IAIN ROBERTSON 

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Although it may have ‘lost its way’ for a few years, states Iain Robertson, Honda possesses an inherent power to surprise that never fails to excite the new car scene and its latest EV offering is a prime example of its potency but not without question.

There exists a marketing lesson in business life; if you want to grab the zeitgeist, play the ‘KISS’ principle. One word is good. One letter is better. Ford was almost on point with the Ka, even though most people referred to it as the ‘K-A’, even within Ford Motor Company. Honda is a past master of the model-naming art, especially when exercising a call for minimalism.

While the Jazz more than proved Honda’s point with descriptive brevity, from its history, the Z (coupe) was perfection in motion. Naming its compact all-electric offering as e, insists on lower case (like smart), gives sub-editors parenthetic nightmares and infers the essential blend of no-nonsense minimalism. Yet, with electricity as its motive and novelty force, Honda’s marketers could not resist stuffing the e with more technology than the human eye can safely tolerate.

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In cold design terms, the e is the ultimate example of push-me-pull-you that epitomised the final version of the Toyota MR2, where the rear end mimics the front end, with ignition ‘on’ being (almost) the only way to differentiate them, thanks to an LED running lamps signature. Its relationship to nature is natural, a bit like several elements of e’s interior design, a factor that is not only visually attractive but which, unforced, adds to appealing tactility levels…two senses dealt with competently.

In engineering terms, e follows electrified principles: a substructure that places a not-so-weighty lithium-ion battery pack low down to reduce dynamically the polar moment of inertia, providing a 50:50 weight distribution, with an unusual rear axle drive motor (151bhp) that confounds the primary city car principle. Yet, freeing-up the front end realises an ultimate city car dream: like the smart car, e boasts an unencumbered turning circle that embarrasses the specified manoeuvrability of a London Taxi. Although not quite, the e can almost perform a U-turn within its own length, where allowable (3.1-turns of the tiller for a 4.3m circle).

Carmakers love creating hyphenated statements of intent and ‘human-centric’ is a popular means of introducing high-tech by warm inference. It is not always the case though, as even some 13-year-olds cannot get their heads around technological complexity that utterly confounds the silver surfers. Yet, Honda believes it has achieved a commensurate balance between convolution and ease of use, while introducing lessons learnt in the AI lab. We shall come to the interior momentarily.

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City car logic insists that a larger battery pack is unnecessary, even though it implies a reduced range potential. Rated at 35.5kWh, e’s WLTP range is given as 137-miles, in an EV formative era that demands a notional 200-mile minimum. Mistake? Not that Honda might admit to. Yet, recharging may cause a flutter, even though the customary 0-80% is feasible with 30 minutes of rapid charging, because using a 7.4kW wallbox demands just over four hours (100%), while a more conventional 2.3kW domestic charger can take almost 19 hours for a full charge (overnight is insufficient).

Despite restricting e’s maximum speed to 90mph, as much for battery longevity as there being no legal need to exceed 70mph (!), its 0-60mph performance can be achieved in a saucy 8.0s, more than enough to upset combatants in the traffic-lights GP. It is accompanied by a rising ‘engine’ tone for audible balance and a third sense satisfaction.

While the rear-view ‘mirrors’ could have been a lot smaller (wait for the Mark 2), they are the only exterior diversions away from a simple and clean design that looks more like a Lupo (see: VW sub-compact). The flush door handles pop out as the digital keyholder approaches. It is supremely easy to wash clean. The rear-view is visible from a pair of screens located at the extremities of the multi-screen, wood-trimmed dashboard that stretches across the full width of the car. Consisting of an 8.8-inch TFT ‘instrument’ screen ahead of the driver, a pair of 12.3-inch configurable LCD touchscreens complete the array. Personally, I fear that this is too great a level of distraction, even though watching streamed movies while awaiting a recharge may be perceived as a visual benefit, it is also verging on nonsensical.

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The rest of the interior is surprisingly lounge-like, with very appealing Jacquard-like upholstery cladding the seats for four occupants, including the driver, complete with bronzed seatbelts. The cabin is a very comfortable place to reside, so movie-watching may not be such a hardship; it is also more accommodating than the exterior dimensions of the e suggest and a driver of my 2.0m height can find a comfortable and supportive driving position, unusual (for me) in any Honda. Unsurprisingly, it is also a Wi-Fi hotspot for technocrats. Boasting the highest levels of connectivity of almost any motorcar, including the latest S-Class, a ‘talking dashboard’ (anathema to Maestro owners) is a boon, once you get into some form of ‘parlais’ with the AI-inspired Honda Personal Assistant, which (I am assured) has a genuine, inbuilt learning facility.

Of course, driving the e is where Honda mastery takes precedence. I anticipated bounciness and received balance. I anticipated hopping and skipping and received compliance. The ride and handling compromise is aided by the lighter battery pack and is as crisp and assured as any Civic, actually riding better than the latest Jazz, with a wieldiness at the electrically assisted helm that makes directional stability a delight. The e’s brakes, not that they are needed in normal motoring, thanks to programmable one-pedal driveability, respond positively.

The Honda e deals with my daily commute with ease, obviating the inevitable range criticism. Familiarity with the full-width dashboard display, which can be turned off, and the minimalist switchgear (although the steering wheel cross-spokes are over-embellished as a result), soon becomes second nature in a surprisingly alluring small car.

Conclusion:      With a price tag starting just shy of £30,000, I believe that Honda should have aimed lower, as even PCPs and lease programmes will be expensive. Yet, in terms of small car desirability, Honda has it totally sussed and that is the biggest surprise.

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