I KNEW I wanted to drive the Honda e the moment I first laid eyes on it: with a pair of round LED headlights mounted either end of an oblong, none-more-black front surround, this little electric car seemed to be looking right back at me with a mischievous take-me-home twinkle in its own ‘eyes’.
As a child of the late 1970s whose love of cars and technology blossomed during the early 1980s, the Japanese giant’s first ever mass market all-electric vehicle – launched last year and specifically aimed at urban commuters – ticks a lot of boxes.
This little five-door hatchback’s super-cute, instantly identifiable ‘retro futuristic’ styling features cute design cues inspired by the front-end of the classic Mini 1275 GT, the side profile of the iconic VW Golf Mk1 (check that chunky raked C-pillar) and the general delightful Japanese dinkyness of Honda’s original 1970s ‘city car’, the first generation Civic, while also incorporating the best elements of Fiat’s gorgeous but now almost irritatingly ubiquitous 21st century 500 re-boot to, er, boot.
The Honda e’s snazzy five panel, double touchscreen dashboard is also a real USP/attention-getter, incorporating a pair of virtual wing-mirrors displaying crystal clear feeds from the car’s tiny rear-facing cameras mounted just below the A-pillars – top-specced variants can also relay a feed from a rear-facing camera to the rear-view mirror – bookending a fully customisable smorgasbord of driver info and in-car entertainment including an interactive virtual fish tank (no, really).
Such electronic bells and whistles are guaranteed to pique the interest of any 40-something male who remembers growing up wanting a computerised car just like David Hasselhoff’s. The little Honda’s retro straight-cut ‘n’ shelved dash panel is even trimmed in fake woodgrain like the very TV sets which once beamed Knight Rider into millions of living rooms.
Along with the fabric-padded doorcards and generous amount of customisable centre console storage space, this homely touch is part of the designers’ efforts to give the e’s interior a cosy ‘lounge on wheels’ kind of vibe. It works well, like something IKEA might come up with if they ever decided to give Volvo a run for its money.
While the Honda e might not come equipped with the Knight Industries Two-Thousand’s traffic queue-vaulting Turbo Boost capability (its Voice Command vocabulary is also a lot more limited than KITT’s – possibly a good thing), I can now officially confirm that it’s as good to drive as it is to look at thanks to Donnelly Honda Belfast, who provided me with a weekend-long loan of the e’s top-spec Advance model.
This features an uprated rear-wheel-drive Honda BEV unit supplying a 113kW motor – or 152bhp in old money – to its attractive silver/black diamond cut 17-inch alloys compared to the standard e’s 100kW (134bhp) motor/16-inch alloys combo and includes a raft of driver-aid extras like the aforementioned camera-fed rear-view mirror (which becomes a standard mirror with the flick of a switch), multi-angle door cameras, Parking Pilot park-assist, full heated windscreen, heated steering wheel and a premium audio system.
Indeed, the top-spec e boasts so many digital gadgets that you could easily spend so much time swiping and prodding at its magic dash – nicely responsive, especially with touch sensitivity at its highest setting – that you might never actually make it out of the car park.
That would be a shame, because the wee e loves to be driven. A tiny turning circle of just 4.3m (as a metre stick, a Belfast black hack’s turning circle is 7.62m) via variable ratio steering makes on-street/supermarket parking a doddle. With 50:50 weight distribution and a pleasingly stable low centre of gravity, the e also corners like it’s on rails, with virtually no body roll from the firm yet comfortably forgiving suspension. It deals with urban speedbumps and undulating A-roads with ease.
Visibility is good up front, with rear facing cameras and parking sensors to compensate for a rather narrow, elevated rear view, while the cabin feels nice and airy thanks to the tinted glass roof and an effective air-con/ventilation system, the console for which has been cheekily modelled on a 1970s style ‘spindle-mounted’ car radio (ask your grandad).
