Driven: The Honda e Advance Is A Retro-Futuristic Gadget On Four Wheels
Honda has set the goal of becoming the first Japanese brand to go fully electric by 2040 but instead of rolling out electric versions of existing models, the automaker kickstarted the new era with a clean-sheet design. The Honda e is more than an urban EV, it is a halo model bringing the brand’s heritage into the future, heavily betting on design and technology to make electrification desirable.
Last week we got the keys to the flagship Honda e Advance and spent a lot of time behind its wheel. We got to discover its quirks, test its fun-to-drive factor, charge it, and even fight with range anxiety. It is admittedly one of the most charming EVs on the market, but did it win us over?
Head-turning design thanks to uncluttered retro-futurism
Small cars with retro-inspired styling are not a new thing. The Honda e is the Japanese answer to a trend that started with the VW Beetle in the ‘90s and continued with the MINI Cooper and Fiat 500 in the ‘00s. However, Honda did it in a different way, with a focus on technology for its niche product.
Those who know their bit of Honda history will spot the references to the first-gen Civic from the ‘70s in the proportions, toned fenders, character line, and C-pillar. Thankfully, Honda struck a fine balance between heritage and modernity, making its smallest car head-turner as proven by the fair bit of attention we got from different demographics. In fact, the e is one of the rare cases where the production version looks better than the concept, making us wonder whether this design language could be used in more models.
I don’t need my design degree to appreciate the surfacing and the minimalist yet eye-catching styling cues. Look closely and you’ll see that the curved glossy-black plastic surfaces connecting the full-LED lights on both ends are mirroring the surrounding environment upside down. Features like the mirror-replacing cameras, the pop-up door handles, and the frameless windows, make the e look premium despite its size.
The Honda e is pretty compact, measuring 3,894 mm (153.3 inches) long. This is 262 mm (10.3 inches) more than the Fiat 500 and 49 mm (1.9 inches) longer than the MINI Cooper SE, making room for a proper five-door bodystyle. Due to the short overhangs, the 2,538 mm (99.9 inches) wheelbase is typical of a modern supermini and is nearly identical to the rival Peugeot e-208.
Small but tidy cabin packed with tech
Moving inside, it is hard not to get drawn by the elephant in the room which is the full-width, five-screen layout on the dashboard. Infotainment features are among the key priorities for most buyers, even though some complain about screens getting larger and more distracting. Surprisingly, Honda managed to satisfy both parties by making the screen ultra-wide and placing it at the right height for the driver to stay focused on the road. The truth is that you probably don’t need as many pixels to complete everyday tasks, but the crisp wallpapers create a nice atmosphere for all passengers.
The 6-inch digital mirrors on each corner work great in all lighting conditions and don’t require as much getting used to as you would initially expect. Having cameras instead of mirrors means you can easily navigate through tight spaces and benefit from the wide angle of the lens to limit blind spots. However, due to the strength of habit, you’ll often find yourself moving your head in a quest to see different angles, which obviously doesn’t work with the fixed image on the screens. In the Advance trim, the central mirror can also turn into a screen showing the unobstructed feed from the rearview camera but for this case, we prefer the regular mirror which makes it easier for the eyes to focus and adjust.
The rest of the digital dashboard includes a pretty basic instrument cluster partly hidden behind the steering wheel that shows everything you need with a focus on driving aids, and the significantly more configurable dual 12.3-inch touchscreens. Honda’s infotainment is simple to use with menu options instantly accessible from the customizable shortcut icons on both sides.
You also have the ability to swap pages from one screen to the other with the touch of a button. For example, you can place the built-in navigation in one and the Bluetooth media in the other, swapping them when needed. Weirdly, some features cannot be accessed by the co-driver when the vehicle is on the move for safety reasons.
Due to an unknown bug, I wasn’t able to connect Android Auto but I made good use of the dual USB charging ports located next to the HDMI outlet and the very useful standard AC power outlet on the bottom of the center console where you can connect your laptop. Finally, the physical buttons for home, changing brightness, switching off the screens and the volume knob are neat, as are the climate controls that were thankfully in a separate section.
Setting aside the massive screens, the interior looks like a modern reinterpretation of the original Honda Civic. In terms of build quality, the fabric upholstery and the wood trim look and feel quite nice but there is still a lot of exposed hard plastic for the price segment. Practicality is city car average, with a not-so-easy-to-reach fabric smartphone pocket, a retractable cup holder, bottle holders on the doors, a small glove box, and a modular storage compartment in the central tunnel that comes handy for larger items.
The Honda e can fit up to four adults with relative comfort for a vehicle of this size. Rear passengers have more space than in a Fiat 500 but a lot less than in an ICE-powered supermini like the VW Polo. They do, however, get four reading lights right next to the standard sunroof and USB ports for charging. Generally speaking, if you are up to 6 feet (1.83 m) tall you will have no issue with headroom and legroom but it is always nicer to sit at the front. The seats look and feel nice creating a cozy lounge-room atmosphere. The cargo space, though, is very limited with a capacity of 171 lt (6 cubic feet). This is smaller than all of its rivals but at least the rear seats fold flat for more demanding trips to the supermarket or when you need to pick someone up from the airport.
Agile, quick, and refined on the road
With an advertised WLTP range between 200-220 km (125-137 miles) depending on the variant which is less than equally-priced rivals, the Honda e is clearly designed for city use. Indeed, the small footprint, the light steering wheel, and the tiny 4.3 m (14.1 feet) turning radius make it quite agile in narrow roads, while the Single Pedal Control System in its most intense braking mode controlled from the paddles is ideal for traffic.
