Luxury doesn’t have to mean large. But is the compact, retro-cute, pure-electric Honda e city car good enough to warrant a price expected to start at around £32,000, despite a claimed driving range of only 125 miles? On the evidence of our early, and brief, drive in a prototype, yes. Just about.
From the horizon of screens that you sit behind – which are bookended by the rear three-quarter camera feeds that will be standard on the production car in place of wing mirrors – and the coarsely textured, dense-feeling textiles, it seems enough of a boutique product to justify a boutique price.
The plastics of the drive-select buttons feel disappointingly ordinary, mind, and the sheer number of screens can be rather overwhelming at first. Still, the menus of the touchscreens are logical and you can dim them right down or turn them off altogether for night driving. There’s no denying that the cabin has the wow factor in spades.
The Honda e drives well, too. As the short overhangs and wide stance suggest, this rear-drive car swings around corners with a relish that’ll make city driving fun and easy. A turning circle of under nine metres puts it up with a Smart ForTwo for u-turns, too. The Honda also keeps its body neatly in check, even through fast direction changes.
Comfort is hard to comment on from our brief, closed-area test drive. But the whole car, from the oily but precise feel of the steering to the enthusiastic cornering, seems light, intuitive and willing. True, this isn’t the fastest of electric cars, because it lacks the instant surge of acceleration that others – notably the similarly priced BMW i3 – offer. But with the 148bhp electric motor tucked beneath the boot floor and powering the rear wheels, it does fire off the line with zeal.
One niggle is the high number of brake-regeneration modes. There are seven in total – four fairly mild ones offered in Normal or Sport modes, while ‘single-pedal’ mode allows you to drive in slow traffic without needing the brake pedal, and it has three very heavy settings of its own. This, of course, is designed to harvest energy to maximise range and top up the 35.5kWh battery.
The Honda’s brake regeneration is smooth when it kicks in and easy to judge, and you can vary the settings easily, thanks to the paddles on the steering wheel, so it’s unlikely to bother you. Even so, seven modes does seem a little overkill – especially when the Honda also has a radar-control system that alters the brake forces to maintain a safe distance to the car in front.
Practicality is very good for such a small, city-oriented car. An average-sized adult can sit comfortably behind a leggy driver, and while the boot is rather small and has a high lip to allow for the motor tucked away underneath, it’ll be more than adequate for most metropolitan lifestyles.
Charging is via a CCS or Type 2 port under the black panel on the bonnet. Plug into a 100kW charger and you can charge from 20 to 80 per cent in around 20 minutes, while a 7kW home charger will do a full top-up in less than six hours. However, don’t expect Honda to introduce a bigger battery. Kohei Hitomi, project leader for the Honda e, told us: “There isn’t space while battery technology remains as it is, so there will be no other battery variant.”
That means buyers will have to really want the Honda’s design and tech lustre if they’re to overlook alternatives like the i3 and cheaper Renault ZOE, both of which go usefully further before needing a charge. Even so, with a similar range expected from the forthcoming electric MINI Cooper SE, it does seem likely that the market is there for a low-range, high-class electric city car.