Honda E 2021 long-term review
Honda’s electric supermini has its charms, but what’s it like to live with? Let’s find out
*Why we ran it: *To see if the E has the everyday usability to match its desirability, despite its relatively short range
-Month 5 - Month 4 - Month 3 - Month 2 - Month 1 - Prices and specs-
-Life with a Honda E: month 5-
*Our time is up with Honda’s eye- catching electric city car. So how has it fared in our hands? Let’s find out - 7 April 2021*
The world is quite divisive, you may have noticed. Debates are fierce, and the grey middle ground seems lost in a desire to make everything black or white. Whatever happened to a bit of good old-fashioned fence-sitting?
With that in mind, comments about the Honda E tend to go something like this: “Yeah, I love the way it looks inside and out, even more so the way it drives, but its range is tiny, so it’s basically rubbish.” Sure, the range figure is smaller than similarly priced rivals such as the Peugeot e-208, but by enough to discount the E entirely? Not a chance.
We’ll come back to the issue of range later. Yes, it’s part of the story of this car that started with us last summer, but it’s not the only part of it.
Our Crystal Blue metallic-coloured E came in the higher of two trim levels, Advance. This specification gets you not only an extra 17bhp for the single, rear-mounted electric motor, but also some extra comfort, convenience and safety features for a £2500 jump over the base car. For a premium product, it’s a price worth paying to experience the E in its very best light.
On first impressions, and even for the weeks and months that follow, the E will charm you with its exterior styling. This is a fine-looking, well-proportioned car that you never get tired of clapping eyes on – from a company whose styling department has a less than impressive past decade behind it. Indeed, the E looks like it’s from an altogether different manufacturer when it’s sat in a showroom with its Honda rangemates. But it’s a welcome reminder that the Japanese car maker still knows how to nail a timeless design, and it’s one that has never stopped turning the heads of passers-by during its time with us.
Those show-stopping looks make this not just another electric car but also the exact type of car to bring the EV debate to a more mainstream audience. Those conversations with strangers would so often start with a discussion on the looks, or the two side cameras that replace the door mirrors, but then talk would turn to general electric car ownership. Those conversations between curious strangers and real-world EV users give a far better impression of what it’s really like to live with an electric car than an internet search engine can ever hope to achieve.
Ah yes, those mirrors. What I at first thought was a bit of a gimmick actually turned out to be an incredibly useful feature. The ‘mirrors’ display just inside the A-pillars on a screen that extends across from the centre of the dash. The display is crisp, clear and perfectly sited, and the cameras give not only a slightly wider field of vision but also a clearer one that performs particularly well in low light. Quite what they do to the aero performance and therefore range is impossible to quantify in a test like this, but every little helps.
Bravo, too, to Honda for creating such a great interior. There’s a real sense of space and airiness, which comes from a combination of the light-coloured fabrics, large windscreen and even more so the absence of a centre tunnel between the front seats. It’s a really good use of space: with the rear bench up there’s enough room in the back for two adults for short journeys (although the boot is tiny like this), or drive it as I did for the most part with the bench folded flat and you have a spacious two-seater minivan with enough room for a large greyhound to sprawl out on her way to some daily mandated exercise (in the local area, of course).
Nippy off the line, adjustable regenerative braking allowing for true one-pedal use, runs out of puff a bit above 60mph… These attributes could apply to all manner of small EVs, but the E really stands out in other ways. Chief among them is its amazing turning circle, thanks to the rear-mounted motor and rear-wheel drive. Three-point turns have never really been the bane of my life, but I’m now sneaking round in one turn when before it would take three. It really is fantastic.
The E, then, is a car you desire when looking at it, when sitting in it and when driving it, and it comes with three or four killer features that make it excel as the most modern of city cars. If you do most of your miles within a short radius of home and can charge at home (or work, if your commute isn’t a monster), and have access to a second car for longer journeys, then even the range is fine.
The range, then, from the E’s 35.5kWh battery pack, is officially 125 miles. We got close to that in the summer, but it’s a figure that only tells half the story. On the coldest winter days, you’re likely only to manage half that distance, when you need to demist the windows, warm the cabin and make use of the heated seats and steering wheel.
For those who fit the home charging and second-car criteria, is a 125-mile range enough? Most likely, yes, but don’t rush into ownership without taking the 65-mile winter range into serious consideration. I was surprised to find that, despite its range limitations, the E managed everything I asked of it without causing range anxiety. For others, though, that winter range doesn’t half undermine the E’s overall appeal, so any final verdict comes with a significant caveat.
But caveats are fine so long as you go in with eyes wide open: the E is still a great car, just one with a great big (potential) flaw that limits any emphatic endorsement.
