The recent shift towards automotive electrification means that manufacturers have a chance to try new ideas with almost a blank canvas approach. Some try a new design language, others focus on reinventing features that were a given in combustion cars, all to varying degrees of success. It is always interesting to see how brands implement their vision, and if there is a first effort that I was very curious to try out, it had to be the cute E, from Honda.
Released a few years ago now, it was criticized for being expensive and having short range, but its visuals captured my interest from day one. Being a Japanese car with a clear urban use case, we decided to make it a Japanese-themed day around Auckland. So, I put on my Japanese Mt Fuji shirt and drove it towards our first destination, the Fo Guan Shang buddhist temple, in East Tamaki. Buddhism is a significant religious movement in Japan and an important part of the country’s culture, and the temple is definitely worth the visit. The beautiful architecture, the calming atmosphere and the wind chimes, lanterns and falling cherry petals made for an introspective start to the day.
It was a busy drive towards our next destination, where the E got to show its urban qualities in a traffic jam that was gracefully handled by adaptive cruise control and a banging stereo. Honda thinks that with urban trips generally being shorter in distance, E buyers would prefer a more loaded interior and a lighter, more engaging vehicle over having to lug around a bigger battery they would not always benefit from.
And it doesn’t get more urban than a stroll around Auckland’s CBD. It was the chance to see the car in its natural habitat, where the quick 0-30 sprints and one-pedal driving proved handy. Again, Honda got it right here, the no frills calibration of the pedal meant I was an expert after two blocks.
Design-wise, the car strikes an amazing balance between retro and futuristic – the round headlights and the boxy shape scream old school Civic, while the cameras, LEDs and sensors scattered around its body give it a very modern road impression.
The same retro-meets-future theme continues in the interior, which feels special wherever you look. The mix between the (faux) wood and the corner-to-corner screens adds a lot of flair to it and packs all the tech you could ever expect. The material choices are also a win, with beautiful cloth seats and bronze seat belts, but rear room is seriously compromised, even considering it only seats four. Oh, and don’t forget the 171L boot, the smallest I’ve ever reviewed. Urban indeed.
Our second stop was Ponsonby Central. The recently renovated strip has plenty of options of restaurants and eateries for when you are unsure, but this time our Ramen craving took us to Chop Chop Noodle House. You can never go wrong with good Ramen, and in here they also have a strong focus on whiskey, which is an unusual combination that can lead to some very interesting flavours.
In the stop and go traffic around the packed neighbourhood, I got to look around and admire the car’s reflection in the store windows. And I was definitely not the only one – with just a handful of units in the country, the E is still an uncommon sight and will grab a lot of attention on the streets. As I approached the car, I even saw someone taking a picture of the side mirror – or should I say the lack of it. This was something I was not so sure on how I would feel once I saw the car in person, but I have no complaints. It makes sense from a design perspective, and the implementation of the tech is seamless. With great definition and refresh rates and a very convenient placement on the dash, the displays never felt misplaced and were easy to get used to.
On the drive up north, we got to experience a bit more of the E’s drivetrain, namely its 100kW electric motor. I took the windy route to explore more of the E’s the almost perfect weight distribution and chassis tuning. Quick responses and sharp turn in are to be expected from an electric small hatchback, oversteer isn’t – even with modest power figures, the instant torque delivery to the rear wheels led to some playful moments. If not for the grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, I’m sure it would be happy to let the rear end step out more.
We eventually stopped by Uncle Tetsu’s, a famous Japanese cheesecake franchise that has lately been trying out a new recipe in its Rosedale store in which they serve the cheesecake in a crêpe with crème Brûlée-like topping. Yes, please! These are only served during a small time window on Saturdays, so you might find a bit of a queue when you get there. Totally worth it, and I might stop by again sometime.
When it was time to charge the battery, we stopped at a charging station closeby. Using the onboard CCS charger, it took around 50 minutes to bring the battery from 10 to 80%, which felt like a minute because of what is possibly one of the coolest party tricks up the E’s sleeve – a 230V power outlet and an HDMI input. With those two at my disposal, I pulled out my PS5 and spent those minutes clocking laps aboard a Honda S2000 in Suzuka. Again, very Honda, very Japanese.
With around 30kWh of usable battery capacity, at 80% we were looking at 175km of range. Not enough to eliminate range anxiety, but maybe a number that people can wrap their life around and “deal with it” as it covers a few days of commute and the eventual busy weekend.
Our last stop for the day was Daikoku in Albany, a Japanese department store that gives a taste of the country’s retail with options of food, drink, toys and beauty products you just can’t find anywhere else. And then there’s the mural outside.
And so we come to a close. While there are plenty of reasons to love the E, I understand that its shortcomings are exactly based on attributes that usually drive the purchase of an EV: price, range, usability. It is hardly the rational choice given the other options currently available on the market, but given how positive my experience with it was, I wouldn’t be surprised to see myself finding an excuse for all of them just to drive the coolest, quirkiest electric hatchback on the street.