16 October 2020

First Drive: Honda e

It's hard to decide whether the new Honda e is futuristic or retro in style, writes Brian Byrne. But it certainly looks distinctive. And it is bigger than the square box style makes it look.

I had an introductory run in the car this week, a short one because the drive event was under Covid limitations. It wasn't enough to offer a proper review, but it made me smile. That's the thing about this little car. It's cheerful. I know it doesn't make sense to ascribe emotions to a hunk of metal, glass and plastic with four wheels, but that's how it is anyhow.

The size is between the Suzuki Swift and Toyota Yaris. In electric car terms, the Honda e is smaller than Renault's Zoe. Honda make no apology for the size, or the relatively short range which we might mention later. The car is designed absolutely for the urban owner. Nipping around city streets, easy to park (it will do it for you), enough boot space for shopping but not for long-distance luggage.

Inside is for four, though the rear doors access is easier for those of us who are trim ... nevertheless, enough headroom there even for the tall. The two up front will have a Starship Enterprise perspective. The Honda e comes with the most sophisticated and widest digital information system in the business. At either end of which are screens instead of exterior door mirrors. As standard that's a first in any class ... they are available in Audi's e-tron and the Mercedes-Benz Actros truck, but not anywhere else that I know of.

I wasn't sure I was going to like them — you just don't get the same distance perception on a screen as you do in mirror glass. But even in the short hour I had with the car, I got used to them. Though not the similar screen system used for the central rear-view mirror, which I quickly flicked to normal mirror. I didn't much like the wood-effect on the dashboard either. It has a very 60s tackiness about it. (Funny, the Tesla Model 3 I drove last year had something similarly unimpressive.)

The car's electric motor is nippy, quick acceleration ideal for city traffic. It belts along happily enough on motorways too, but the shape means it seems a bit noisier than more aerodynamic cars. Honda has set the 'e' firmly in urban settings, so that doesn't matter. The range is given as 222kms. That's short for the current breed of electric cars. But perfectly adequate for city use.

At €30,000 for the marginally lower of two grades, there's no getting away from the fact that it's expensive. Honda never did cheap, anyway. There's also no getting away from the fact that when I left it back, I was in perceptively better form than when I started out. That's going to be a big part of Honda e's attraction, I expect.

You'll be able to order it from November for delivery in January. The Irish importers have 150 units on the way, which they expect will get them through the first quarter.