The Honda E is one of the few cars I’ve sat in where I’ve felt no pressing need to actually go anywhere. Not because I didn’t want to drive it - no, simply because it’s so damn nice inside. And not in a conventional sense, either - the E’s cabin is different from pretty much everything else on sale right now. It requires a thorough investigation. And a lot of prodding.
The doors are coated in soft fabric designed to look and feel like something that should be coating furniture fabric. The big chunks of wood trim are unvarnished and natural feeling. And yes, the driver and front-seat passenger are treated to what’s effectively one giant wraparound screen, made up of two 12.3-inch LCD touchscreens, a digital instrument cluster and two six-inch displays for the rear-view cameras. And yet, there are still - praise be - physical knobs and buttons for the climate control.
It feels light and airy inside, too - making full use of its bespoke EV platform, there’s a flat floor and an abundance of space under the dashboard. Adding a sense of fun, you can stick any wallpaper you want on those big screens, and there’s a virtual ‘aquarium’. With a three-pin plug and an HDMI socket, you could even plug a console in, if you’d like.
Once you’re finally done fiddling with things, setting off is done so using the drive select buttons mounted on a wood-trimmed plinth between the seats. How it behaves depends on whether or not the ‘creep’ mode is set on, and if you have the ‘one pedal’ driving activated, which ups the motor braking when you lift off.
On the move, it’s quiet and refined, and for a small car, the ride is nicely smooth. With a small wheelbase, it can get a little bouncy if you go too fast over an imperfection or speed bump, but it’s a comfy car on the whole.
Whether you’re in Sport mode or not, the initial throttle response is gentle. Rather than chucking a load of torque at you instantly, there’s a more gradual roll-in. Perhaps Honda didn’t want to shock its more traditional customers, or make the traction control setup have a fit while it works out how to lob 232lb ft of instant torque at the relatively narrow rear tyres.
Yep, the Honda E is rear-wheel drive, not that you’d know it most of the time. Turn the traction control off and boot it (we’re all for relevant consumer tests, us), and the E will get loose at the rear, and feel wholly uncomfortable doing it. So probably best you leave that on.
Dial things back a bit, and the E is fun to drive when you’re out of town. Like a lot of electric cars, it hides its bulky kerb weight (1525kg) well, thanks to the low-slung position of its 35.5kWh battery pack. It changes direction nicely and grips well thanks to this range-topping version using decent boots - Michelin Pilot Sport 4s - rather than the sort of low-rolling-resistance rubber often used by EVs.
Once you’re past that initial soft bit of the throttle, the E feels more than brisk enough off the line and picks up pace nicely when already on the move. 62mph is reached in 8.3 seconds, which is decent enough, but it’s during the sprint to 30mph where this little Honda really shines. It’s this - along with the light and fast steering - that makes the E a real joy to drive in built-up areas.
The Honda E is refined, clever, and achingly cool. But before you get too excited, there are some things to bear in mind. Amazing though those big, flexible displays are, you’re still lumbered with a not especially brilliant Garmin nav system, which - bizarrely - makes you choose between showing the time or distance remaining. Why? It’s not like there’s a lack of room.
A fairly minor gripe, but the Honda has a more pressing issue: its rivals. The Peugeot e-208, for instance, is over a grand cheaper than the base £26k 134bhp Honda E (the ‘Advance’ is £28,660), has a range of over 200 miles thanks to its 50kWh battery, and can charge at up to 100kW. The Honda can only muster up to 136 miles (closer to 100 in the real world) and can only be juiced at a rate of up to 50kW.
Granted, Honda is firmly pitching this as a city car that doesn’t need a mega range, therefore can use a smaller, lighter battery. But when you can go further, charge faster and carry more luggage for cheaper, that’s hard to ignore.
So, you should just get the Peugeot, right? Again, not so fast, because the Pug - along with all the E’s other rivals - are missing something. Want-factor. This cute, cool Honda has a magnetism (not the kind found inside motors) which is unbelievably strong. It’s not something you’re drawn to as a car, though - more as a gadget. A thing. An objet de curiosité, to borrow an old term from its French rival’s homeland.
That’s not to say the Honda has no substance. Quite the opposite - the E is a great little EV, and while it may not be the best all-rounder for the money, it’ll make you feel great every time you get behind the wheel or merely look at it. And you can’t put a price on that.