The Honda e is one of the most exciting small all-electric cars to date and, at the recent Frankfurt motor show, TechRadar got a chance to get up close and personal with the cute compact. The last time we saw this car during Milan Design Week it was in prototype form, although to be honest not a whole lot has changed now that Honda has the ready-to-go version available for pre-order.
It’s been a long road to get to this point, and although the design seems to have been just about right from the off, talking to Honda staff at Frankfurt revealed that the car has had a bit of a rough ride thus far. It seems that Honda executives weren’t initially sold on a small electric car design for short journeys. However, pricing for the compact city car was unveiled at Frankfurt, with two different options to go for. So now the Honda e’s cards are firmly on the table.
First up is the base-level 100kW model, which will cost from £26,160 (about $33,000, AU$48,000), but the more appealing option appears to be the Honda e Advance, which has a price tag of £28,600 (about $36,000, AU$53,000). The extra money gets you a more powerful 113kW battery plus the benefit of additional technology not seen on the cheaper edition. Neither car is bargain-basement, but there’s plenty here to tempt buyers away from rival options like the forthcoming Mini Electric and the new Renault Zoe.
There’s plenty to like about the Honda e too, with an exterior that blends the retro styling appeal of the old Honda Civic Mk 1 with a smooth, stylish vibe that feels bang up to date. There are no frilly bits either; the Honda e keeps the styling simple but effective, and is all the more memorable for it. Pop out door handles are cool and reduce drag while the front and rear lights are very cool. All in all then the Honda e gets a thumbs up in the looks department.
Prior to a closer look at the car – in particular its very interesting interior - we chatted with Kohei Hitomi, head of Honda e, and Mirai-Aki, head of connectivity, who both seemed relieved and suitably proud that the car is basically good to go. Mirai-Aki then went on to give us a tour of that interior, with the tech-laden dashboard being the main source of interest. It’s hard to miss for sure, with a central section dominated by twin 12.3-inch touchscreens.
At each end there are also six-inch screens that show you the view from the cameras mounted on the front doors. The Side Camera Mirror System replaces conventional mirrors and the effect is impressive thanks to the added benefit of having a normal or wide view on offer. While there’s a relatively conventional cluster of controls in and around the steering wheel area, the dashboard of the Honda e is quite a thing, It’ll be good to have a drive and see how it ticks in a real world scenario.
Before we got into the car to hear about its charms, Mirai-Aki also showed how you can unlock the car using your phone with the Honda+ app installed. It’s a similar story once you start getting acquainted with the Honda e. The car comes with its own Personal Assistant, which has been developed so that it can evolve as it becomes more familiar with your own personal preferences.
So, for example, say ‘OK Honda’ while adding a question or instruction and it’ll respond accordingly, with a combination of a vocal reply and something appearing on the screen in front of you. Mirai-Aki showed how good it was at telling us the weather, which is pretty basic stuff admittedly but there is lots more scope with the system and, says Honda, machine learning means it’ll get better the more you use it.
Elsewhere, the interior of the five-door car is pretty straightforward, with functional seat coverings and enough room for four adults. There are some faux wood trimmings along the dash, which provide another blast from the past, while the rest of the fixtures remind you of why Honda has such a good reputation for quality. Doors, most notably, close with a reassuring clunk.
A real aura of fun
While we’ve yet to have a go in one, reports of how the Honda e drives seem generally positive. Even though the little car is, in essence, designed as something to be used for short distances, you should be able to cover around 136 miles on a full charge. The Honda e also has the benefit of the torque you get from an electric motor with 0-100km/h coming up in a perky eight seconds.
The other benefit is that the car has a turning circle of just 4.3 meters which, combined with rear wheel drive and decent weight distribution, means it should be a lot of fun to drive. The stress of finding a space in pokey town centers will be relieved with a semi-autonomous parking mode, plus there’s a rear view mirror that doubles as a digital reversing camera. You’ll need to splurge and go for the Advance edition to enjoy all of the tech extras, including a Wi-Fi hotspot, but they’ll be worth it from what we’ve seen so far.
Honda needs a bit of luck with the Honda e; while it has certainly provided us with numerous exciting cars over the years, like the NSX, S2000 and Type R models, it's also endured lots of ribbing for producing slightly dull models.
The Honda e gives off a real aura of fun and, while it doesn't have blistering performance, feels like it should be great around town. A range of cool colour options should also ensure that you don't fail to spot the car, or indeed its grinning occupants for that matter.