Tiny rear wheel drive hatchback heralds Honda's entry into electric cars.
As legacy manufacturers continue the slow drip of launching all-electric vehicles an array of hits and misses are fired out from the on-test reviews. The little Honda attempts to charm us all to overlook a limited range with clever packaging and a gizmo-laden interior that would make an astronaut feel at home. Everything is here on this high spec model, heated steering wheel and seats. adaptive cruise control, climate control, and a rearview camera, not forgetting USB ports and a subwoofer. A quick walk around reminds you that this isn't quite the concept car Honda unveiled to the world (image below), but it isn't a bad imitation and it looks right at home parked in a multi-storey carpark in the heart of a city. The steering is a particularly trick piece of engineering, you appear to be able to turn the wheels forever to get the angle you need on a tight turn. This is thanks to the motors being next to the rear driven axle and so giving more space up front under the arches. Poke the throttle and you get a zip in speed that is quick enough for an urban surrounding, official 0-60 figures show 8.3 seconds, and being a small car that feels fast enough. Although you do feel that 8.3 seconds is unevenly distributed as you climb the speedo, the initial spring is gone after 30mph, we didn't time 30-60, but it certainly felt like it took a big chunk of the official 0-60 timing. The driving position and the seat itself isn't Honda's best, it's comfortable but not particularly supportive, and then there is the material, for a moment I thought I had stepped into a 1993 Honda Civic ES. This is all part of making the car as environmentally friendly as possible, and kudos to Honda for trying but when the dashboard is loaded with screens that are mostly redundant it makes you wonder if they couldn't have saved a little on the price and the carbon intensity of production by just giving us a single screen. The fish tank you can have float around is entertaining for five minutes as a gimmick, but then you remember that your eyes need to be on the road in a car, not the dashboard. The ride isn't the most refined and it wiggles over imperfections and the chassis was disturbed over big bumps, something that could be forgiven if this car was £15,000, but at just shy of double that it needs to be better. It's odd in character, the ride settling well at higher speeds, the opposite of what the car should be good at, we expected a superior city ride over bumps at the compromise of high speed composure, perhaps those batteries couldn't be damped in a way to control this.
Once the battery is at 50% you start to wonder where you will go next and if there will be a charge point
Onto a longer stretch of road and I'm reminded that the reason this car only has a 130 mile range is because Honda believes lightness from fewer batteries is a better philosophy than piling in more cells for more miles that are compromised because they have more weight to lug around and that most journeys are less than the total range of the car. Honda is right on their first assertion, and the lighter weight helps the Honda E feel more agile than many other heavier electric cars, on a twisty section it is actually fun and just a little playful with its rear drive and short wheelbase. On their second point though the argument feels a little weaker, few people may do 100 miles in a trip, but the majority of places people stop may not have a charge station waiting, either because there isn't one or the ones there are taken. This will get better with time but it does allow some anxiety to creep in. Once the battery is at 50% you start to wonder where you will go next and if there will be a charge point there or should you take an excursion on the way. It reminds me of getting in a conventional petrol car but with the fuel light on, yes I could make my destination, but then I will have even less fuel to crawl to the petrol station with later, and so you take a detour and fill up. The Honda makes you feel that way on every third journey, I've got 50% charge, should I top up now or go to see a friend twenty miles away and then look around for a free charging point later. Yes some may have a home charger, but this car is targeted at exactly those least likely to have a driveway and will rely on the charging network rather than overnight boosts at home. In time they may have a charging point hanging off a lamppost only a two minute walk away, but for now I need to think of the distance to charge stations. In the city, where this car will live, the problem isn't quite so bad although I asked a mixed group of men and women how comfortable they would feel visiting a friend on a dark winter night and having to walk five minutes to park their car at a nearby charge station. Many said they just wouldn't do it, the idea of walking a few dark city streets in some of the higher crime areas their friends and family live overshadowed the need for charging.
Honda's genius isn't missing in the E. The tiny wing cameras mean you won't return to your car to see a wing mirror bashed off when parked on a busy street. The steering allows you to angle yourself into more parking spaces, and the looks stop people in the street and in the road that want to take a picture of a piece of design that isn't just another attempt to look cool, but rather it is cool. Price and range linger, they can't be ignored, but when the final verdict comes it isn't so much the range that concerns us but the price, it is just too much for what it is. Every time you step inside it feels like a car half its price, probably because had it had a conventional engine and less screens it would be, should you buy one? If you live in a city and want the latest cool thing then it reminds us of the Ford KA in the '90s around London. People stopped to look at it, it was cool and it was cheap and fun. The new Honda E ticks those boxes, so it's worth a drive, but unless the turning radius and all electric are absolutely critical, a new Yaris Cross or mild hybrid Suzuki Swift are half the price and better all-rounders.
Specification - 8
Acceleration - 6.5
Manoeuvrability - 8.5
SAM score - 7.5
A note from Miles.
What a cracking looking little car, if it could have been a little closer to the concept and offered in three doors this would be the new cool small car for young people. Except it wouldn't, not at the price, why Honda? Why didn't you make this as a tiny three-cylinder one litre or even better, a hybrid at half the price? Young people used to flock to the Mini, then it was the Fiat 500, this little Honda could have snapped up that market, but it costs more than most young people earn and seems to have been toned down to appeal to a wider market. We know Honda wanted something to announce their entry to all electric, but a battery heavy CR-V would have done the trick. No doubt the Honda e drives well and is fun, but it looks like this will live in the 'if only they had' category.