The birds-eye view camera and the sensors make it easy-peasy to park but you can also ask the Honda Parking Pilot to do all the work for you although this will likely take more time than doing it yourself. Speaking of driving aids, the Honda Sense suite has everything you’d ask for. The adaptive cruise control with stop & go function works smoothly and none of the passengers could tell that it wasn’t me in charge of the pedals. The lane centering also works well at times but it can get distracted from hazy lines.
In the more powerful Advance variant we drove, the single rear-mounted electric motor produces 152 hp (113 kW / 154 PS) and 315 Nm (232 lb-ft) of torque, rather than the 134 hp (100 kW / 136 PS) of the base model. While those numbers don’t sound mind-blowing, in reality the Honda e feels quicker than the advertised 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) time of 8.3 seconds, especially in Sport mode where it becomes even more responsive. It can easily reach highway speeds or even the top speed of 145 km/h (90 mph) where it remains quiet inside thanks to Honda’s great effort in NVH.
Ride quality is where the small Honda excels, being on par with vehicles from larger segments. The fully independent suspension strikes a great balance between firmness and comfort. While you won’t get Citroen levels of plushness, it is amazingly refined for its size and results in almost no body roll in the corners. Although the steering feel is not on par with the MINI Cooper and the Ford Fiesta when it comes to spirited driving, its light nature is more suitable to an electric city car while still being fast and direct.
The RWD powertrain, the sophisticated chassis setup, the low center of gravity, and the 50:50 weight balance are the ingredients of a fun-to-drive machine. Indeed, the Honda e will put a smile on your face every time you push it, giving full control and being friendly close to the limit. With the ESP turned off it even becomes tail-happy but it always keeps its composure. The weight of 1,527 kg (3,366 pounds) doesn’t really show other than under heavy braking. The only issue here is the battery juice that gets drained when you step all the way into the gas pedal.
Range anxiety is still a thing
And this is where we need to talk about the main point of criticism for the Honda e; its limited range of up to 220 km (137 miles). The reason for that is the comparably small floor-mounted 35.5 kWh lithium-ion battery which was a strategic decision by the engineering team in favor of lower weight and cost. This characteristic limits the use of the Honda e as a second car to a target group with easy access to a charger. In other words, if you live in an apartment you should probably look elsewhere. While there are competitors with smaller batteries like the base Fiat 500 Action (23.8 kWh) or the MINI Cooper SE (32.6 kWh), the more competitively priced variants of the Fiat 500 (42 kWh) and the Peugeot e-208 (50 kWh) will leave the Honda behind in terms of range.
In our Honda e Advance fitted with 17-inch wheels, the WLTP range is 125 miles (201 km). In real life, you won’t see more than 170-180 km (106-112 miles) on the trip computer. Thankfully, in normal driving, the estimate proved to be quite precise but if you have a little bit of fun behind the wheel you’ll notice the battery level dropping fast. As with all EVs, city driving and heavy traffic are being kind to its efficiency in contrast with high speed or heavy acceleration which will drain the battery fast. Having said that, if you charge overnight and start your day at 100 percent, you will likely never face range anxiety issues. After all, most Europeans don’t drive that much on a daily basis – according to Eurostat, the average person’s daily distance for urban trips is anywhere from 5.6 km (3.5 miles) in Greece to 19 km (12 miles) in Germany.
The advantage of a small battery is quick charging. A full charge on a 7.4 kW Type 2 AC charger takes 4.1 hours, although 100 kW DC rapid charging (good luck finding one…) can get you to 80 percent of charge in 30 minutes. During our review we used the 6.6 kW onboard charger on a public charging network, taking us from 1 to 99 percent in around 5 hours. Things are not looking that great on a standard home outlet though. While our Honda e had a second charging cable allowing us to plug it on the wall, it only added 4 percent in a little over an hour with more than 15 hours needed for the remaining 60 percent charge according to the trip computer.
Pricing and availability
The Honda e is only available in Europe and Japan, with the automaker choosing not to bring it Stateside. In Greece, where we drove it, pricing starts from €35,990 ($40,304) for the Honda e and from €38,990 ($43,641) for the Honda e Advance before you add the government incentives that shave 15-20% off the cost. In the UK the EV is listed for £34,365 ($45,989) and £36,865 ($49,334) respectively, which is similar to what you’d pay for mid-spec Honda CR-V Hybrid AWD.
Sub-compact EVs from other automakers can be a lot cheaper although high-spec variants end up being more expensive. Those include the Fiat 500 (€28,300-38,600 / $31,675-43,207), the Peugeot e-208 (€32,300-40,900 / $36,158-45,785), and the MINI Cooper SE (€33,960-38,357 / $38,013-42,935). Alternatively, you can get the base-spec VW ID.3 which starts from €34,000 ($38,068) despite being a segment above. Note that the aforementioned prices do not include government incentives.
The Honda e is an EV for those who prioritize style and technology over value-for-money and outright usability. Pricing is steep for its size, but the gadget-filled interior feels like a cozy living room with retro design cues brought into the future. Driving the e puts a smile on your face and the styling makes you look twice over your shoulder every time you park it. Besides the obvious cool factor of its design and the rather full list of standard equipment that comes with the high price, the Honda e offers a refined ride and good performance. A larger or more efficient battery is the only thing that is missing to allow greater freedom and more fun behind the wheel, since the range is limited compared to rivals, narrowing its use primarily in the urban cycle as a second car.
Photos Thanos Pappas
We would like to thank Honda in Greece for lending us the press car.