Tuesday 29th September 2020
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First drive: Honda e. Image by Honda UK.

First drive: Honda e
It has a short range on a single charge, but otherwise the Honda e is a magical little machine.

 



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Honda e Advance

5 5 5 5 5

Mere days after we crowned the mighty Porsche Taycan Turbo the best electric car in the world right now, a challenger for that honorific comes rocking in from the most unexpected quarters. If you can look past the Honda e's headline range limitations, considering its parent company is unequivocal that this is a city car and not a long-distance electric vehicle (EV), then you'll absolutely adore this little thing. It is as good to drive, sit in and operate as it is to look at, and that really is saying something.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Honda e Advance
Pricing: e range from 26,660, Advance as tested 29,160
Electric system: 113kW permanent magnet synchronous electric motor plus 35.5kWh lithium-ion battery pack
Transmission: single-speed fixed reduction-gear transmission, rear-wheel drive
Body style: five-door EV city car
CO2 emissions: 0g/km (VED Band 0: no road tax to pay in perpetuity)
Range: 125 miles (Advance on 17-inch wheels; base e on 16s, 137 miles)
Maximum charging capacity: 100kW, CCS Combo 2 connection; 31 minutes for 80 per cent battery charge
Combined electrical consumption: 18-20kWh/62.5 miles, equivalent to 177mpg (ICE WLTP equivalent)
Top speed: 100mph
0-62mph: 8.0 seconds
Power: 154hp (113kW)
Torque: 315Nm
Boot space: 171-861 litres

What's this?

A future-gazing EV that's both shamelessly retro and phenomenally up-to-date. And completely adorable... but we digress. Ahem. The Honda e has been a long time coming, teased as the Urban EV Concept for what feels like years and years (in truth, it has been but three - as the concept first appeared at the Frankfurt show in 2017), but now it's finally here. And it looks utterly terrific. Taking its general form and styling cues from the original Civic of the 1970s, this is how you make an electric car look both tremendous and yet obviously something powered by volts, without it coming across as a bit beaky or alternatively strangely underwhelming. If the BMW i3 was the previous aesthetic yardstick for EVs to aspire to, the Honda e has smashed the German into oblivion with its appearance. In terms of all 21st century cars which can hope to hold a candle to the e for out-and-out cuteness, only the now-doomed Suzuki Jimny gets anywhere close.

But the e isn't just a design pastiche of Honda's near-50-year-old stalwart, as it's incredibly high-tech once you climb within - and find yourself in the car with the best interior, this side of 50 grand. Honestly, the Honda's passenger compartment ambience is quite simply wonderful. The Japanese company has gone for warm, homely-type finishes of fabric door cards and matte-effect wood trim, and it could not have possibly worked better in the Honda R&D team's wildest dreams than it actually does in reality. You can sod all your soft-touch plastics and Germanic staidness, this is how you do an interior to a budget without it feeling even remotely cut-price or cheap. Of course, the material finishing is helped by the whopping great coast-to-coast array of screens in front of you, this new user interface for Honda blending well into its low-res surroundings with its 8K UHD-like set-up.

OK, so it's not 8K, but it might as well be, given the stunning impact it has. You are faced with no fewer than five main screens, two accounting for each of the rear-view door 'cameras' (this being a feature the Honda shares with the much-more-grandiose Audi e-tron SUV), another one for the instrument cluster and then a pair of infotainment displays which stretch across in front of the passenger. These can be swiped left and right, or they swap sides at the touch of a button, and not only do they work reasonably intuitively, they also look fantastic. As does the digital cluster. As do the 'mirror' screens. Talking of which, the interior mirror presents a sixth digi-display, because it too has a camera function (this is a bit like the second-generation Evoque) - and if you don't like that camera view, the flip-toggle underneath the screen's housing brilliantly switches it to a 'plain' mirror; you don't have to go searching through sub-menus in the infotainment to deactivate it.

Factor in a gorgeous little two-spoke steering wheel, comfortable seats and a superb driving position with excellent visibility outwards in all directions, and it's impossible to deny the immense feelgood factor of merely sitting inside the Honda e. It's comfortably the best cabin on any Japanese car we've ever been in, regardless of price, so there's that going for it as well. About the only criticisms we can think of are that the e's electrical systems savage boot space, so there's only 171 litres to play with when all the seats are in use (although fold the back bench down and 861 litres become available, which is a decent figure for a car which is only 3.9 metres long on the outside), and while Honda claims four adults can get comfy in the EV, those second-row chairs look... cosy.

Anyway, just one final word on the UK range and pricing structure, before we get onto the driving. There are two models, the plain e and the e Advance, which is what we're sampling here. The former starts from 26,660 or 299pcm, while the Advance steps up to 29,160 or 349pcm. The Advance gets a slightly more generous standard specification, including the funky Centre Mirror System, the Honda Parking Pilot, a premium audio system and also one-inch-larger alloy wheels that are 17-inch affairs, but its chief reason for being is that it has a more potent motor. Whereas the standard e has a 100kW (136hp) unit, the Advance is boosted to 113kW (154hp), which trims a second from the 0-62mph time (the Advance runs the sprint in eight seconds dead) but also nibbles away at the Honda's electric range. And, as that is the main bone of contention when talking of the Honda e, it's time to set about driving the thing...

How does it drive?

Honda has set this up as a city EV, nothing else, and that is why it is defending a range of 125 miles (Advance) or 137 miles (regular e) as a result. Weirdly, a 35.5kWh battery isn't that small in the world of EVs, as the Nissan Leaf has a broadly similar-sized li-ion pack which it employs to deliver a much greater cruising range, but Honda reckons the sort of users who are going to flock to the e will never need more than 125 miles of daily driving capability.

