Honda e Review
Once in a while, a car comes along that simply breaks down barriers. The Volkswagen Golf GTI was loved by both bankers and bank robbers, and the Range Rover is as popular with Arsenal players as it is with aristocrats. It’s the same story with the Honda e – a car that couldn’t be more cute if it came with a boot full of puppies. But unlike the Fiat 500, the little Honda is trading on more than just its image. As a high-tech, rear-wheel-drive electric hatchback, it’s managed to appeal to petrol-heads, tech geeks and fashionistas in equal measure. But does the finished product make good on the promise of the headlines?
Select's rating score* - 3.5 / 5
A tiny, manoeuvrable electric hatchback with a firm focus on urban journeys, the Honda e looks and feels like the future. Although its retro design and electric powertrain conjure thoughts of the Mini Electric and Fiat 500e, it manages to feel completely different in the metal. With cameras instead of door mirrors and a bank of screens across the dashboard, it’s a high-tech, spaceship-style cabin, and although it isn’t the roomiest car on the market, it feels roomier than it is – particularly from the front.
You get a choice of two versions – the standard ‘e’ and the Advance – but both get a 137-mile range, alloy wheels and climate control, as well as touchscreens, reversing cameras and keyless entry. Upgrading to the Advance gets you a smidgen more power and a few extra goodies, but the difference isn’t massive.
It seems obvious when we talk about electric cars, but there’s definitely a high-tech theme in the Honda e. Not only do you get the silent, zero-emission powertrain, but you also get a flood of on-board technology, including touchscreen infotainment systems, digital instrument displays and rear-view cameras.
Some of these features are more useful than others. The two infotainment screens are quite handy, because you can switch and adapt them to configure your perfect layout. If you want, you can plug a laptop or even a games console into the car and use the screens as monitors. Or, if you’re bored, you can get the displays to show you a digital aquarium with animated fish that swim around in front of you.
But the biggest talking points of this car are found on the outside, where door mirrors have been replaced with two rear-facing cameras and some screens at the side of the dash. Designed to reduce air resistance, they work surprisingly well in bright sunshine and there’s a water-repelling coating to keep them clean in the wet. They do take some getting used to, though, and as cool as they look, conventional mirrors would be slightly easier to live with. Shame they aren’t available as an option.
The Honda e comes with a choice of two electric motors, with the basic 136hp version joined by the 154hp edition. The former comes with the ‘standard’ variant, while the latter is offered exclusively with the higher-spec Advance model.
Neither motor is especially rapid, but both are nippy enough to make relatively brisk progress. The immediacy of an electric motor is well suited to urban driving, and both versions will be brilliant at darting around a busy town centre.
But the 154hp motor is, of course, the sportier choice, taking you to 62mph in just over eight seconds and on to a 90mph top speed – where such things are legal. The less powerful motor increases the 0-62mph time to nine seconds flat, but a seven-tenth difference is hardly the be-all and end-all. Our advice? Pick the trim level you want, and let that dictate the motor you end up with.
Whichever you choose, you’ll end up with a 137-mile range according to the official economy test, and our experience suggests you have a good chance of achieving that. Admittedly, we drove the car in warm weather and on a mix of roads, but with favourable conditions and some sympathy for the battery, you should be able to get well over 100 miles from a single charge.
With that range (and the e’s dimensions) in mind, it won’t be a surprise to hear the little Honda is certainly best suited to urban driving. The steering is light and because the motor is at the back, the turning circle is minute. Three-point turns are a doddle in one of these.
Out on the open road, however, things are less rosy. Sure, the e is very quiet and refined, as well as being quite comfortable on a motorway, but country roads can really catch it out. It handles quite well, despite a slight lack of feel through the steering, but the car is quite heavy and that makes its presence felt.
At 1.5 tonnes, this car is heavier than a Nissan Qashqai, and that gives the suspension a lot to do over undulating roads and severe potholes. For the most part, it does okay, but every now and then it’s caught on the hop, causing either a sensation of instability or a jolt through the seat. Sometimes both. Stick to towns and cities, though, and you’ll enjoy a reasonably supple low-speed ride that suits the silence of the electric motor.
