The year is 2017 and the location is Frankfurt, Germany. The crowd is buzzing with anticipation, similar to the electrons buzzing around in a battery. The stage is set for a highly anticipated unveiling and everyone’s holding their breath. Photographers have their fingers pressed on the shutter buttons, flashes are going off everywhere and cameras are popping up by the millisecond.
And here it is: the Honda Urban EV Concept. Rarely have I seen crowds so mesmerized by a launch ever since I started working as an automotive journalist. A few years later, I still remember the vastly positive reaction to the Urban EV Concept. That’s mostly because concepts are rarely unanimously loved. And yet, that’s what seemed to be happening during those first days, with journalists from all around the world singing praises for what was nothing more than just a preview. The production version was to follow some two years later and to everyone’s surprise, retained a lot of the concept’s looks.
The Ultimate Retro Style
When one talks about the Honda e, it’s rather impossible to avoid dissecting its exterior design. It’s understandable too, as that’s the main selling point of the car, if you ask me. It has a certain, unique feel and looks like a perfect mix between old school and the future. It’s Futuretro, as I like to call it.
Just a glance over and you will instantly get a familiar feeling. That’s because the front-end has a lot of cues from the original Civic and the original Volkswagen Golf, some of the most common cars you could see on the roads back in the 1980s. And even 1990s. The big, round headlamps up front, along with the very clear-cut lines make it look simple, elegant and somehow very high-tech at the same time.
The Honda e is also incredibly Japanese, if I may say so. The moment you look at it, you instantly know it’s a Japanese car and that’s a testament to how good and sharp the design is. In our particular combo, this black and white setup, it borderline looks like a Panda too, a very cute one, on wheels. And that holds a lot of its charm.
The hood has an opening for the charger that’s also in black and opens either digitally or mechanically with the help of a button integrated into the front ‘grille’ element between the headlights. All Honda e models will come in this two-color setup, with gloss black being one of them, covering the greenhouse, bottom and wheels.
Subtle Touches, Like Retractable Door Handles
There are other elements that set apart the Honda e from the crowd, like the retractable door handles and the frameless windows, the clever door handles on the rear doors or even the fact that the rear end looks exactly like the front but with a shorter length. All of that make the Honda e a very attractive car for a lot of people. However, you should know from the get go that this is a small car. A very small car for Americans who are used to large SUVs and trucks.
Space is a luxury in a lot of Asian countries and the Japanese even developed the well-known Key Car movement to keep up with the trends. Europeans might have a similar feeling, old cities having tight, narrow streets to navigate and that’s where the Honda e comes in handy. In the United States, lack of space is not such a big deal, excluding cities like New York, San Francisco or LA.
A Premium And High-Tech Interior Design
From the outside, it’s hard to grasp just how small the Honda e is, but that changes once you step inside. The atmosphere is airy and relaxed, especially if you sit up front. The cars come with a glass roof that also helps create the impression of roominess. And if you’re sitting up front, that’s perfectly fine. You are met with what Honda calls a lounge-style interior. Sounds familiar?
That’s a motif that a lot of car makers are invoking now, thinking of a future when cars will drive themselves and you will actually enjoy all the amenities inside while you’re being transported to your destination. Unfortunately, that future isn’t here yet and the 6 displays you find inside the Honda e could very easily be considered distracting.
From a design point of view, everything is really nice. You get three main displays on the dash: the instrument cluster and two 12.3-inch displays to the side. The instrument cluster is well thought-out, simple, clear-cut, easy to use. It has every bit of info you need and a decent resolution. The other two screens are highly configurable and basically allow each of the front occupants to set them up as they please.
You have endless possibilities – From connecting your phone and using Android Auto or Apple CarPlay to changing the wallpaper, displaying various useful information about the car’s battery, range or energy consumption, to actually connecting a console via an HDMI port. Heck, the people over at Honda even provided a conventional power socket under the screens that allows you to power just about any household appliance if you want to.
And all that will create a love or hate relationship with the car. It looks very nice and the setup even has a sort of shelf in front of the screens basically replicating some portion of your living room. You can use your phone to drive and unlock the car, thanks to NFC, and the Honda e truly feels like a high-tech machine. The problem is, those displays can be distracting and while impressive in the way they can be customized, most of the features are gimmicks that you get bored with after a while.
Then there are the two 6-inch displays located at the very ends of the dash. They are your new side mirrors. This was actually my second time testing digital sideview mirrors, after the ones on the Audi e-Tron and there are some noticeable differences.
First of all, the positioning inside the Honda is a lot better. They are located right next to the place you’d usually look if this was a conventional car. It’s a lot easier to get used to their location in the Honda e. They are also quite bigger than on the Audi and the Honda e comes with blind spot detection as standard, which is yet another plus. The cameras also seem to have wider lenses, offering a better perspective of the road on the Honda.
