I immediately fell in love with the Honda E when it was announced as the Honda EV Concept back in 2017. The compact city car pushed all my buttons — retro styling cues from the 80s, yet packed full of the latest gadgets and in-car technology. Oh, and fully electric.
The want for this car was real — but how to buy one in New Zealand?
Looking through old emails, turns out I sent more than 10 super-annoying emails to Honda NZ over two years, and made at least one desperate and highly awkward visit to the Newmarket dealership. The response from Honda NZ began something like “er…that’s a concept car and it’ll never enter production. How about you buy a Honda Jazz?” to eventually “they’re available in Europe and we’d love to sell this car, but without Government subsidies the numbers don’t stack up for us.” How boring!
I never really take no for an answer, so once the car hit the UK market in 2020 I started hassling a random Honda dealer in London to see if they’d sell me one and put it in a container and ship it to New Zealand. I’d done this before with my 1985 MR2 so figured it would be pretty easy. The dealer was amused and said it could probably be done — so I did a bit of due diligence and started looking around NZ for a local EV guru who might be able to service and look after the car once it arrived. After a quick Google search I stumbled upon Drive EV — an electric vehicle specialist operating from Taupo. A few emails back and forth with Steve and we quickly did a deal that saw him buy and import the car himself, get it safely through compliance in New Zealand, and delivered to me with full dealer support and warranty. Steve filled me with the confidence I needed and was awesome to work with. He’s now imported and sold a small handful of Honda Es and I’d highly recommend Drive EV to anyone in the market for one of these cars — he’s knowledgeable, passionate and provides a level of customer service far beyond what I’ve experienced in the past from main dealer networks. His business is pretty cool too — proper website, social media, digital contracts, responsive by email, no random phone calls, and presumably lower operating costs out of Taupo. Is this the future of selling cars? Certainly worked for me.
Owning this car is everything I hoped it would be. I’m obsessed with the design and love having the car as part of my daily life. It makes me smile every day. I’ll be honest and say I leave the hallway door open to the garage just to catch a glimpse walking past. I’ve washed it every few days and its become an awkward topic of conversation with the neighbours. One of the coolest things about owning the car is the joy it brings others. People love going for rides — young and old take photos and ask lots of questions. I’ve been followed on the motorway. I’ve had pedestrians walk right out in front of to snap the perfect angle. Cars in general tend to be so boring and I really admire Honda for being brave and backing their designers to build a car so far outside Honda’s typical 21st century design language. Of course some people hate the design, but most people love it. The important thing for me is that the design stands for something and it’s unique.
As with design — the Honda E also stands for something through its engineering. This is a city car through-and-through and isn’t going to give a Tesla, or any EV for that matter, a run for its money when it comes to range. Expect about 180km of everyday driving thanks to the tiny battery needed to keep the car small and lite. Batteries are both expensive and extremely heavy — so why manufacture and lug around a huge battery you don’t actually need? That’s expensive plus bad for efficiency and the environment. Honda figured out that most urban commutes are well below 100km — so designed for those journeys in mind and without apology. This works for me because I keep the car plugged in at home so it’s always fully charged, plus I have access to different cars for longer journeys. I appreciate this is a luxury and not everyone lives in a two car household — but again, I admire Honda’s commitment to a genuine use-case and choosing to stand for something. I’ve never been caught out for range and love plugging the car in when I get home. The inconvenience and regular expense of petrol stations are a distant memory for me.
The car has also been engineered for fun. It’s not exactly a rocketship but it feels fast. It’s rear wheel drive and sits on soft compound Michelin Sport Cup tyres. It has a Sport button. It has an optional one peddle driving mode. You’re probably not going to take this car on the track but you’ll have a tonne of fun nipping around town. The responsiveness and the turning circle is insane. I love the way it drives and I suspect the engineers at Honda love driving too.
Innovative design extends to the interior as well. The huge bank of LCD screens dominate the space — but aren’t nearly as distracting as you might expect. The exterior wing “mirrors” are cameras and work incredibly well both day and night. The car comes equipped with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — so apps like Google Maps and Spotify work seamlessly and display perfectly on the car’s inbuilt displays. You can even toggle which screen displays which apps and put the passenger in control of music or navigation if you wish. I also really love how Honda has kept physical buttons for the controls you use while driving — things like audio volume and air conditioning. Trying to use touch screens driving is both frustrating and dangerous, and I think Honda’s solution here is bang on. I also love the materials used in the interior and the notable lack of leather. The cloth seats are awesome and the brown seatbelts that match the interior trim are perfectly judged. The car has a real quality feel to it and feels more high-end than most of the European cars I’ve owned. No corners have been cut and the attention to detail is outstanding.
As you can tell I’m a huge fan of this car — bought with my heart — my head nowhere to be seen. But it turns out for me it was a great decision. As a design object and driving experience it brings me all the joy I was hoping for — but now I finally “get” EVs too. Plugging in at night is wonderful. Driving in total silence is wonderful. Knowing you’re doing less harm to the environment is wonderful. EVs for city driving now make total sense to me. Do I still love naturally aspirated sports cars with a manual gearbox? Absolutely — and no plans to give them up entirely. But the Honda E has certainly introduced me to a different way of thinking about a car’s role in an urban environment. I applaud the designers, engineers and executives at Honda who took a risk with this car and set out to build something completely different. The Honda E is an awesome car that deserves to be celebrated.