I was captivated by the Honda E – the looks, the interior, the handling and that amazing turning circle. You look forward to offering someone new a chance to ride in it, just to demonstrate how well it turns. But range is the decider. If you need a car for local trips – a city car, as Honda labels it – there’s almost nothing to dislike, especially if home charging is the norm for you. But as your one car for all jobs? Forget it.
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*Infotainment *Large, dual-screen dashboard display works brilliantly and feels truly special.
*Front space *No centre tunnel gives not only more space but also some clever hidden storage cubbies.
*Handling *A genuinely fun car to drive. Turns in keenly, has good grip and feels so agile around town.
*Price *A premium price is fine, but not without the premium feature most buyers would expect: more range.
*Lumpy ride *Low-speed ride felt worse as the miles went on. A few cabin squeaks and rattles by the end, too.
*Final mileage: 3522*
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*An easy fix for the E's only 'fault' - 17 March 2021*
Remember the rattle that I reported from what I thought was the door or window-locking mechanism? Turns out it was actually something a bit freaky: the locking wheel nut stored with the tools under the boot liner had got free and found its way under the rear seats into the floor. The ears of a clever technician found it and the issue hasn’t repeated. Bravo.
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-Life with a Honda E: Month 4-
*If you thought its range was too short in the summer, well... - 17 February 2021*
We’re very much still in the education phase of electric cars among the public. Many Autocar readers will know their appeal and drawbacks, likewise the early adopters and evangelists – although less of the drawbacks there…
That education must include an explanation of what a headline range figure really means. In the Honda E’s case, 125 miles is very much a best-case scenario, and one valid only for the warmest months of the year. Or warmest days, in the UK’s case.
In the summer heatwave when the E was first delivered, a range approaching 125 miles was indeed possible when I drove carefully and turned the regenerative braking to its maximum, always-on setting using the button on the centre tunnel (rather than the lighter touch given by the steering-mounted paddles).
In the winter, I’ve seen it drop below 70 miles when getting in on a 99% charge (for some reason, it never shows 100%) on the coldest days.
That’s with the heater on full blast; the heated seats, the heated steering wheel and both window demisters turned on; the lights and wipers in use; and the radio turned up to drown out all the noise.
So EVs shouldn’t be considered solely in the context of their best-case range in the summer; you need to factor in their winter performance, too. Given how long and cold British winters can be, that winter figure is just as important as the summer one, if not more so.
EVs are seasonal, their efficiency and range affected much more by cold weather than internal combustion engine cars are. The E isn’t alone in this, of course, and nor are plug-in hybrids immune; the BMW 330e saloon that I ran previously had its electric-only range of around 30 miles in summer knocked to fewer than 20 miles in the colder months.
The range of the Vauxhall Corsa-e dropping from 200 miles in summer to around 100 miles in winter is one thing (as our recent long-termer showed), but when another EV can barely top that figure at the best of times, the question of whether the car is right for you becomes more acute.
I’ve been determined not to make these updates all about the shorter range of the E in comparison with rivals, given that it’s the kind of car that people will buy for its charm, design, technology and appeal, and do so very much as a second car in a household. Objectively and next to its rivals, its range is poor, but that’s not to say that it’s made redundant by this winter performance.
As it happens, I’ve found that the E’s usefulness hasn’t actually changed much as a result of it feeling the cold. I’m no longer commuting (nor really going anywhere, in fact…), but since it arrived last summer, it has been used for all local journeys, which are about 90% of the journeys we make anyway. I’ve had to reach for the family Ford Fiesta only once or twice per month, such is the E’s usefulness and suitability for so much of my travel.
Indeed, we’re now more than six months into this test, yet the E still raises a smile each and every time I set off in it – and an increasingly broad one.
I’ll admit to not being quite as enamoured of the E’s styling as others were at the start, but now I absolutely love the way it looks as well as the way it drives. When you’re doing fewer miles but love driving, it’s important that each one is to be enjoyed and savoured.
*Heated seats *Heating is essential for leather seats. With fabric, they feel more like a luxury, but my word is one’s backside suitably toasted.
*Heated wheel *It feels like it’s missing a heating element, with only about half the wheel warming up. The BMW 330e used to roast my hands!
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*Dodgy door handles - 3 February 2020*
The last time I had a fault on a long-term test car, it was to do with the flush door handles of the Range Rover Velar. And now the Honda E’s passenger-side door lock has developed a habit of locking and unlocking itself repeatedly at the start of journeys until I hit the lock-all-doors button. It’s a simple actuator fix, reckons Honda.
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-Life with a Honda E: Month 3-
*Cold weather is not your friend - 13 January 2020*
It’s cold outside. Heater on full blast. Heated seats and wheel, too. Lights, wipers and the radio up a few notches to drown it all out. The range? Sixty-one miles, according to the readout. You’ll eke out a few more once the cabin is up to temperature, but the 100 miles or so you get in summer can easily be almost halved in the winter.