With an electric motor under the bonnet – or indeed the boot, in this case – there’s no worrying about fuel bills in the Honda e. You do have to worry about filling up, though, because the e’s range is far from generous. The 137-mile range is fine for shopping and the school run, but it’s far from ideal for long trips; this is definitely a car for local journeys.
If you have a drive and you can install a smart charging point that manages the charging process for you, electricity should be far cheaper than petrol, but beware that charging away from home isn’t always the cheapest process in the world. If you aren’t venturing far from your local town, however, that shouldn’t be an issue.
Thanks again to the electric motor under the boot floor, the e is going to prove a very eco-friendly – and wallet-friendly – choice. With no carbon dioxide at all coming from the tailpipes, you can drive this in the knowledge it’s far less polluting than your average petrol-powered runabout.
All of which means it’s a cheap choice for company car drivers. If your company is footing the bill for your wheels, the e will see you pay just 1% in Benefit-in-Kind tax for the 2021/22 financial year. Given the asking price of less than £30,000 for a base-spec e, that 1% will be a very small amount indeed.
When you slip into the driving seat, the Honda e immediately impresses its high-tech credentials, with a bank of screens across the dashboard. At either end, you get the displays for the door ‘mirrors’, with the three central screens incorporating two touchscreens and a digital instrument cluster. Add in the simple gear selector and the two-spoke steering wheel, and it all feels very futuristic in a simple, pared-back kind of way.
All of which is slightly at odds with the olde-worlde ‘wood’ trim, which not only feels slightly cheap but also looks out of place in this cabin. It’s as though Honda was trying to pull off the modern Scandi vibe, and it hasn’t quite worked.
The ‘wood’ trim is, shall we say, unconvincing – both in terms of the way it looks and feels – but generally speaking the build quality is good. Everything feels as though it was stuck together by engineers who knew their craft, and the standard fabric upholstery is surprisingly tactile. The seats themselves are quite comfortable, too, although on the short journeys this car is designed for, that’s hardly the prime concern.
With so much technology under the skin, it’s testament to Honda’s ingenuity that there was enough money for tech on the surface. There are screens everywhere, with two infotainment displays that show you all the usual media information and house the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone systems.
Those screens are joined by a fleet of USB ports, as well as a HDMI port that allows you to plug laptops and the like into the car. That means, if you wish, you can even play video games on the e’s screen. Mario Kart suits it particularly well.
The infotainment system is also supplemented by a digital instrument display that gives you all the essential data, such as speed and battery level. It’s quite a clean display, but it isn’t quite as easy to read as it should be, and you’ll have to hunt for information until you’re accustomed to the layout
You’ll also need to get acquainted with the digital door mirrors, which come as standard. The little screens at the sides of the dashboard require something of an adjustment period for those more used to conventional mirrors, but they’re more effective than you might think. They still feel like something a bit of a gimmick, though.
As you might expect from a car that measures less than four metres in length, space is at a premium in the e. There’s seating for four, rather than the more traditional five, which means you at least get proper seats – no super-narrow pews to fit a barely functional central perch in the middle of the rear bench. Leg- and headroom isn’t that bad – it’s fairly average for cars in this class – and the rear seat is relatively comfortable.
At the front, though, things are noticeably improved. Although there isn’t that much space in there, the cabin feels light and airy; much less of a cocoon than some conventionally powered cars.
The boot space, meanwhile, is a little tight, thanks largely to the way the motor is stowed under the boot floor, driving the rear wheels. With 171 litres of space, it’s way behind the likes of the Mini Electric and even the Seat Mii Electric. Even folding the rear seats down doesn’t help that much, freeing up an extra 400 litres of space. A VW T-Roc has more than 400 litres of boot space with the seats up, and that’s hardly a giant among family cars.
That wouldn’t be so bad were there more room for bits and bobs in the cabin, but aside from a few useful cubby holes, there isn’t that much to write home about. You get a natty pocket at the base of the dash that’s perfect for a mobile phone, but otherwise it’s ordinary at best.
