Can the Honda e convince us to go electric?

Can the Honda e convince us to go electric?

This article, written by Simon de Burton, was originally published in The Spectator.

In recent weeks I’ve been fortunate enough to have driven the new Rolls-Royce Ghost,  Bentley’s latest Bentayga and even the first completed example of Aston Martin’s £3.5m recreation of James Bond’s DB5 from the ‘Goldfinger’ film – but none turned heads quite so easily as Honda’s endearing ‘e’, the Japanese automotive giant’s tiny contender in the fast-growing arena of electric commuter cars.

Until now, we had KIA down as the maker of the funkiest-looking vehicle in the class with its excellent Soul, but the Honda e out-funks even that. Both inside and out, it looks, and is, a radical creation that deserves to sell in droves (and undoubtedly would if it didn’t suffer the usual drawbacks that blight most small electric cars, ie price and range).

On the outside, the Honda e manages to appear simultaneously cute and aggressive, sporty yet practical, with its boxy shell being softened by curves and minimalistic lighting. Note, too, the lack of wing mirrors – those small projections attached to each door are rear-view cameras that display what’s going on behind on screens set into each end of the curvaceous dashboard.

In fact, the inside of the car is even more interesting than the out. The ‘retro-modern’ veneered interior combines a somewhat ’70s feel with the latest tech in the form of no fewer than six screens –  two for the door mirrors, two 12-inch efforts towards the passenger side, one behind the steering wheel to provide the essential driving information and a final one within the rear-view mirror. It  too is connected to a camera in order to provide a high-definition image of what’s going on behind, although traditionalists can switch-back to a conventional reflection.

The screens provide all the usual ‘infotainment’ expected of a modern car (music streaming, radio,  navigation, vehicle information and so on) as well as offering what is probably a unique feature: tap the main ones and they turn into a virtual aquarium, complete with a facility to ‘feed’ the gently-swimming, high resolution fish.

The seats, meanwhile, enhance the semi-vintage vibe, being covered in ‘berber’  fabric and having the sort of squashy feel I remember last experiencing in a 1980s Ford Granada. A bench in the back can accommodate two adults or three low-teens children, with a multitude of electrical sockets (both 12 and 230 volt) ensuring that plenty of ‘devices’ can be charged and used while on the move.

And ‘move’ the Honda e certainly does. Electric motors are well known for producing maximum torque, or ‘pulling power’ from zero revs which, in the case of electrically-powered cars, makes for brisk acceleration. In this case, that means a standstill to 62 mph time of 9 seconds for the base model; or 8.3 seconds for the more powerful ‘Advance’ version. To put that into perspective , a new VW Golf GTi hits 62 mph in around six seconds – so the Honda, which has a top speed of 90mph,  can fairly be described as ‘nippy’.

And, despite its main role being that of urban runabout, the car is both rewarding and fun to drive. Fully independent suspension combined with rear-wheel-drive make for a sporty feel and excellent handling, while regenerative braking offers the chance to perfect a new motoring technique – time it right, and it’s possible to slow to a halt using only the resistance of the electric motor rather than the conventional brake pedal.

For in-town use or shortish commutes – especially into cities where electric cars are favoured – the Honda e really does seem to hit the spot.

Or it would, were it not for the £26,160 price of the base model (the ‘Advance’ version costs £28,660). Both sums take into account the Government’s £3,500 EV grant but remain significantly more than £18,995 cost of Honda’s own Jazz Hybrid  – that can achieve more than 62 mpg and will keep on going for as long as it has petrol in its tank.

The e, however, has a range of only 137 miles, although it can be re-charged to 80 per cent capacity in  30 minutes from a 50 or 100 kw public charging point. Plug it in at home to a 7.4kw fast-charging box and it will take four hours to fully replenish – or a tedious 19 hours from a conventional, three-pin socket.

As previously mentioned, low range and high cost are the two crosses that most small electric cars still have to bear.

Both will gradually be improved upon upon as up-take and availability increase – but, if you’re seriously in the market for an electric car,  you don’t anticipate the need to drive more than 100 miles or so in a day and are happy to pay the price, the Honda e is certainly worth a look.

And probably even a double-take.

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