It's a tough argument. Range anxiety has long been a problem with EVs and most people who are considering an electric car will look at how far it will go on a single charge before they look at any other data pertaining to the vehicle; with the general rule of thumb being 'the more miles of range, the better'. Therefore, Honda's tactic looks extraordinarily risky, especially as we clambered into our e Advance on a warm, dry July day - the sort of conditions where you're going to get the most distance from an EV, as batteries hate cold temperatures in the first place and, if it is miserable outside, the driver is likely to switch on various electrical drains like lights, wipers, the heater and so on - and, with a 99 per cent charge showing, the range was a mere 112 miles.

However. We're going to give the Honda a free pass here. And while that might look like a rather glib decision on our part, allow us to explain. Firstly, Honda UK set up a looping, two-hour drive through the environs of some of the most 'glorious' M4-corridor towns like Bracknell, Reading, Maidenhead and Slough, that also took in a bit of motorway work and open-roads country driving. It is not the sort of route a Honda e, or any other compact EV for that matter, is going to be finding itself running on a daily basis. And we most certainly did not drive it in a conservative, energy-saving manner. Yet, despite this, the Honda still had half its battery and around 43 miles of range showing by the time we'd finished. So it looks like the claimed figures from the Japanese company are not pie-in-the-sky numbers that are going to be unachievable for customers.

All this, before we've got the superb reasons why Honda has made the e a short-range EV conveyance in the first place. Such as, it has 50:50 weight distribution. It has MacPherson strut independent suspension on all four wheels. It has a low centre of gravity, this being a mere 500mm off the deck. And, most fabulously of all, it sends all of its 154hp and 315Nm to the back axle, not the front. Yup, the Honda e is rear-wheel drive. Sure, both models are a little portly (regular e 1,525kg, Advance 1,555kg) but, nevertheless, this EV is a little delight to drive.

One caveat to mention is that it doesn't always feel particularly rear-wheel drive. On a low-grip gravel surface, you can get the back of the car to slew sideways but on dry roads there's simply too much grip from the tyres to be getting any oversteer antics, or even any sensation of mid-bend neutrality. Part of the issue here is that the entry-level e's 16-inch wheels wear Yokohama BlueEarth A tyres, but the Advance's 17s are shod with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 items. That's suitably sporty rubber for an eco-motor. The pay-off, though, is that there is no nose-led behaviour from the Honda e, such as torque- or understeer. So while it might not overtly shout about its RWD status, the e kind of subliminally lets you know that it's a kinematic cut above most other EVs.

Indeed, that lovely little two-spoke wheel controls sweet steering, which is light but accurate and faithful. Body control is good, with some squidge in the set-up and some lean to work around, but it's certainly no worse than most decent combustion-powered city cars, and with all that grip and the balanced chassis to call upon you can maintain decent pace through corners and have the little Honda barrelling along at a fair old clip. In fact, you soon realise that you having fun at the Honda e's wheel.

Of course, it's marvellous at the regular-driving stuff. The ride quality is fantastic and, like any EV, the lack of a reciprocating mass that's exploding petrol up front results in top-notch refinement on the move. You hear next to nothing of tyre nor wind noise, even when the e is whizzing along a dual carriageway at an easy 70mph. The Honda's party piece in this department is manoeuvrability, because its rear-drive chassis means the front wheels can pivot further for steering, by up to 50 degrees. This gives nimble handling and a turning circle like a London taxi, the Honda capable of making an about-turn in just 4.3 metres of space. Furthermore, there's the Single Pedal Control mode, which ups the level of regenerative braking to allow full car control using only the throttle, while the Honda's massive wad of insta-torque means it's reasonably swift, the e surprising bigger and more powerful cars off the lights with its seamless wave of acceleration. As a semi-urban machine, dynamically speaking it's bang on the money.

Verdict

Look, the crux of the matter here is the range. You wouldn't buy a petrol car which would fail to go 150 miles on a full tank of fuel and it's easy to batter the Honda e for its meagre single-charge distance capabilities. You might also take umbrage with an asking price of almost 30 grand for such a short-range device, so if either of these statements apply to you and yet you still want a good-looking EV hatchback, go and buy a Peugeot e-208 instead.

But here's the thing: the Honda e is an emotive car. And 'emotive' is an adjective rarely applied to EVs. So bravo to Honda for sticking to its guns, and for making its city runaround so thoroughly damned likeable. No other EV looks as good as this. No other semi-affordable EV has an interior which is anything like as nice as this. No other supermini or city EV has a chassis as fluid and engaging as this. And very few EVs, of any size or price, have as much jaw-dropping technology on show as this thing. So it's simple: judge this car with your head, and you'll be docking it marks in various departments. Judge it with your heart, and you'll want to own one like nothing else on the market in anything like the same price range. Therefore, if you live less than 50 miles from your place of work and you've got a home EV-charging point installed, buy the Honda e. Buy it right now.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

2 2 2 2 2 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

5 5 5 5 5 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 22 Jul 2020









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2020 Honda e Advance UK Test. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda e Advance UK Test. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda e Advance UK Test. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda e Advance UK Test. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda e Advance UK Test. Image by Honda UK.

2020 Honda e Advance UK Test. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda e Advance UK Test. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda e Advance UK Test. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda e Advance UK Test. Image by Honda UK.2020 Honda e Advance UK Test. Image by Honda UK.








 

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