The e scored a slightly disappointing four stars in the Euro NCAP crash test, perhaps suffering for its diminutive proportions. Of course, four stars is not a particularly poor showing, but five-star ratings have become the norm for modern cars – and the e’s score is slightly below par.
In particular, the car’s score for adult occupant protection was an unremarkable 76 percent, with an especially poor rating for the protection of rear-seat passengers thrown across the narrow rear bench seat. Euro NCAP also noted “potentially injurious structures in the dashboard”. However, the car scored well in other tests, and it scored a very respectable 82 percent for the protection of child occupants.
But in this high-tech modern world, there’s more to safety than airbags and child seat mounting points – although the e does of course boast both features. It also comes with a supply of standard-fit safety technology, which includes autonomous braking that automatically slams on the anchors to avoid (or at least reduce the impact of) an accident, as well as adaptive cruise control that maintains a safe distance to the car in front.
Lane departure warning to help prevent the car drifting from its lane is also included across the range. Top-of-the-range Advance models supplement that with blind-spot monitoring, too, which alerts you when a vehicle is in one of the hard-to-see areas over your shoulders.
The relatively simple Honda e range gives you a choice of just two trim levels, with the standard car joined by the slightly more high-tech Advance model. Both cars have the same range, but the Advance benefits from a little extra power and performance, as well as a few choice features.
As standard, the basic Honda e comes with climate control, alloy wheels and heated seats, not to mention the little cameras that replace the door mirrors and the 12.3-inch dual touchscreen that stretches across the main body of the dashboard. All that is joined by automatic LED headlights, keyless entry and rear privacy glass, plus the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration systems.
Then there’s the safety technology, which includes autonomous braking that automatically slams on the anchors to avoid (or at least reduce the impact of) an accident, as well as adaptive cruise control that maintains a safe distance to the car in front. Parking sensors are found in both the front and rear bumpers, too, while parking bumps are also made less likely by the standard reversing camera.
All that means the Advance model is built on well-endowed foundations, but it adds value in the shape of a front windscreen de-icer and a self-parking system, as well as a more advanced manoeuvring camera system. The more luxurious variant also benefits from a heated steering wheel and a “premium” eight-speaker audio system.
The options list is relatively small, but you get a choice of alloy wheels, and there’s a range of five colours, including a bold green-ish yellow colour and an electric blue. You also get the option of a U.R.B.A.N. pack in either blue or black, which adds some extra aesthetic trim, and an Illumination Pack that gives you ambient interior lighting. A handful of other extras, including leather upholstery and sticker sets for the bodywork are also in the offing.
Alternatives to the Honda e aren’t as numerous as you might imagine. Although this is a section of the market that should be ideally suited to battery-powered motoring, manufacturers have sought the larger profit afforded by far bigger vehicles, and the city car market has been somewhat neglected. But alternatives are beginning to trickle down, with the Fiat 500e representing perhaps the sternest test. Like the Honda, it’s a wilfully stylish hatchback with full electric power and a hint of modern retro cool.
Then there’s the Mini Electric, which is a little larger than the Honda but no less desirable and also inspired by the cars of the past. It’s great to drive, too, just like the petrol-powered Minis. Or you could look at the Seat Mii Electric, Skoda Citigo iV or VW e-Up!, all three of which are essentially the same exceptional hatchback with varying badges and names. Despite their undeniable qualities, though, they feel dated when parked alongside the Honda.
For something a little more up-to-date, consider the Renault Zoe, which is also a little more practical than the Honda and a little less stylish. But it’s a great electric hatchback that ticks plenty of boxes for those who want a conventional supermini with the benefit of electric power. The range is decent, too, which will also be a boon to many customers.
As with so many electric cars, the Honda e will only really work in a select set of circumstances. As your primary form of transport, it’s hampered by a modest range and limited interior space, but as a second car – an urban runabout for shopping and the school run – it’s brilliant. Enjoyable to drive in town and more than capable of zipping around in eco-friendly silence, it will soak up admiring glances with a smile on its innocent, retro face. If this is the future of urban mobility in a post-Covid world, bring it on.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Honda e
**Correct as of 25/03/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £2734.88 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.