales in Europe but at last they're beginning to see the BEV  light.  But Honda should look at why they're always behind on what way the current market is going, slow to do diesel and by the time they did diesel sales were starting to dive, slow to do down sized turbo engines, slow to do a Nissan Leaf competitor. The only thing they were ahead on were ugly cars and Hydrogen and we know how badly that went. 

 

at the other extreme, they were early to hybrids with the Insight then bailed out just before they got popular. it seems their engineering departments are great, their market forecasting department less so. 

Honda's UK marketing is crap, they seemed to have hybrids in other markets for longer than here, after the first insight was the civic available as a manual, they are in the UK but seem fewer and farther between, the second insight was a brilliant car but overpriced in the UK, it was so much cheaper elsewhere which made it so much more competitive, even here it was still about £3k cheaper than a Prius, but it wasn't a competitor for the Prius as it was a mild hybrid not full, as it worked like a downsized turbo, with a smaller engine and electric boost that gave it the performance of a larger engine.

As for this e, I like it a lot, the concept definitely looked better but this still looks great and really appears to be a premium product so sort of justifying its price. The range would work well for me and will prove even better as the charging infrastructure improves enabling this to travel further with less hassle.

23 July 2020
xxxx wrote:

Not going to help Honda's ailing car sales in Europe but at last they're beginning to see the BEV  light.  But Honda should look at why they're always behind on what way the current market is going, slow to do diesel and by the time they did diesel sales were starting to dive, slow to do down sized turbo engines, slow to do a Nissan Leaf competitor. The only thing they were ahead on were ugly cars and Hydrogen and we know how badly that went. 

More sh*t from you - Honda did diesel in 2002, diesel sales were not "beginning to dive" in 2002. We dont know "how hydrogen went" cos the use of hydrogen as a fuel is much further in the future, but manufacturers need to look into it now. Can you imagine in 20 years if theres a breakthrough in the efficiancy of manufacturing hydrogen making fuek cells more viable how youd berate Honda (and others) for being "slow" as you do here ? You couldnt make this sh*t up, you really are stupid. Youre right about their ugly cars though (not this one).

22 July 2020
The range will be a deal breaker for many. No amount of fancy interior will do. And the Honda argument that it's fine for most people is utterly misguided. The range will be down to nearer a hundred miles in winter, it's surprisingly easy to cover that in a day just doing the chores. And when there are rivals that can double the distance for the same price, it's dead in the water. An expensive folly methinks, a product of head in the clouds designers divorced from reality.

22 July 2020

I find it ugly to be honest, and the seats look very uncomfortable and flat,but they do say looks are in the eye of the beholder .

22 July 2020

I'm sure most companies could deliver a high quality small car if they had £28,000 plus government grant to spend on producing it.

Maybe 5-10 years ago you would find consumers prepared to pay over the odds for a compromised product simply to show off how green they were. I don't think that is still the case when you can buy much longer ranged vehicles for the same price and much better vehicles for not alot more.

22 July 2020

 The only thing I'm not a fan of is the side to side Dash, I realise some of it may be for the passsenger to use, and maybe you can minimalise the number of screens so it not to distracting, but overall and compared to others, it's ok.

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