IAIN ROBERTSON 

Honda e

Honda e

Japanese carmaker Honda has performed a magical ‘volte face’ with its all-electric contender for mini-car honours, states Iain Robertson, and it is one that reflects everything unsurprisingly for which the brand has stood since its inception.

Honda Motor Corporation is one of those vehicle manufacturers that could be described as ‘Teflon coated’. In many respects, the firm has asked for any negative comments that could be levelled at it by critical observers in recent times. Its products have seemed to lack a sense of direction; if anything, they have veered too far from the precepts established by the company’s founder, Soichiro Honda, to whom neatness, a sense of order, consummate dynamism and broader consumer desirability were vital elements of its remit.

Honda e

Honda e

If anything, they have been replaced by fussiness, a move away from a distinct mobility heartland and a very narrow niche appeal. The company has tinkered and teased, even toyed with its perceived market status, seemingly without any voluble comprehension of where it needs to be. While it had always been Anglophile Soichiro’s desire to operate from a UK manufacturing base (a ‘Honda dream’ fulfilled, when its Swindon plant opened), the announcement made a couple of years ago that the factory would be shut down was never truly explained, which led to accusations of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU being central to the decision.

In truth, it was not the reason, which actually lies at the door of international sustainability. For Honda to remain in the UK as a carmaker, in a fast-changing environment, would have demanded a billion Dollar investment, when it already operates a factory in North America that can handle its future demands on electrification. The timing is unfortunate and there will be employment casualties in an area reliant on Honda as a driving force. Not even British government ‘sweeteners’ would have altered the course. The fall out impact will be felt from mid-2021 but you can rest assured that, as a responsible manufacturer, Honda is already providing suitable recompense to its staff, not merely from a public relations’ perspective.

Honda e

Honda e

Yet, in one fell swoop, from initial sight of its ‘e’ concept a couple of years ago to the final production car, Honda has sparked a genuine revolution. Although it can be ordered today, UK deliveries of the cutesy, all-electric Honda e will not commence until June 2020 and customers will have a choice of the standard e and Advance higher trim levels.

The Honda e is a complete departure from the design fussiness of other Honda motorcars, possessing taut and simple lines, with a circular lighting signature at either end, the multiple-LED lamps providing several illumination functions from single left and right-hand units. Yet, simplicity, subtlety and directness are at its core. It is breathtakingly pretty and, within its 3.89m length (1.75m width; 1.5m height), it is packed with on-the-money technology, one of the glassiest greenhouses of any modern car and a combination of hunkered down kerbside and on-the-move appeal, allied to class-leading accommodation that whisks it into an automotive pole position.

Honda e

Honda e

The cabin architecture is similarly single-minded, Honda adopting an ultra-modern ‘at home’ convenience and comfort standard that starts with an unusual and attention-grabbing, full-width digital dashboard display and several ‘lounge-like’ details, all intended to provide levels of friendly accessibility and homeliness that many rival carmakers have elected to ignore in recent times. While Audi talks of a clinical ‘HMI – Human-Machine Interface’, Honda delivers tactility and a warm, alluring fascination for life.

While leading with technology, it is not technology that will draw business to the brand but, rather, its visual integrity and whatever Honda e can impart in the first-rate driving experience. Lotus Cars talks of ‘purity’ but Honda is delivering it. Take, as an example, the manner by which the Honda e manages its rear-view vision that is both unique and radical, when contrasted with even the most technologically advanced models from other carmakers. For a start, there are no conventional exterior door mirrors.

Honda e

Honda e

For a number of years, several car manufacturers have teased with their use of exterior cameras as replacements for regular mirrors, even accusing automotive legislation for non-adoption. Honda has removed the conventional hardware completely and also removed the potential for them being broken expensively in car parks, replacing them with tiny, high-definition cameras in small housings that also carry a repeater indicator. The units do not extend beyond the width of the vehicle and, in the process remove buffeting, drag and wind noise. At either end of the main dashboard display is a 6.0-inch colour screen that relays an at-a-glance image of what is happening alongside, left/right and behind the car. It is supported by a centrally located rear-view mirror that can be switched readily between a exterior wide-angle, or conventional rearwards view. Honda is definitely looking back, while taking a vital view of the future.

A single motor, temperature controlled, 35.5kWh lithium-ion battery pack, with an on-board 6.6kW AC charger and low centre of gravity provides two, rear-wheel drive power options (133, or 151bhp), which can despatch 0-60mph in a lively 8.7, or 8.0s respectively, to a governed maximum speed of 90mph. Single-pedal control, which activates brake energy recovery, when the throttle is not required, ensures total ease of driving. Capable of fast-charging within two hours (4.1hrs using a domestic Vattenfall 7.4kW supply), a range of up to 137-miles is promised. Honda has partnered with British-based Moixa, a smart energy supplier, to manage demands.

Honda e

Honda e

By maximising the use of lightweight materials, such as aluminium for the suspension units, Honda has made a conscious effort to keep kerbweight to a modest (for an EV) just over 1.5-tonnes. There is no spare wheel (an inflation/repair kit is provided) and up to 17.0-inch diameter alloy wheels aid the Honda e’s dynamic appeal. Naturally, a comprehensive suite of driver aids, safety devices and connectivity options that also incorporate significant Artificial Intelligence (AI) ensure that a Honda e can be upgraded during its life.

Conclusion:     In light of the government’s most recent statement about banning fossil-fuelled transport, Honda’s launch of its first of several electrified models is merely timely. That the Honda e both looks good and makes the occupants feel good is a vital precursor to the future.