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*We use our electric supermini to enter a Destruction Derby - 2 December 2020*
If you’d have told me as a 10-year-old that I’d end up as a magazine journalist, I’d have guessed video games were going to be my specialism. Not that I was raised on the PlayStation; I just had a real interest in magazines about the subject, even more so than the games themselves. Which is a bit like enjoying reading Autocar more than driving, I suppose.
Anyway, I’ve ended up very happily at Autocar. Yet now, 11 years into my time here, the lad in me has an article he can get his head around. For the Honda E has a rather nifty/ gimmicky/brilliant/pointless feature in its ability to run a games console.
I went into my driveway to test it one lunchtime. Plug in the console to the three-pin socket for the power and connect it to the passenger-side infotainment touchscreen through the HDMI port and you can play the likes of Destruction Derby to your heart’s content, sound blaring through the speakers and all.
I could have done all this by simply hooking up the PlayStation to the TV in the living room, of course, but where’s the fun in that?
It does, however, beg the question as to why. So I asked the nice man from Honda, who replied: “Why not?”, clearly flummoxed by the hard-hitting level of journalistic questioning one Tuesday afternoon. There is a real reason, of course, that he did also point out. It’s more about that three-pin socket; you really can connect anything to it, opening up a world of two-way versatility in the car giving its power back to you.
If you’re out camping and need to plug in your hairdryer, have a powercut in your home and want to fire up the microwave or are a journalist stuck in a lay-by with a dead laptop and a missed deadline for a story that’s stored on it, the E can give the gift of power back to you through a humble three-pin socket.
The E is still giving plenty as a car to drive, too. A few months in, I’m now so used to the rear-view camera displays that going back to using door mirrors when I drive the family Ford Fiesta takes some getting used to. I prefer the cameras now, I think; the displays are just so clear and your field of vision is increased.
I’ve also started experimenting more with the regenerative braking, which you turn on and off using a button on the centre tunnel. It’s a bit too aggressive for my liking, though, and even under acceleration you can feel the pedal pushing back at you. I prefer to leave it off and instead get it in small doses through the paddles on the back of the steering wheel that increase or decrease it for a few seconds. Doing this as you approach a junction almost feels like you’re going down through the gears in a ‘normal car’.
The range has gone down with the cooler weather, mind. It was around 115 miles, but now it’s more like 95 miles, which correlates to the drop in efficiency from four miles per kWh to 3.4mpkWh now. It’s not limiting its usefulness to me, as in this somewhat life-changing year I have increased the number of smaller, local journeys as opposed to longer commutes. For such journeys, its fitness for purpose is almost absolute.
*Interior trim *The grey cloth interior has a real modern premium feel to it. Leather feels somewhat old-hat now.
*Charging port *A short cable and a front-mounted port mean no backing into spaces to charge. I would prefer the port where a petrol filler cap would be.
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-Life with a Honda E: Month 2-
*Bringing back the city car - 4 November 2020*
A year ago, we ran a piece about the death of cheap city cars. In short, emissions laws are making them unviable. So driving the E each day is bittersweet. Nipping in and out of tight spaces in traffic in a small, engaging car is one of motoring’s simple pleasures. That its cost is so prohibitive to so many is the flipside; the day small EVs become affordable for the majority will be great.
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-Life with a Honda E: Month 1-
*An interesting take on brake regenerative - 23 September 2020*
The E’s regenerative braking system is different to any I’ve experienced in an EV. There’s little to none in normal driving; you have to squeeze the left of the two flappy paddles on the steering wheel a few times to ramp it up, and then it only stays on until you get on the power again. So your left hand effectively becomes an extra, or even your main, brake.
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*Not your traditional electric car - 9 September 2020*
So much of the E is almost completely new as a driving experience, even down to some tiny details. Such as how the car automatically turns itself on once you are in and have shut the door, so when I press the starter button, I’m actually turning it off… But learn those quirks and the early miles are showing what a highly impressive city car this is.
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*Welcoming the E to the fleet - 2 September 2020*
I'm very taken with the looks of the Honda E. Most of my colleagues are, too. So I expected the wider public to be equally smitten with the charms of the little electric car that has just entered my life. But the reaction to the E out in the wild has been surprisingly mixed.
“It looks like a cassette player,” said one person. “That is so cool,” said another. Other comments included “Looks like a Matchbox toy” and “Those cameras are amazing” (we’ll come back to that last one later). I wasn’t sure whether “It’s a Nissan Cube mixed with a Mini” was a good thing or a bad thing, though.
So it seems car lovers almost unanimously appreciate the recreation of the 1970s Mk1 Honda Civic (or is that a Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI?) in the styling of the E. But the wider public? Hmm.
