Honda e review - cute-as-a-button city car costs a pretty penny

It’s not often something so diminutive and cute gets me excited, but Honda has managed it for the first time since Kylie Minogue wondered how lucky she would be.

Just like Kylie, the new Honda e attracts a lot of attention as you pass by. Cruising along the M4 motorway led to a frustrating number of cars pulling alongside to look at the tiny Honda, with plenty of thumbs going up. In town, comments were universally positive - I’d got the window open to check what was being said.

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People stop and stare because Honda has pulled off something special with the design. The basic shape harks back to the 1972 Civic hatchback, but the overall look seems to have come from the near-future. It’s instantly familiar and conventional, but unlike anything else on the road.

Under that cute bodywork is a fairly conventional electric car, with no engine to extend the range or allow it to operate as a hybrid. It’s powered by a 35.5kWh battery which, if you’re comparing notes, is significantly smaller than you’ll find in a Peugeot e-208 or Kia e-Niro, but it is slightly larger than the battery pack in a Mini Electric. This translates into an official range of 125 miles, although real-world driving will likely see that dip under 100 miles thanks to the desire to use all 152bhp and 232lb ft of torque available.

Honda has gambled that a compact range in a compact car (the e is just under four metres long) is a compromise that buyers will accept, going with the theory that the e is unlikely to be the car of choice for anything resembling a road trip. That’s probably a fair gamble too, as few cars cover more than 30 miles in a day, while 100kW charging capability means it can top up 75 miles or so in under 30 minutes.

It’s an urban car then, and great at it. That single electric motor drives the rear wheels, something you only realise when being too enthusiastic on gravel, leaving it feeling rather zesty around town. Dashing from 0-62mph takes eight seconds, but it feels a lot quicker up to about 40 or so. A tiny wheelbase means it’s agile, zipping from side to side with the flick of the wheel, and a turning circle barely larger than a London taxi’s makes manoeuvring a cinch.

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You probably wouldn’t want to tackle a long road trip in the car anyway. The modest size of the e means practicality takes a hit; the rear seats are tiny, and the boot is laughable. At 171 litres, you could squeeze in 20 bowling balls, but something like a Renault Clio would be able to take as many as 47 US Bowling Congress specification balls.

But, much like the range, does it matter? Will the targeted e buyer do anything beyond throwing a bag or two in the back? Probably not.

Honda e Advanced

  • Price: £29,160
  • Drive: 113kW eletric motor with 35.5kWh battery
  • Power: 152bhp; Torque: 232lb ft
  • Top speed: 100 mph
  • 0-62mph: 8 seconds
  • Range: 125 miles
  • CO2 emissions: 0g/km

What really matters inside is what it looks like behind the wheel and that is, well, mixed. Glance at it and it looks like something out of Knight Rider, with no less than seven screens stretching across from door to door. At the far left is a screen that displays the view from a camera mounted on the door - there are no wing mirrors here. From there runs a bank of screens showing every bit of infotainment data you could imagine, from maps and radio to energy efficiency and er, pictures of a forest. You can even have a fully animated digital aquarium, with options to change the plant types and fish breeds on display.

There might look like an overwhelming number of pixels ahead of you but, for the most part, it all works well enough, helped by an oddly minimalist design that contrasts with the absolutely-not-real wood trim and light grey seat coverings. It’s like the decor in a new build show home that you’d never have chosen but somehow it looks great.

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There are little touches around the cabin that genuinely make life easier, like the cup holder hidden behind a panel that pulls out with a leather strap, or the three-pin plug socket by the USB port allowing you to plug in a laptop charger or similar.

It all sounds fantastic, but there are flaws. Those screens, while looking good, are operated using Honda’s infotainment technology, and that’s some way behind the best in the industry. The result is some options aren’t clear, and operations are unintuitive. For example, switching from navigation to the phone menu is easy. You make your call, hands-free of course, and then hit the back button, but this takes you to the wallpaper, literally leaving you staring at trees rather than back at the navigation panel. It’s better than any Honda to date, but you wonder what Volkswagen, BMW or Volvo could do with the technology.

And then there’s the regenerative braking. This recovers spare energy when slowing down, providing significant braking power without needing to touch the brakes, and it’s adjustable to three different levels. However, the car "forgets” which level you’ve set after a few minutes, reverting back to the lowest level and surprising you when you lift off the throttle approaching traffic lights, expecting the car to slow down. Having brake action that is wildly inconsistent is not high on the list of things I want in a car.

But, again, does it matter to the buyers of the e? Probably not. The Honda e won’t be purchased by enthusiasts, keen to extract every ounce of performance, either in terms of speed or economy, but will be bought by the fashionistas of the world who have the monthly lease or PCP payment available.

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Lease deals for the Volkswagen e-Golf and Renault Zoe start at around £200 a month, with the Honda needing a significant uplift to £300 or so. That masks the 30 grand asking price nicely but means the e must be the choice of the heart and not the head.

This article first appeared on The Scotsman