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Honda e review: Electric city car puts form ahead of function

Urban EV is good looking and fun to drive but let down by poor range and astronomical price

I’ll be honest from the outset. The Honda e is not a car aimed at someone like me who lives in the country and has a family of gargantuan freaks to ferry around.

It’s for people who live and drive in urban environments and never have to transport more than a vente macchiato and a pain au chocolat. It’s a teeny tiny electric city car with a teeny tiny range, head-turning looks and an emphasis on style over substance.

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The e is positioned squarely up against the retro megastars that are the Mini Electric and Fiat 500. It shares some of their old-school inspired aesthetic (there are shades of the original Honda Civic in its design) but with a more modern high-tech twist to its clean boxy styling. Some people might find its cuteness overpowering but against the Mini and Fiat it feels suitably in tune without being derivative of either.

The interior follows a similar pattern. With its big clear physical controls, gloss plastic and wood trim, it has a sort of cool retro 70s hi-fi vibe but undercuts that with a full-width digital screen setup that screams 21st century. It also screams “trying too hard”. The digital instrument display is fine but there’s no need for two 12-inch touchscreens spanning almost two-thirds of the dashboard, especially when the interface and menu system is an ugly and substandard mess.

Thankfully the rest of the cabin is better resolved with a simple user-friendly feel and neat touches like the fabric phone pouched tucked out of the way next to the USB ports. It also feels pleasingly robust, with a sturdiness often missing from city cars.

If you were in any doubt that the e is a city car, a glance at the two rear seats will convince you. Like the Mini and Fiat, there’s very little space and they are really for emergency use only. At least, unlike the other two, the e features rear doors to make access easier. The boot is a similar story. At 171 litres it’ll hold a few days’ groceries but not much more.

Beneath the floor of the tiny boot lies the e’s compact motor which in the more powerful Advance spec produces 152bhp. That’s plenty for such a small car and provides it with a pleasingly punchy performance, especially in the cut and thrust of a traffic-clogged city. That rear-drive setup also helps with the e’s agility and comically tight turning circle, which are both also a blessing in tight urban environments. Yet it never feels lightweight or flimsy in the way some city cars can.

In the battle of the three electric city cars, the Honda is more powerful than the Fiat but loses out to the Mini. And it lags behind both in terms of range, despite having a larger battery than the Mini. With just 35.5kWh of capacity, the e is good for an official range of 137 miles, compared with 145 for the Mini and 199 for the Fiat.

That tiny battery means the e is more vulnerable to the impact of things like driving style and weather. On a previous and shorter summertime drive in one I saw an impressive 4.1 miles/kWh. In the depths of a Scottish winter my average over a week was a poor 2.8m/kWh. In a car with a big battery, that’s less of an issue but in the e, it translated into a real world range of just 100 miles.

Around town and with access to home charging, that’s not a big deal but it significantly limits the e’s use outside those narrow parameters, as does its restricted passenger and boot space.

That wouldn’t be the end of the world if the e was priced close to a regular city car but with a starting price of £34,365 for the basic car and £36,865 for the Advance it’s shockingly expensive especially when compared with the Mini and Fiat, both of which start at less than £30,000.

The e is the kind of car that will appeal to buyers that are happy to drop hundreds of pounds on a tiny designer handbag or a pair of shoes that you can only walk 20 yards in. Impractical but unarguably stylish. There is no sound financial or practical argument for getting one. If you’re after a sensible, good value EV then look elsewhere. But if you have cash to burn and a desire for something quirky, stylish and individual, the e could be the ideal city runaround for you.

Honda e Advance

Price: £36,865; Motor: Single synchronous motor; Battery: 35.5kWh; Power: 152bhp Torque: 232lb ft; Transmission: Single-speed, rear-wheel-drive; Top speed: 90mph; 0-62mph: 8 seconds; WLTP range: 137 miles; Consumption: 3.6 miles/kWh; Charging: Up to 100kW