But that’s the point: you’ll either love or hate this car; there won’t be a middle ground. Our tests so far have found a car rich in charm, design and engineering quality and innovation, before two huge ‘buts’ come in: range and price. For the £29,160 (after the government grant) that my E Advance costs, you can get an EV like the fine-looking Peugeot e-208 from the class above with around twice the real-world range and a good deal more practicality.
So the E isn’t a car you buy with your head, but it’s definitely one you buy with your heart. Expensive and won’t go far between charges? So what? Just look at it. There’s usually little danger in building such a love-hate car in the mainstream, because those who love it will go out and actually buy it. Create a car like the E that’s devoid of any kind of distinction and character and you’ll fail. Not everyone loved BMW’s reinvention of the Mini or Fiat’s reborn 500, but that hasn’t stopped them from being runaway successes.
The E, then. It’s more than just a nice piece of design. You’ve read plenty on it this year already in Autocar, most recently its three-and-a-half-star road test rating. Such a rating might be disappointing to Honda, but its range/price Venn diagram performance simply can’t be ignored against cars with the quality of the e-208, and the road test makes no allowance for charm. But charm is a worthy commodity in a long-term test such as this one. This is where we’ll find out just how easy it is to overlook the E’s objective shortcomings and really celebrate so much of what makes it such an interesting and desirable car.
As a quick recap, it’s the first electric Honda sold in Europe and is built on a bespoke architecture. There are just two versions offered: a standard, more efficiency-focused model with 134bhp (badged simply the E) and this more powerful, 152bhp Advance version, which is also much better equipped. Both models are rear-wheel drive and use the same 35.5kWh battery, with the regular version having an official range of 136 miles, while our model, on larger wheels and less economy-focused tyres, records 125 miles. In our road test, the real-world range came in at around 110 miles.
Given that the range of the entry-level model is hardly stellar anyway, the E’s appeal really lies in the Advance, which costs £2500 more than the regular version but comes with a significant uplift in specification. Standard kit includes the choice of 16in or 17in wheels, a premium sound system (which really does have a fantastic sound quality) and a heated windscreen, which has become an essential option for those freezing winter months.
Rarely do you sit inside a car these days and really take a moment to soak in your surroundings, but you do in the E. I haven’t been this taken aback by an interior since the BMW i3. The E has a similar ambience, mixing the right amount of technology with interesting, unusual materials and a real sense of space. The car may look small from the outside, but it feels big inside, and its design is the very definition of a breath of fresh air.
Ambience appreciated, it’s time for the pre-flight checks of getting the seating position right (this is an easy car in which to get comfortable) and adjusting your mirrors. And if you haven’t already, you then notice the E’s party trick of having cameras in place of conventional door mirrors, displaying images on screens at the extremities of the dashboard at the base of the A-pillars. You’ll love them or you’ll hate them (detecting a theme here?), but you’ll definitely take more than a few journeys to get used to them. If and when you do, you’ll appreciate the wider field of vision, improved visibility in low light and the handy green guidelines that appear when it’s safe to change lanes. There’s a digital rear-view mirror in the Advance, too; it’s a bit easier to get used to and similarly boosts low-light performance.
So fresh out the box and in demand is the E that I’ve spent more time reading about my car in Autocar and sister magazine What Car? in various tests than driving it myself and forming my own opinions.
However, my appetite has been well and truly whetted for the months ahead. For those who love it, the E’s beauty is already clearly more than skin deep. For everyone else, those hidden depths we’ll explore might just win you over anyway.
It took one lap of a traffic cone-filled car park in a late prototype version for my irrational side to fall in love with the Honda E for its dynamic prowess. But my rational side insists that it’s expensive, it’s hopelessly small and it has an impractical range, and… nah, nah, nah, can’t hear you. Love it, love it, love it.
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-Honda E Advance specification-
*Prices: List price new* £29,160 (after government grant) *List price now* £30,160 (after government grant) *Price as tested* £29,710 (after government grant)
*Options:*Crystal Blue metallic paint £550
*Fuel consumption and range: Official range* 125 miles *Battery capacity* 35.5kWh *Test average* 89 miles *Test best* 122 miles *Test worst* 61 miles
*Tech highlights: 0-62mph* 8.3sec *Top speed* 90mph *Engine* AC permanent magnet synchronous *Max power* 152bhp *Max torque* 232bhp *Transmission* single-speed direct drive *Boot capacity* 171 litres *Wheels* 6.5Jx17in (f), 7.5Jx17in (r) *Tyres* 205/45 ZR17 88Y (f), 225/45 ZR17 94Y (r), Michelin Pilot Sport 4 *Kerb weight* 1542kg
*Service and running costs: Contract hire rate* £301.12 *CO2* 0g/km *Service costs* None *Other costs* None *Fuel costs* £143.10 *Running costs inc fuel* £143.10 *Cost per mile* 5.3 pence *Faults* None
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