The one place where this system felt worse than the one on the Audi was at night, when the image quality was a bit worse but other than that, I found the Honda e digital mirrors to be a lot easier to use and closer to the real deal. The one issue I have with them is the lack of a depth perception which, once again, makes parking a very interesting ordeal. Thank God for the surround view camera system.
The last screen to talk about is the rearview mirror. In this case though, you can use it as a regular mirror or go for the digital version at the push of a button. I stuck with the classic setup as it felt more natural, but if you get two people in the back of the Honda e, the digital version (which uses a camera installed on the back of the car) does come in handy as your view out back will be blocked.
Another thing I loved about the interior of the Honda e was the fit and finish. The materials used aren’t necessarily the most expensive but they are done with perfect care and feel really nice to the touch. Our tester was dressed up in a textile finish all over. The seats wore cloth, the door panels and everything in between. Wood veneer was used on the dash and center console and the combination was just brilliant. A good mix of gray and copper orange that was beautiful to the touch and eye.
Get in the back though and you’ll start noticing just how small the Honda e is in actuality. The electric Honda is built atop a bespoke electric platform from the ground up and that does help, considering its exterior size. The floor is flat and the batteries are carefully stowed in it but there’s still not a lot of room in the back. Two 6-ft people can’t sit one behind another. If you have a six-footer up front, you’ll have to fit people under 5’6” in the back to make sure they fit. The boot isn’t all that big either at 171 liters, around the same you’d find in a Fiat 500 and less than you’d get in a MINI Cooper SE.
Then again, Honda said it from the get go: this is a city car! It’s meant to be a second-car, the one you use for your daily chores and charge almost every day. The specs and size definitely point that way.
A Decent Electric Range
The Honda e comes in two versions around the world: one with 136 HP and one with 154 HP. The battery stays the same regardless, rated for 35.5 kWh out of which you can actually use 28.5 kWh. Disappointing, I know, but at least you can charge it fast. It can take up to 55 kW at a fast charger, going from 10-80 percent in 36 minutes. What’s interesting is that the Honda e is rather heavy, despite that small battery, tipping the scale at nearly 1,588 kilos, 300 more than an i3, for example.
All that weight has an impact on the range too, the Honda e claiming a range of 222 km in the WLTP test. That’s 136 miles. And I have to say, you’ll get there only in perfect conditions. During my time with the car, I saw an average range of 100 kilometers (62 miles) on a single charge which really put thing in perspective. With some adjustments made to the driving style (turning off the AC and being extra careful with the throttle) I was able to reach 120 km of range but that was the highest value recorded.
I have to mention the weather was rather cold (between 0 and 5 degrees Celsius) and the car was fitted with winter tires. That last bit might’ve been an improvement as the Honda e comes with Michelin Pilot Sport tires as standard.
And that brings me to the best part about this car: it was obviously created to be enjoyed.
This is not a Renault Zoe or a Nissan Leaf. The purpose of this car is to get you through all of your chores with a smile on your face. You can tell that from the tire selection. Or from the fact that we have a rear-engine, rear-drive setup that makes skids extremely easy to pull off. The rear suspension is a McPherson setup and you get both a comfy ride and great control whenever you want to push this little bundle of joy to the limit. The Honda e puts a smile on your face whenever you’re driving it.
Another hint as to how this car was developed and what it aims for hides in the fact that you only get two driving modes and none of them uses words like ‘Eco’ or ‘Saving’, or anything like that. All you get is Normal and Sport. The difference between them is small but in Sport mode the pedal response seems a tad bit better.
The turn in is sharp and the front axle responds nicely to your inputs. I’d even dare say there’s some feedback to it but I might’ve been under the car’s spell. The turning radius is extremely small, with an 8.6-meter turning circle this thing is a blast to drive around town and simply enjoy it. Off the line, the car feels peppy albeit it won’t break your back. With a 0-62 mph time of 8.3 seconds, it’s not breaking any records but it definitely doesn’t feel slow in any way but fun at every moment.
A Viable Solution For City Driving
Whenever you don’t drive it like you stole it, you’ll probably have time to enjoy the silence the cabin provides and I have to say it’s eerily quiet inside the Honda e. It’s well insulated and the suspension carefully muffled out, eating up bumps without any complaints. The one gripe I have is with the door handles, that are a bit too noisy when they fold back into their reserved space inside the doors, when you’re setting off. Maybe that will be sorted later on.
At the end of the day, the Honda e feels like a promise delivered. The Japanese brand promised an electric city car and that’s exactly what they came up with. They never claimed it’s an all-rounder, never said it’s going to be all the car you’ll ever need. Instead, the EV Urban Concept promised a solution for urban dwellers and that’s what this is.
It’s quick, nifty and a joy to drive around town. Sure, the range will be an issue for some and that’s why I didn’t dare take it out of the city during my time with it, but as long as you accept that from the get go, do some math and figure out whether it’s going to be enough for your personal use case, the Honda e will deliver on all fronts and then some.