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Can the Honda e electric supermini cure electric vehicle sceptism?

HONDA E: THE PERFECT BALANCE OF EFFICIENCY AND PERFORMANCE FOR URBAN COMMUTING

We begin our early morning trip in a humble diesel Ford Mondeo, on our way to the Honda press event where the manufacturer’s new electric car will be unveiled to us. Being extremely sceptic about electric vehicles, we had no idea what Honda’s new electric supermini would have in store for us.

Upon arrival at the venue, we were greeted with a line up of the Honda e, in three different colour groups. The cars were carefully parked up in staggered rows, facing a huge projector, to give the feeling of an outdoor cinema. We had the chance to meet other press members and share our thoughts with them. We looked forward to what Honda had planned for us through the day.

Initial Impressions

Inside the venue, there was a Honda e with a sign in front of it that read as “GAMES”. Walking closer to it, my initial thoughts were that the supermini actually looked bigger in person than photos suggests. The quirky design was also hard to ignore. Once my brain had processed these two things, I immediately warmed to it. 

Inside, there was a digital scaled down version of the original Nintendo 64 console, hooked up to the car via an HDMI port, whiles drawing power using the standard 3-pin socket at the bottom of the dashboard. I found this to be extremely impressive, as I never imagined any car manufacturer providing a standard 3-pin socket within the car for devices. Even more impressive is the fact that I was told only 2% of battery life is consumed for every hour or so of game play. Before we could marvel at the other features that the Honda e has in store for us, we were told that the car allocations were ready.

Once a car was allocated to us, we proceeded to get up close and personal with it. The car we got was finished in a sort of lime green colour, which clearly stood out. There were other colours presented such as metallic blue and dark grey. We got a second chance to admire the Honda e’s sleek body, which features cameras in place of traditional wing mirrors, all in the name of aerodynamic efficiency. The front door handles sit flush within the doors, whiles the rear door handles are cleverly hidden around the rear windows, giving it a 3-door look when viewed from certain angles. Looking at the front, the bonnet features an opening for the charging ports. The front grille area is painted gloss black, hiding away a host of cameras and the radar used for the intelligent radar-guided cruise control. This ensures that on the Honda e can maintain a set distance from the car in front (measured in seconds), then brake or accelerate back to the set speed when required. There are other cameras hidden in the front windscreen which can recognise traffic signs, relaying information back to the driver’s screen. Other features include front and rear parking sensors, Road Departure Mitigation and blind-spot alerts. These host of safety features are part of what Honda calls the Honda SENSING Technology.

Pushing in one side of the front door handles then pulling the other side towards us, we were presented with frameless doors. This design language is also replicated in the rear doors as well. Inside, you could definitely see the technological advances within the dashboard layout. There is a continuous row of screens and displays, with the screens at each end angled inwards. These serve as the display for the door mounted cameras. The rear view mirror also acts as a digital display, should you prefer it. The camera for this is cleverly hidden away within the rear glass.

The interior felt airy and spacious than expected. Sliding back the roof lining which I mistook for a sunroof exposed even more light into the cabin through the glass roof. The wood trim on the dashboard complements the retro-looking fabric seats. The is enough space within the cabin to seat four adults, with the rear seats setup as more of a bench.

The boot space is fairly limited due to the fact that the Honda e is rear wheel drive, therefor the drivetrain design compromises the boot space compared to the other competitors that are front wheel drive.

The Drive

Being the top of the range Honda e, the model we drove was equipped with the 154PS electric motor driving the rear wheels. Performance figures are quoted as 0-62 in 8 seconds flat with a top speed of 100mph. Although truth be told the instant torque application from the electric motor means the Honda e feels much faster than the official numbers suggest. The rear wheel drive aspects of it means the Honda e handles incredibly well, as the front wheels have the sole job of doing the steering. This means a turning circle of just 4.3 metres, almost able to rotate on its axis. 

Starting the Honda e at the push of a button, we were presented with a host of options displayed on the two 12.3in touchscreen displays which can be swapped around from driver to passenger, or vice versa. The driver has a very clear 8.8in display Infront, with both side displays for the door cameras each measuring in at 6in across. There is no joystick to use to select the traditional P-R-N-D. Instead, the Honda e features buttons for P-N-D, with a pull-back style switch for the R. Below these there is an extra button to control the one-pedal drive function. This means acceleration and braking can both be done using the accelerator pedal. This took some getting used to, but after a few minutes on the road it begins to feel almost natural. Besides, it helps with regenerative braking where the energy from the braking is used to recharge the battery.

