The new Honda e undoubtedly has styling on its side, but does that beauty go further than skin deep with a 125 mile range and hefty price tag?
With retro-cool looks, the Honda e is an all-electric, five-door hatchback that started life as the Urban EV concept car at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show. Honda has now turned that concept into reality with creditably few changes along the way.
Is the Honda e one of the best looking small electric cars on sale in showrooms right now? Certainly you’d be hard pressed to argue otherwise.
The stunning looks pick up on styling cues with the original 1970s Civic, but there’s also hints of the Peugeot 205 in the curved C pillar between the rear door and the tailgate. We especially love the squat looks and details like the circular lights, pop-out door handles and charging port on the bonnet.
Beneath those looks is a 35.5kWh battery driving the rear wheels through a single speed automatic gear. In the standard Honda e, on sale in 2021, that means the equivalent of 136PS, while the Advance tested here boasts 154PS with improved performance but marginally less range.
Inside it’s a game of two halves. The interior is nothing short of stunning, with five wide, shallow screens dominating the full width of the dashboard – the outer two acting as the door mirrors for the side cameras fitted as standard. There has clearly been a lot of attention paid to the high quality, suit-like seat fabric and matt finish wood and there’s no doubt it works well.
But the flip side of that is the Honda e’s flawed practicality. Rear seat space is cosy for adults and the 171-litre boot is even smaller than the Mini. Just a single airline carry-on wheely bag would fill it.
It’s no surprise with rivals like the Mini Electric and Peugeot’s e-208 that Honda is keen to emphasise the e’s dynamic on-road credentials. Certainly its squat stance lends itself to keener drivers even if that limited range might suggest otherwise.
The good news though is that it certainly delivers on those looks. There are two main driving modes, Normal and Sport, alongside what Honda calls its Single Pedal Control System. In essence this means a heightened level of regenerative braking to allow you to drive the car almost only using the throttle pedal.
Added to that is that there are adaptable regenerative settings with the system on and off too – three different settings when the Single Pedal system is switched on and four with it off – although there are some vagaries such as when the system is in use there is no creep function like a normal automatic.
Does it work? Yes and no. Like many rivals, with the system switched on it can feel aggressively abrupt at times and, again like others, might take some familiarity to get the best from it. By comparison, with the system switched off and with the regenerative settings set to maximum, that ironically doesn’t feel like enough.
More time behind the wheel would undoubtedly allow you to adapt your driving style, but our initial impression was that rather than the two dovetailing each other, that there was a gap between the two systems where we couldn’t find an entirely satisfactory middle ground.
That’s a shame as the rest of the Honda e’s on road driving manners are excellent. The ride quality can be a little fidgety on broken surfaces, but there’s little body roll through corners and there’s no doubt that it loves to be driven with verve. The steering is sharp and direct and mid-range acceleration and its sensitivity to throttle inputs, especially when in Sport mode, is superb. There’s certainly a lot here to like.
As for the three digital mirrors, the two side screens soon become second nature, although we sometimes found it hard for our eyes to quickly focus on the central rear view mirror when in camera mode (fitted as standard to the Advance). Thankfully, a quick flick can revert it to a traditional mirror.
For us, this is potentially the biggest sticking point for the Honda e in gaining buyers. The WLTP Combined electric driving range for this Advance version is 125 miles, while the standard model, not on sale until 2021, will be 137 miles.
Honda claims that the e’s range and battery combination has been positioned on purpose, pointing out that EVs make most sense in urban environments and the average UK commute is 23 miles. But when many buyers are just getting used to accepting improved ranges on EVs, it feels like a backwards step. By comparison the latest Renault ZOE, admittedly a very different car, claims a WLTP range of 245 miles, almost double that of the Honda.
The Honda e can be charged using either a CCS DC rapid charger or a Type 2 connection. The former can provide up to 80 per cent of range in just 30 minutes using a 50kW charging point, while a 7.4kW supply can fully charge the car in 4.1 hours. The car comes with two cables as standard including for a three-point household socket. A full charge on a household socket takes just under 19 hours.
The Honda e Advance, the only version initially available, costs £29,160 after the UK government plug-in car grant. When it arrives in 2021, the standard car will cost £26,660 but has slightly reduced equipment levels so misses out on the likes of the central rear view mirror camera, heated steering wheel and premium audio system.
Even when both models are available, Honda expects the majority of Honda e sales to be the Advance and leasing costs for that start from £312 per month.
We have no doubt that the Honda e will be a popular choice among electric car fans. The stunning looks both inside and out mean it will easily turn more heads on your local High Street than most exotic supercars.
But, and it’s a big but, as much as we love the Honda e, it’s impossible to ignore its limited range and lack of practicality in a small EV hatchback market that’s becoming increasingly competitive and will only become more so. Until at least that range is improved, we worry that, while desirable, the Honda e might remain a niche choice, rather than fulfilling its true potential.