‘Project 116’ is a modern interpretation of a Bentley Blower
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The Top Gear car review:Honda e
What is it like on the road?
Let’s tackle your choices first – 134bhp or 152bhp, but both have the same 137-mile range and the same amount of torque – 232lb ft (more than a BAC Mono fellow nerds), so the 0-62mph difference isn’t stark: 9.0 seconds vs 8.3. But seeing as most of these will spend their lives shuttling around built-up areas, 62mph could be a distant dream. More useful is 0-30mph for which I have no official numbers, so I shall describe as ‘pleasingly nippy’.
It really zips away from a standstill, and hats off to Honda for the throttle tuning because it never lurches or jerks, just smooth urgent progress however binary your right foot is. The fact that it’s rear wheel drive (key to its 50:50 weight distribution and driving dynamics says Honda) will please the Ari Vatanens among you, and I can confirm a prod of the throttle on a very wet cobbled roundabout in Valencia will result in lurid oversteer and lightly soiled underpants. And that’s with the traction control on.
Back to what the Honda e was designed to do, carve effortlessly and peacefully through city traffic, and it nails that too. The variable ratio steering (3.1 turns lock to lock) is light and direct with just a hint of feedback, not nearly as twirly and disconnected as a Fiat 500. Its party trick is ludicrous amounts of lock and a 8.6m turning circle - just a smidgen wider than a London black cab – which is endlessly useful for sliding through impossible gaps or pulling audacious u-turns when Waze changes its mind.
For such a compact package it’s a heavy car – over 1,500kg – but you’d never guess it. All that torque provides instant momentum and the low centre of gravity means it doesn’t roll comically in corners, merely leans gently side to side. There’s a sense of agility and enthusiasm that, let’s be honest, we were expecting, but a refinement and maturity that perhaps we weren’t.
The fully-independent suspension smothers the road like something a lot bigger, and the silence in the cabin, even when you get up to and beyond 60mph is remarkable. There’s a sense that, like in all cars that really lodge in your memory, it’s been properly over-engineered, that Honda knew it had a clean sheet of paper and the world was watching.
In the name of good road-testing we found some decent B-roads outside Valencia and deployed an unsympathetic right foot… and the e refused to feel out of its depth, clinging on in corners, offering that addictive instant thrust. It even coped admirably on the motorway. So admirably that we managed to drain 80 per cent of the battery in around 100km. In a little over an hour. But that’s an extreme case – we do the risky range-sapping hooning so you don’t have to – our gentler morning stint suggests a real-world range of 100 miles is easily achievable, more if your prepare to switch-off the air-con. We did and our range instantly jumped by 25 per cent.
There are some buttons to play with – notable a choice of Normal or Sport driving modes. The latter simply sharpens the throttle and is largely redundant. More useful is a one pedal mode that dials up the regen when you lift off to make it possible to stop without touching the brake. You can pick from three levels of increasingly aggressive regen using the plus and minus paddles behind the wheel.
But it’s not all champagne and back-slaps, the cameras instead of wing mirrors are a great idea on paper – decreasing the car’s width, reducing overall drag by nearly four per cent, stretching the range and delivering all-weather visibility – but in practice they’re a bit pants. For starters they’re mounted low and angled too far down (we couldn’t find any way to adjust them) so you get a wonderful view of the rear wheel arch, but not necessarily of the traffic following behind. You can switch between normal and wide view, the latter distorting the outer-third of the screen to give you a wider field of vision, but it doesn’t improve things much.
Our other gripe is a screen and camera instead of a rear view mirror. To be fair, you can flip a switch, switch off the screen and use it as a normal reflective surface, but it’s not a proper mirror. Keep it as a screen and it take your eyes precious seconds to adjust from looking twenty metres down the road to a digital display 12-inches from your face. Plus every car looks like its aggressively tailgating you. Beware, buying a Honda e may increase your road rage.
Actually, I refuse to accept anyone could be angry within a 100m radius of this car. We drove it through the narrow lanes of Valencia’s old town, mostly legally, and all we got were smiles, waves and camera lenses. It’s quiet, cute, clean and unimposing – the friendly face of modern motoring.