2020 Honda e Advance Review: Lovable Retro Urban EV

Honda e has so many positives that you could almost forgive its so-so range and the high acquisition price.

As a design exercise, there is little question about how successful the Honda e electric city car is. Sure, it may look like a retro-inspired car and that may have been done before, yet it has to be one of the most successful such designs ever. Some retro-inspired cars look a bit ridiculous and out of place; this Honda looks very handsome and fitting, though.

But it’s not just a pretty (quirky) face – it’s also remarkably fun to drive, it has a very pleasant interior that can carry four adults and gadgets that place it among the top one percent most innovative cars. No, it’s not perfect, due to its low range and relatively high price, but if you get a chance to drive one, you’ll understand why I fell for it after spending just a few days driving it around the city.

Design

From the very first yards driving the Honda e in a big city environment, you notice just how much attention it attracts. I’ve driven other far flashier and more expensive cars in the same areas where I drove the Honda e, and they did not draw as many looks as it.

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And this is a bit strange, because the e doesn’t have an in-your-face design. In fact, it’s really rather subtle and restrained; it has no superfluous details, no extra design features that don’t serve a functional purpose.

This has to be one of the cleanest-looking cars currently on sale. Its fascias are very similar to those of the Urban EV Concept that previewed the production car, and neither of them has fake vents – even the grille up front is completely blocked off; it’s just a design feature to make this car seem familiar and harken back to the first-gen Civic of the mid-to-late 1970s.

Moving to a side view, it’s clear Honda went for simple and clean. There aren’t even any protruding door handles for the front doors – they retract into the door and pop out when the vehicle is unlocked; the rear doors have door handles hidden in the black plastic trim in front of the C-pillar.

Another design trick that helps the Honda e look distinctive are its frameless windows for all four doors. They really add a touch of class to the vehicle and make it appear more premium, especially when you climb aboard. Inside, you will be struck by the fact that there are no fewer than five screens spanning the width of the dash.

And believe it or not, all the screens are useful and serve a purpose. The outermost 6-inch screens display the feed from the side rear view cameras, one screen is a digital gauge cluster and two 12.3-inch screens handle infotainment duty. The rest of the interior is just as retro as the exterior, with pleasant faux wood trim (that looks surprisingly real), lots of nice-to-touch fabrics on the doors and seats and a general feeling of airiness.

Comfort

As with most modern Hondas, seating comfort is a highlight, although in the case of the e, it’s mostly people sitting in the front that take advantage. There’s nothing wrong with the rear bench per se, but when I tried to sit behind the driver’s seat set for my driving position (I’m 183 cm / 6-foot tall), my knees were pressed into the rear of the backrest and I also discovered that I couldn’t slide my feet under the front seat.

But if you sit in the front, you will have a great time. The cabin feels airy, there’s not a lot of dashboard in your line of sight and while there are no soft-touch plastics anywhere in the Honda e’s cabin, the manufacturer has somehow managed to make it feel special and premium. I found it surprising that a vehicle designed as a small city runabout exuded this feeling that it’s a luxury car.

When it comes to ride comfort, my tester was the Advance model that rode on the larger 17-inch wheels; I did not experience a car with 16-inch wheels, but I found the ride to be remarkably plush and civilized. Even though the car is set up to corner well, so it sometimes feels a tad on the firm side, it’s actually remarkably comfortable too; it rides like a bigger car with a longer wheelbase and this is about as high as praise gets for a vehicle its size.

One are where the Honda e is not especially great is practicality – the trunk only has 171 liters (6 cubic feet) available load volume, which can be extended to 571 liters (20 cubic feet) if you fold the rear bench. The small trunk comes as a direct result of having the motor in the rear, under the trunk floor. And there is no front trunk – the space under the hood looks exactly like it does in a conventional car.

Technology & Connectivity

Now even though Honda was clearly going for a retro-inspired package, there is nothing retro about this car’s tech level. I’ve already mentioned the screens, but many cars have many screens these days. What they don’t have is cameras instead of side view mirrors.

In the Honda e, they are very well integrated, better than in the Audi e-tron where the feed from the cameras is displayed on screens placed a bit too low (on the door). In the e, they are placed atop the dash, almost where you’d expect to look if it had actual mirrors. I was expecting these to feel gimmicky, like they were done just for the sake of being done.

However, they are genuinely useful, and they work extremely well. Their only problem (and the problem faced by all future cars that will adopt similar solutions) is they affect the driver’s depth perception. Let me explain – when you look into a mirror, what you see is a 3D image and it’s quite easy to gauge distances, whereas with cameras and screens, it’s all turned into 2D and your brain isn’t as quick to judge whether something is close or far.