There Honda e also features a Drive Mode toggle switch right next to the driver. Flicking the switch toggles between Sport and Normal modes. The selected mode is displayed clearly at the top of the driver’s display. Other information on the driver’s display include the battery percentage and a graphic indicator of Power Vs Charge.

The drive started off from the venue with the battery indicator showing 97% after using up around 2% of battery life for the 20minute presentation on the projector outside using the speakers inside the car. Pressing the D button, the Honda e was ready to set off. After our minds adjusted to the car moving with no sound in the background, we looked forward to get onto the main road.

Out of the venue grounds, we enter a 30mph road in the village. What was instantly apparent was the way the Honda e handled the speed humps, soaking them up without a glitch. Soon we approach a 40mph sign. At this point the words “instant torque” became apparent. A brief squeeze of the accelerator pedal resulted in what felt like 30-40mph in one second. This was in the Normal mode. There was a brief drive through a national speed limit section where the new bespoke chassis began to shine. With the batteries mounted flat on the floor of the Honda e, the centre of gravity has been lowered. This means the Honda e is surprisingly agile, considering it weighs in at just over 1500kg. Soon, we were navigated onto the M25 motorway which surprisingly had less traffic than usual. We switched to Sport mode on the slip road using the Drive Mode toggle and the indicator is displayed on the driver’s display. With my foot flat to the floor exiting the roundabout onto the slip road, we were catapulted up to the national speed limit in no time at all. This again proving the efficiency of the electric motor. 

The motorway gave us a chance to try out the intelligent radar guided cruise control system. We set it up to follow the van in front at a steady 60mph. When the van slowed down to let traffic in, the Honda e braked accordingly, without any harshness. Once the van sped up again, the Honda e automatically increased the speed again back to 60mph, always maintaining a safe distance behind the van without any intervention. I always had the brakes covered though just incase, but luckily I never needed to use it. There was hardly any road noise from the 17in alloy wheels fitted to this Honda e, which were wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres. Changing lanes was a doddle, as the blind spot alert lights up orange next to the door camera displays to warn you of vehicles that may be in your blind spot.

Speaking of the door mirrors, they did take some getting used to. So was the rear view mirror. The rear view mirror had a toggle switch to flick between normal reflective mirror or a digital display for the rear camera. Once the brain had processed that everything was digital, it actually felt like I have been using this system for years. The images produced are clear and crisp, with adjustability just like a traditional glass wing mirror.

We covered nearly 40miles on our 70 minute or so drive, covering different types of driving situations including reversing, manouvering and parking. We also tried out the one-pedal driving mode as mentioned earlier. With that activated, coming off the throttle acted as the “braking phase”. Therefore the faster you completely come off the accelerator pedal, the harsher and more intense the braking. The braking sensitivity could also be adjusted using the steering wheel mounted paddles, marked as + and -. 

Arriving back at the venue, I noticed that we were down to 73% battery life, which for the type of driving we covered was very good. Honda states that the Honda e has a range of around 137miles, but in the real world it would be around 127miles.

Infortainment

As mentioned previously, the Honda e features two 12.3in touchscreen displays with a whole range of options available to the user. The screens can be swapped around for the navigation to be away from the driver with the music screen next to the driver’s display, or vice versa. The sat nav directions are also duplicated as arrows on the driver’s display making navigation easier for the driver. It has Android and Apple Car play, Bluetooth connectivity, as well as serving as an output for your favourite games console. There is a voice assistant that can carry out various tasks at request. Using the My Honda+ app, you can even connect to the Honda e to set up charging times or to even pre-heat the interior of the car during winter. 

The speakers in the Honda e are clear and crisp, with hardly any distortion at high volumes. The bass level can be customised to your preference. The Bluetooth connectivity was easy to setup but does require the vehicle to be stationary, even though your passenger is the one doing the setup. The graphics on the display are not grainy, and the reversing camera is better than the rearview camera found in most vehicles which are a few classes above the Honda e.

2020 Honda e

Charging

According to Honda, charging the 35.5kWh battery on the Honda e to 80% takes around 30 minutes using a fast charger, whilst 100% charge is achieved in around 4 hours using a public AC charger. Charging at home to 100% will take around 18 hours to get to 100%.

2020 Honda e

Summary

So going back to the original question, can the Honda e cure electric vehicle sceptism? I believe that it can. The Honda e appeals to all the different demographics, as well as standing out in its class. Yes, the top of the range model comes in at nearly £30,000 after the government grant of £3000, but the level of technology on offer and the bespoke chassis makes it worth every penny. There are a number of alternatives and direct competitors in this class, but I believe the Honda will be able to win the heart of people in the market for an electric supermini.

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