Burning petrol. It’s bloody brilliant, isn’t it? The noises, the smells, the drama – thousands upon thousands of parts moving together in harmony to form an engineering marvel fit for everything from commuting to work or taking the kids to school, to getting your kicks at over 200mph. It’s a bit old-fashioned though, and apparently it’s having an adverse effect on climate change.
Whether you genuinely enjoy driving or just enjoy the convenience of it, whether you’re already an electric vehicle convert or still prefer burning the remains of ancient rainforests and dinosaurs, you might as well come along for the ride if you’ve read this far.
Let me be entirely up-front – I’ve always struggled to get excited about electric cars even though I know they’re the future of motoring. I was disappointed by the first generation Tesla Roadster, despite plenty of peopl
e chucking bundles of dollars at Elon Musk for their chance to get hold of one even before they’d been built. Yes, the acceleration was instant, but there was no drama. It just wasn’t what a sportscar was supposed to feel like. Give me petrol any day of the week.
Nonetheless, the Honda e has been one of my most highly-anticipated new releases – along with the Suzuki Jimny and new Land Rover Defender – purely because all three look like they’ve been plucked from a child’s toybox and plonked into full-sized reality. Collectively, they’re undoubtedly the three coolest cars you can buy right now, although as far as I’m aware, Honda’s offering is the only one that comes with an aquarium on the dashboard.
Inside, the satin, ultra-widescreen display spans the entire width of the car and handles all but the basic controls for a super easy to use, minimalistic look. The wooden-effect dash is a beautifully tactile, retro-looking touch which, despite not even pretending to be made of wood, looked spot-on against the copper-brown seatbelts and stitching in the model tested. They’ve managed to achieve a look that feels utilitarian yet premium, keeping buttons and knobs down to the bare essentials in a way that’s so carefully considered it’s artful. If I’m being critical, some of the central buttons are a bit of a stretch to reach, but the cabin all looks so perfect that it’s a gripe that’s very easy to overlook. Tucked neatly under the dash side-by-side are USB and HDMI ports, as well as a three pin UK plug socket. Yes, you read that correctly. Why? Imagine you’re on a longer journey and need to take advantage of a service station fast charger that’ll get the e’s battery back up to 80% charge in just half an hour and you need to keep your kids (or fellow alleged grown-ups) entertained while doing so. You could watch a film or episode of your favourite series, but if you happen to have also taken along your games console of choice you can plug it in, sit back and play using the dashboard as a screen. It’s a bit out-there, and might make the charging process take a little longer, but at least you’ll be entertained in the meantime.
The side mirrors, well, aren’t. They’re cameras instead, relaying the outside world to a smaller screen each side of the dashboard. It’s weird at first, because you’re used to looking outside to see what’s behind you, but you soon get used to it and there’s the obvious bonus of having less stuff to smash off of the side of the car driving down tighter lanes, as well as the car being a bit more aerodynamic. They’ve also added a rear-facing camera for both reversing and displaying your surroundings on the hybrid optical and electric rear view mirror, so even with a full-house you’ll never struggle to see what’s coming up behind. It doesn’t suffer the ‘magic eye effect’ of the Defender’s rear view mirror either (see Gallery 173), which is a bonus.
A few paragraphs ago, I mentioned that I thought the original Tesla Roadster didn’t feel like a sportscar and it probably seemed wildly irrelevant, but bear with me. You see, here’s the thing; the Honda e isn’t a sportscar, yet in my eyes it is a driver’s car. Looking at its friendly, simple exterior which looks as if a Honda Civic from the seventies has been crashed into Eve from WALL-E (in a good way, of course), you have little in the way of expectations when it comes to driving it. It’s a city car, after all – point A to point B, right? Wrong. This thing absolutely rips.
With this rapidly turning into the third gushing motor review in a row I’m beginning to worry that people might think I’m insincere, but while I wanted to drive one of these just because they look so damned cool (a lad on a scooter slowed down to shout ‘your car is f****** sick mate!’ and a bloke fixing a set of traffic lights excitedly mimed for me to drop the window so that he could fire off a handful of enthusiastic questions while I was out and about in it), the driving aspect more than exceeded expectations.
Put it into a corner at speed, load up the suspension and it handles unbelievably solidly. With the ancillaries housed under the bonnet, taking care of the power steering and water-cooling for the batteries – which are underneath the cabin – and the engine not only in the rear but also powering the rear wheels, they’ve achieved 50/50 weight distribution – and it shows. Add in the motor’s 315Nm of linear torque for a respectable amount of instant punch and regenerative braking that’ll begin decelerating the moment you to begin to lift the throttle and, once you get used to it, it’s an undeniably fun little hatchback to drive spiritedly. Pro-tip: what look like gear-selector paddles either side of the steering wheel – which is confusing at first for a car with only one gear – actually change the amount of regenerative braking force applied when the system is activated – it’s almost as if they fully intended for it to be used during a B-lane blast without having to move your right foot between the pedals as well as to actually recharge the battery. I never thought I’d get excited about an electric car, but this one’s a game-changer.
Whether you’re leveraging its near silent operation and cute looks to get away with driving a little quicker than you probably should be or just pootling around, Honda’s e just makes you feel nice driving it. It’s hard to explain, but while driving around aimlessly at night something suddenly struck me; I haven’t just gone out and enjoyed driving around aimlessly for around eighteen years, when I was first let loose with a driving license. It’s a beautful place to be, simple and uncluttered, yet different enough to make it feel special. It just isn’t pretending to be anything it isn’t, I guess. Make no mistake – cut me and I bleed BMW, but there’s no way I’d choose an i3 over one of these – and that’s before you even take into account the significantly lower cost of the Honda.
With a range of around 135 miles, a flat cabin floor and centre console design that allows you to easily slide between driver and passenger sides without having to clamber over anything, plenty of headroom and legroom all round for all but the tallest of tall people and an insanely impressive turning circle thanks to the rear engined, rear wheel drive layout negating the use of any CV joints on the front it might just be the perfect city (or small island) car. Plus, if you’re rubbish at parking it’ll take care of that for you at the press of a button. Granted, it took four times as long for it to park itself than it would’ve taken me to do on my own, but it does it with pinpoint accuracy and without any further driver input once you’ve chosen one of the parking spaces it’s identified for you on the dashboard. It’s unnerving at first, but works flawlessly. Yes, the boot is a little small, but the cabin is spacious enough to make up for that in my eyes. I’m already doing my bit by cycling to and from work to offset the carbon emissions from those filthy, petrol powered toys tucked away in the garage, but if I drove every day, I would have to have one of these parked in there instead. There, I said it.
The Honda e is the car that everyone wanted when they envisaged the future, be that in the seventies, eighties, nineties or noughties – knockout looks, beautiful use of lighting inside and out, packed with innovative technology – the only thing we wanted that it can’t do is fly, but I’m sure they’re working on that. And anyway, where we’re going we actually still do need roads…