Performance-wise, while the Honda e is no ‘Tesla in Ludicrous mode’ off the line, the instant torque uncorked by the Honda’s 113kW/152bhp BEV unit when you floor the quiet pedal in ‘Sport’ mode will still push you firmly into your seatback, boasting a respectable 0-62mph time of 8.3secs.
Of course, planting the boot in an all-electric vehicle like the e is a sure-fire way to sap your charge and range stats – not good news in a car with a practical real world range of around 100miles on its fully charged 35.5kWh capacity battery.
The wee e loves to be driven. While it’s no ‘Tesla in Ludicrous mode’ off the line, Honda’s 113kW/152bhp BEV unit will still plant you firmly into your seatback when you floor the quiet pedal, boasting a respectable 0-62mph time of 8.3secs
As mentioned, the Honda e is intended for urban commuting, where the battery can feel the full restorative benefit of its adjustable regenerative braking capabilities. On the other hand, once you head out onto the open road the range meter can start to decrease fairly rapidly, even while driving in ‘Normal’ performance mode with the ‘One Foot’ feature engaged to take full advantage of engine braking (which is also adjustable via the steering wheel paddles).
Day trippers taking their e for a leisurely spin out of town can of course stave off the dreaded ‘range anxiety’ by firing up the onboard sat nav and plotting a course which intersects with on-street charging points in order to top up on the go.
Admittedly, that limits your options here in Northern Ireland but, assuming you can find a ‘place of interest’ with a rapid charging facility nearby, you simply park up, select ‘open charging port’ from the on-screen EV menu, grab your cable from the stow-away bag in the boot, plug in and recharge while you head off to shop/eat/sight-see: an 80 per cent battery charge is achievable in just 30 minutes with a rapid charger, according to the official stats.
Sadly, I wasn’t actually able to try this feature during my test-drive – the special ‘charge card’ required had been mislaid – but there’s also a home charging cable available which hooks up to a standard three-pin plug socket for ease of overnight wallbox/garage re-charging. Honda say you can get to 100 per cent charge in 18.8 hours via this method.
The Honda e’s snazzy five panel, double touchscreen dashboard is also a real USP/attention-getter, incorporating a fully customisable smorgasbord of driver info and in-car entertainment, including an interactive virtual fish tank (no, really)
Not having either garage sockets or a wallbox, I parked up beside the kitchen window, fed through the charging cable and and plugged the e into to the socket normally used by our kettle. Unfortunately, after just a couple of hours charging, I checked back to discover that the socket had mysteriously decided to stop working. It might have just been a coincidence, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the toaster’s socket to find out.
Being an all-electric vehicle, the batteries have to go somewhere – and in the e’s case that means under the boot floor, which seriously dents the car’s load capacity: you won’t be getting more than a weekly shop into its tiny boot unless you fold down the rear seatbacks. There isn’t much room in the back seat either for the longer legged individual unless the driver and front passenger are diminutive types.
However, to be honest, the Honda e is the kind of vehicle which is going to attract buyers prepared to overlook certain shortcomings because its great looks, onboard tech and bags of personality hit a sweet spot that other cheaper, more practical competitors in its class simply can’t reach.
More like a ‘proper’ Mini than the current Mini Electric and cut from infinitely quirkier cloth than the likes of the Fiat 500 Electric and the VW ID3, the e is an instantly identifiable cult hero guaranteed to turn heads and elicit smiles wherever it goes. Is that worth paying a premium for? Only your heart can answer for sure – and mine definitely broke a little when I had to return Donnelly’s demo car earlier this week.
File under ‘e for excellent’.
AT A GLANCE: HONDA e ADVANCE
Price: From £30,715.00, including the government plug-in car grant, worth £2,500
Engine and transmission: Electric motor, automatic single speed fixed reduction gear; Electric motor max power 113kW/152bhp; Electric motor max torque 315 Nm/232 lb ft; EV battery capacity 35.5 kWh
Performance: Top speed: 90mph; 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds
Kerb weight: 1,542kg
Range: All-electric range (WLTP) 125 miles; real world – see text
Euro NCap safety rating: Four stars as standard (76/82/62/65); tested in 2020