My Advance trim tester also had the interior virtual rear-view mirror that can also show the feed from a camera placed in the rear of the vehicle. For me, this took a bit more getting used to – for my first day with the car, I kept it off, just using the mirror as you normally would, but by the second day, I’d actually grown to like it since (unlike the side cameras) it offers a much better view of what’s going on behind you compared to a regular mirror.

The Honda e has available Android Auto and Apple Car play, which can be displayed on either of the two 12.3-inch infotainment screens. However, Honda’s latest infotainment is pretty good, so you may not feel the need to use your phone, unless you want to have Waze or other such apps displayed on the screen. It’s also noteworthy that even in its quest for minimalism, Honda didn’t put the climate controls in the infotainment – they have a dedicated set of dials and buttons that not only go well with the dash design, but they also feel quite premium and are easy and intuitive to use.

Under the panel of climate controls, the Honda e has an actual household socket (that provides 230 volts for European-spec cars), as well as a 12 volt power outlet, two USBs and one HDMI. The presence of the latter means you can use the car’s screens to display the feed from an exterior device, such as a gaming console (which you can also plug into the car’s outlet).

Performance & Handling

The car I drove was the more powerful Advance model that gets a bump from 134 to 152 horsepower; torque stays the same 315 Nm (232 pound-feet). Honda says the car can sprint to 100 km/h (62 mph) in under 9 seconds (closer to 8, actually) and from the driver’s seat, it feels even quicker. It tops out at 145 km/h (90 mph), which is more than adequate since its limited range means you won’t be taking it on the highway often (if at all).

The Honda e is a rear-engined, rear-wheel drive car and its handling is a real highlight. It feels quite planted, it has sharp and direct steering and roll through the corners is not excessive. Keen drivers will derive a lot of enjoyment from throwing it into corners on a winding road, more so than you may give the car credit for at first glance – for me, its handling was one of the most impressive parts of the entire package; if only it had a little bit more power and defeatable traction control…

Honda has clearly designed the e with fun in mind – it not only has staggered wheels (wider in the rear), but these wheels are also shod in sporty Michelin PS4 tires. These do increase the road noise you hear in the car at higher speeds, but they really make it stick through the bends.

Safety

While the Honda e may have a full suite of safety aids, such as semi-autonomous driving (lane-keeping function and adaptive cruise control working in unison), as well as traffic sign recognition, self parking and cameras all around, it has yet to be tested for crash protection. Honda expects it to achieve a full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP tests.

Efficiency, Range & Charging

The Honda e’s Achille’s heel is its small battery and unimpressive range. The automaker may quote the battery as having a maximum capacity of 35.5 kWh, yet in reality only just under 29 kWh of that is usable. That’s why its so-so range of just 222 km WLTP is not that impressive; it’s even lower than that of the MINI Cooper SE we tested not long ago, even though that has an even smaller battery than the Honda.

In fact, since my tester came with the 17-inch rims, its range dropped to 212 km WLTP. When I picked the car up from Honda, it was charged up to 97 percent and the range prediction informed me the car was capable of covering 182 km, with an average consumption of 18.2 kWh/100km (3.4 miles/kWh); that’s about what Honda estimates it will use on average, although once I got behind the wheel (and reset the trip computer) I was seeing above 20 kWh/100km (3.1 miles/kWh).

But since you will be charging it quite frequently, at least it can be charged relatively quickly, at a maximum rate of 50 kW. This puts 80 precent back into the battery in around 30 minutes. If you can’t find a 50 kW station, a 6.6 kW AC charger will charge it from flat to full in just over 5 hours.

Pricing & Verdict

My tester was nearly €40,000 (around $47,000), since it was a fully loaded example. In Romania where I tested it, the government will give you a grant of nearly €10,000 towards the purchase of an EV, but, even so, the Honda e is a bit steeply priced, especially if you compare its range to that of rivals from Peugeot, Opel or Renault.

As a value proposition, it’s therefore not the greatest, but is such a good car that you may be inclined to forgive its relatively low range. It’s fun to drive, it looks really cool inside and out and those virtual mirrors will be a conversation starter even when you may not want them to be.

Traveling aboard a Honda e is one of the most futuristic automotive experiences you can currently have on public roads. It’s a special car and while it’s not the best as a practical proposition, you’ll still end up wanting one after trying it out. If you want my full opinion on the car, check out my video review posted right below.

Competitors

Gallery: 2020 Honda e


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