First Drive: 2021 Honda e Review
Being honest, we’ve been straining at the leash to drive the Honda e since it was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2018. I’d go so far as to say some of us have been struggling to breathe. Why? Honestly, it’s hard to put a finger on it.
On paper, the Honda e is simply another car, albeit one you refill at the plug rather than the pump. It has four wheels, an electric motor, a battery, some seats and a steering wheel – the formula is not unfamiliar. However, the Honda e manages to excite in a way some other EVs just don’t.
- Good to drive
- Creative interior
- Turning circle of an ant
We don't like
- Price is high
- Camera mirrors are cool but unnecessary
- Sadly not an electric S2000
First things first, it looks cool. EV concepts can all too often be abstract and wild creations that, on an emotional level, we just can’t relate to. They can be bland boxes as well, where what makes them appealing in the manufacturer’s view is that they can do so much whilst requiring so little. On a spectrum of interesting, those ideas are at opposing ends and none is good. The Honda e, however, is blindingly good looking – well proportioned, pretty, retro without being cliché and, somehow, quintessentially Japanese. It isn’t abstract, and it certainly isn’t a box.
Performance and Handling
But there’s more to the Honda e than good looks – there has to be. Not every Honda had been good to drive or fun, but the Civic Type R and both the new and old NSX are proof enough Honda knows how, and cares to, build a decent motor vehicle. To create the Honda e and place no emphasis on driving dynamics would be like a world famous decorator painting the hallway of a stately home with a paintball gun.
Some key information. The Honda e is rear-wheel-drive, has a 50:50 weight distribution, and a similar centre of gravity to the current NSX. It all sounds good, doesn’t it?
The 35.5kWh lithium-ion battery sits underneath the floor, while the motor sits between the two rear wheels. There are two models to choose from, the Honda e and the Honda e Advance. Both have 315Nm (233lb ft) of torque from 0rpm, but where the standard car has 136PS (100kW) the Advance has 154PS (113kW).
So is the Honda e an S2000? No, it isn’t, but is that really what you were expecting? It is still, however, mighty good fun. There’s no getting away from the weight of all the electric gubbins – the Honda e weighs, at its lightest, 1,514kg – but, on the move, you’re very aware that all of that weight is very low down in the car. The weight feels concentrated, and better managed because of it in a way a similarly heavy petrol or diesel car probably wouldn’t.
The suspension absorbs bumps confidently and the variable-ratio steering is nicely weighted and gives the front of the car a real eagerness. As for the brake pedal, it’s surprisingly easy to read – if you chose to use it. As the Honda e makes use of regenerative braking, Honda has created the Single Pedal Control System. Put simply, you can use paddles behind the steering wheel to decide how much energy is captured through the regenerative system, allowing you to drive, for the most part, without using the brake pedal.
Acceleration is brisk but not Tesla Model 3 levels of exciting. But comparing every new electric car to a Tesla of one form or another is probably the wrong way of quantifying performance. As the Honda e’s torque is available from 0rpm, accelerating away at a set of lights is a bit of a laugh, far more so than in a similarly powered petrol or diesel. Zero to 62mph takes 9.0 seconds for the standard Honda e and 8.3 seconds for the Advance.
As for range, it varies from 137 miles for the standard Honda e and 125 miles for the Advance with 17-inch wheels. You can get to 80 per cent battery charge in 30 minutes with a rapid charger, whereas you’ll need 18.8 hours to get 100 per cent with a standard plug at home. Let’s face it, 125 miles is probably plenty enough for the majority of journeys, and if you want more range you aren’t interested in buying an electric car right now.
The interior is as well judged as the exterior. It is loaded with tech you might find useful, but far from a sterile tech-fest. The dash, for example, features an 8-inch screen that, for the sake of not going into too much detail, acts as the instrument cluster. Next to that are two 12.3-inch touch screens that give you access to various apps, one screen for the driver, one for the passenger. You can run your navigation, choose a radio station, configure the car’s settings and even play Doom from a Nintendo Switch. Yes there really is an HDMI port and, yes, you really can plug in a games console. Moreover, whole cabin is beautifully put together and distinctly un-cheap in feel, too.
Technology and Features
If playing the Nintendo in the Honda e is a gimmick too far then fear not, as there’s plenty of technology you’ll find more useful day to day. There’s a button on the dash that activates a system called Honda Parking Pilot, for example, which, as the name might suggest, means you can drive past a space and the car will do the parking. And if you do decide to park the car yourself, because there’s no engine between the front wheels the turning circle is exceptional. Like, only rear-wheel-steer forklift drivers will be able to turn tighter than the Honda e.
Wing mirrors are not included as standard, replaced by thin cameras on small aerodynamic stalks covered with a water repellent coating. It’s a move that improves the car’s exterior looks, reduces drag, reduces wind noise and sees another two 6-inch screens join the interior, one on each side where you’d normally look to see a mirror. The rear-view-mirror can be replaced, too, again by a small camera and yet another screen. It’s all a little overwhelming at first, as the cameras, high-quality though they are, simply don’t have the same perspective as traditional mirrors and your eyes focus on them differently. But does it all feel gimmicky? Not in the slightest. It just works.
The Honda e is the agile, fun electric car we’d all hoped it would be. It’s also futuristic enough to stand out from slightly more vanilla EVs, without being so jam-packed full of tech that it feels overwhelming. Furthermore, it’s a product of Honda, a company that has built its name on reliability and trust over the course of more than half a century. If I were going to buy an electric car right now, my money would be going on a Honda e.
Electric motor, 35.5kWh Lithium-ion battery
315Nm (223lb ft)
Single-speed automatic, rear-wheel-drive
18.8 hours to 100 per cent, 2.3kW home charge, 30 minutes to 80 per cent, 100kW fast charge
£27,160 (£29,660 as tested)
Reviewed by Seán Ward