Ever since the late '80s, Honda has dabbled in electrified vehicles, but the 2020 Honda e—their all new, fully electric offering—is a deep dive into increasingly crowded EV waters. And while the quaint shape and overall boxy feel give a nod to the first-generation, early '70s Civic, the new "e" is a far cry from the Civics early, oil-crisis relief days.
Big Things in Small Packages
By today's standards, the Honda e is in fact a "small car." It's a strange thing to type, as the majority of Honda's presence has, in fact, been based on smaller sized vehicles that often felt much roomier than they appeared and had an uncanny ability to serve a far more utilitarian role than most would expect. In recent years, however, they've taken some heat from longtime fans that have aggressively commented on the additional pounds and increased dimensions that are just a part of getting older it seems. For the sake of comparison, this new Honda e is about 8 inches shorter and not quite as tall as the now discontinued Honda Fit, though it's wider and carries a slightly longer wheelbase.
The e's chassis is designed from scratch, and unlike the early model Civic is rear-wheel drive by way of a motor that's positioned next to the rear axle. A 35.5-kWh lithium-ion battery sits mid-ship and boasts a much-needed temperature control. Charging is quicker than you might assume, with 80 percent of its charge knocked out in just a half an hour when a CCS2 DC rapid charger is at play (Type 2 AC connection delivers a complete charge in just 4.1 hours with a 7.4 kw supply).
Not the Head of the Class
It seems the main concern these days is distance afforded by the car in question's power supply. To that, the Honda e isn't a front-runner and there's more range to be found in other manufacturer options. Honda states that the 35.5-kWh battery grants about 137-miles for the base model and 124-miles for the Advance model. Not dismal, but it does fall below the base model Nissan Leaf that packs a more potent battery and almost 170-mile range. Also, the Honda e would get gapped by the Leaf in a 0-60 sprint. Still, we're pretty sure the Honda is going to attract a large U.K. crowd, especially when they get a glimpse at the futuristic cabin.
Feel the Vibes with this Turbocharged 1st Gen. Civic
Turbo D16, widebody '78 Civic
When the e showed up at a few different events early on, we assumed the interior treatment and, most notably, its electronics and displays were only for show. As it turns out, Honda made it happen and it's nothing short of amazing. The dash itself, which again gives off a first-gen. Civic vibe, is set low to accommodate the e's five high-definition screens that sprawl across the top of the woodgrain finished platform.
A Modern View
The wall of full-color, digital wizardry includes everything you'll need to survive the mean streets, from GPS to CarPlay. Not comfortable with the layout? No problem, you have the ability to completely customize it in order to suit your needs, just like your laptop or smart phone. The screens on either end of the infotainment lightshow are actually replacements for the side mirrors, which are non-existent. The full-time displays give a wider view and keep your eyes focused on the task at hand.
The small buttons and switches used to select the proper drive mode, often despised by those that prefer a physical handbrake and third pedal, feel appropriate in this instance. An old-school stalk and gear select, even as an ode to the original Civic, just wouldn't feel right in this interior that provides an almost open concept feel. Multiple USB and HDMI ports are scattered about and the only thing that seems a bit out of sync is the steering wheel. Given the wood grains and the futuristic, yet cozy interior, a more retro-style wheel seems like it would be a better fit.
On the Road
The new Honda e won't be making its way to the U.S., as you might expect, but MotorTrend's editor-at-large, Angus MacKenzie had plenty of seat time in the new offering and gives his take on Honda's new EV entry:
Angus MacKenzie: "It's a terrific city car, this Honda. The trademark instant-on response from the rear-mounted motor-which can be sharpened further by selecting Sport mode-combined with the little Honda's compact dimensions and excellent all-round visibility make it the ideal tool for the nip-and-tuck of city traffic. The steering feels a little low geared, but it's accurate and delivers decent feedback. Brake feel is smooth and consistent, with none of the weird nonlinear feedback you get from some EVs as they recoup energy.
The powertrain offers four regen levels. The default mode is very mild and allows the Honda e to flow down the road like a regular internal combustion engine car with an automatic transmission when you lift off. Regen can been increased by clicking the paddle on the left of the steering column, and then eased by clicking its counterpart on the right. If you like one-pedal driving, a button on the center console near the push-button drive selector instantly switches the regen to the most aggressive setting.
Rolling ride quality of the Honda e is very good, thanks to those softer spring rates, though as is typical with many Hondas, it could do with just a tad more suspension travel. There's far less transmitted road noise than in many similarly priced EVs and nary a hint of a whine from the drive system, either.
Brilliant in the city, the Honda e feels equally accomplished on urban freeways. A 74-mile run around outer London that eerily replicated a Los Angeles-style commute-a long highway stint that included frequent slow and stop-start driving as well as 70-mph cruising, bookended by low-speed driving on suburban streets-saw the Honda e's trip computer display an energy consumption rate of 3.9 miles/kWh (131.4 mpg-e) with a claimed 45 miles range remaining.
Ah yes, those numbers ... make no mistake, there are electric vehicles that deliver better raw bang for your buck, more range and more performance than the Honda e. But what they won't give you is the charm and character that oozes out of this refined and beautifully built little Honda. Of all the cars we've driven around London over the past few years, only the Aston Martin DBX has come close to generating as many smiles and thumbs up and positive comments from random passersby as the Honda e.
For many consumers, an electric vehicle is judged solely in terms of its range, but the worth of the Honda e shouldn't just be measured in miles. It is not designed for road tripping. It has been designed for people who drive in cities and urban areas, for people who have to spend time behind the wheel but don't travel far, for people who want city transport that's more than just a functional appliance. Cutting-edge cool yet friendly and affordable, the 2020 Honda e is, like the original Mini and the first Mustang, a car with a uniquely egalitarian appeal."