DRIVEN: Honda E Review

Honda has joined the EV race with one of the most interesting city cars for some time – David has driven one to see if it’s any good

Electric cars are no longer a craze. They are a big part of our motoring future and almost every manufacturer has one or is planning to build one. Many of them, so far, have been big, expensive and aimed at the luxury end of the sector. Few have aimed themselves at the city car market and most that have, are reengineered versions of normal petrol/diesel cars. That’s where the Honda E feels unique. It’s designed to be an EV from the ground up. It’s also designed to be fun.

A small Honda EV was first teased in 2017 as the Urban EV Concept. It was a funky three-door that evoked classic Hondas without feeling like a pastiche. It was somehow modern and retro at the same time. Journalists and petrolheads alike went mad for the design and bugged Honda to build it.

Fast forward to 2019 and Honda unveiled the production version of the Urban EV – The Honda E. It had evolved into a five-door and lacked some of the wide and low stance that we all loved about the concept. But it still had that modern yet retro design language and one of the coolest looking interiors I’d ever seen on a small car.

Driving the Honda E

EVs are very easy to drive and the Honda E is no exception. You simply select D from the centre console and away you go. No gears, just go. It’s also very silent inside as you would expect but outside it makes a rather odd noise. All electric cars have to do this so that pedestrians can hear you at low speeds. The Honda E approach is very sci-fi and the noise made is distinctive and kinda cool. Just imagine R2D2 running a yoga class and you’re halfway there.

Once up to normal speeds, the E is still very quiet. There is some road noise from the tyres but it’s not intrusive and thanks to great aerodynamics, there is almost no wind noise. Add this to the easy driving style and effortless steering and it becomes a very relaxing place to be.

Although effortless, like most modern cars, the steering is quite numb and provides little feedback. It’s nicely weighted though and suits the personality of the car. On a fast b-road, it’s accurate and doesn’t detract from what is a surprisingly fun package. The E is rear-wheel-drive and you can feel it. It’ll shift and slide a little on rough surfaces and allows you to drive it more like a sports car on faster roads. It does lack a bit of front end grip and therefore isn’t going to worry hot hatch owners but it will put a bigger smile on your face than pretty much anything else in its class.

Performance wise, The Honda E isn’t going to be the fastest thing around. The new electric Mini has it licked for power but don’t let that put you off. The version we drove was the more powerful Honda E Advanced. It has a 113kW motor which is around 150hp in old money. 62mph arrives in 8 seconds but somehow it feels faster. That is the trick that almost all EVs seem to pull off. That instant surge of torque as soon as you push the accelerator ensures it feels fast enough around town and will make overtaking and accelerating onto a motorway a breeze. No it doesn’t rip your face off but it would be worse if it did.

Honda E interior and tech

If I quite like the outside of the E then I love the interior. It’s simple yet stylish but far from perfect. Then why do you love it if it’s not perfect? I hear you ask. Well partly because I generally dislike things that are too good. They’re often dull and lack occasion. But mostly because the flaws that the E has don’t detract from the superb experience you get inside it.

The design is very simple and yet it works so well. The long flat slab of fake wood reminds me of my Dad’s Technics record player he bought in the 1970s in just the best kind of way. The vents and climate controls are simple and fall easily to hand creating an almost minimalist ambiance. Then you have the juxtaposition of the massive bank of screens. I counted five in total and they cover the entire width of the interior.

The two main screens display everything you could possibly want and quite a bit that you didn’t know you wanted. You can select two apps to have on screen at the same time. Want nav and audio up at the same time? – no worries. Want one closer to you, swap them around with the touch of a virtual button. Want a calm interior space? Return to the home screen and choose from a range of wallpapers. The big issue comes when you want to select something from the other end of the display. It is simply too far away for you reach without stopping the car. It’s annoying but certainly not a deal breaker.

The E also has you covered if you’re bored whilst waiting for it to charge or sat outside a shop waiting for your other half to return. You can either load the built in virtual aquarium and customise it to create your perfect little fishy paradise or plug a games console into the HDMI port under the dash and have a quick game of Mario Kart!

Either end of the dash you have two digital wing mirrors that display feeds from the cameras mounted on the front doors. This is not new but the position and clarity of these cameras makes them very natural to use. You can adjust them just like a traditional mirror too. Plus whilst reversing they angle and zoom in to give you the best possible view of your surroundings.

All in all the interior is one of the best things about the Honda E and a breath of fresh air in a segment where interiors are getting fussy and over complicated. The fit and finish is far better than some recent Hondas too. It feels premium without trying to be posh. The seats and materials are also pleasantly simple. I especially liked the use of grey fabric for the seats with brown contrast stitching and brown seatbelts.

Honda E Range and practicality

This is the area where the Honda E might fall down for you. It doesn’t have the best range and it isn’t hugely practical from the front seats back. But this isn’t an issue if you consider the point of this car. It is, after all, a city car.

Honda concedes that they could have made it bigger and they could have added a bigger battery pack. But that would have made it heavier and cumbersome. That seems unacceptable to Honda. This car is designed for 90% of journeys we make. Not the longer 10% (figures casually guessed by this reviewer).

The boot is also quite small and the back seats aren’t great for large adults. But again, this car isn’t meant for long journeys, big trips and transporting many big people. It’s for your trip to the shops. Your journey to the local park. Picking up the kids from school and parking in the company car park.

If the WLTP range of 125 miles isn’t enough for you or you need to be able to haul big items and big people then look elsewhere. The Honda E is a city car through and through. As a result it seems entirely fit for purpose and I can understand when Honda get a little peeved when the range is brought up again and again.

Conclusion

The Honda E is different. I like different. I think it looks great but some people on my Facebook feed think it’s ugly. It is therefore divisive. Try and name a great car from history that didn’t have some degree of Marmite effect. As a result the car is the opposite of ‘meh’ – It’s a little slice of fun in a segment that often isn’t. It’s also pretty great to drive and features one of the best interiors for some time. Even if it’s also a bit rubbish too. My only complaint is that it wasn’t available when I ordered my first electric car earlier this year (more on that coming next month). Had it been available, I might have spent my own hard-earned money on one.

What do you make of the Honda E? Agree with David that it’s really rather cool or do you think the electric Mini is better? Let us know VIA TWITTERFACEBOOK OR INSTAGRAM

Images copyright David Tillyer / Average Joes