6

How does Honda’s ability to innovate manifest in its first mainstream EV?

Many of the world’s foremost car-makers have been determined to make a splash with their first proper electric model to market – not necessarily in terms of sales volume or outright profit, but certainly when it comes to image and brand-building.

This approach has resulted in some compelling cars. Just consider BMW (with the before-its-time i3), Porsche (the Taycan) and even Rolls-Royce (the Spectre).

Equipment levels are good, so the choice between entry-level Elegance and top-spec Advance is really one of personal taste. If a heated steering wheel and a powered tailgate appeal, go for Advance.

Honda was no different. In 2020, it launched the Honda E – a concept-esque supermini inspired by the firm’s kei cars. The E had interior appeal in spades and a tiny turning circle, and it remains hugely likeable. In truth, poor real-world driving range and a high price have hamstrung sales. But huge volume was never the point. For a while, everybody was talking about Honda as a purveyor of desirable EVs.

The subject of this road test marks the next chapter in Honda’s journey into the battery electric world. Perhaps it comes as a surprise that the Honda e:Ny1 is only Honda’s second electric car, at a time when key rivals – especially European and South Korean ones – are unambiguously flooding their ranges with EVs.

There’s no doubt that the Japanese maker has been slow off the mark, for a time being unconvinced that battery-electric technology (and not hydrogen fuel cell tech) was the future. It seems the company has also, and perhaps understandably, been reluctant to move on from internal combustion power, because its engines have an almost unsurpassed reputation for reliability, particularly in the US. 

Advertisement
Back to top

Nevertheless, the snappily named e:Ny1 is now here and, as a compact SUV, it’s clearly more concerned with commercial success than the little E ever was. It has no shortage of rivals (if its dimensions don’t ensure that, its punchy asking price certainly does) and it’s the car that, for now, will largely define how Honda is perceived as an EV maker.

The range at a glance

MODELS POWER FROM
e:Ny1 Elegance 201bhp £44,995
e:Ny1 Advance 201bhp £47,195

For now, the e:Ny1 range consists of one mechanical package dressed in a choice of two specification packs. Both are reasonably generous, although Advance brings more visual appeal inside the cabin, a panoramic roof and a heated steering wheel, among other extras. 

DESIGN & STYLING

6
honda eny1 review 2023 002 panning side

If the e:Ny1 looks familiar, it’s because the bodyshell is shared with the recently launched Honda HR-V crossover. The dimensions of the two are almost identical, with the relationship between the hybrid and the EV being much the same as that between, for example, Mercedes’ GLB and EQB.

Even so, you won’t have much difficulty differentiating the e:Ny1 from its ICE sibling. The electric car’s grille is in-filled with solid panels and it comes as standard with a set of striking multi-spoke alloy wheels. Elsewhere, the HR-V and e:Ny1 share the same elegant light bar across the rear bodywork, but the EV features more ‘noiseless’ surfaces, which is how Honda describes the body’s conspicuously pebble-like form. Rear door handles hidden in the C-pillar also lend the e:Ny1 the appearance of a three-door hatch on stilts, enhancing its dinky visual appeal.

Underpinning things is Honda’s new e:N Architecture F. It’s an EV platform that will be used for the brand’s upcoming B-segment EVs and is claimed to offer especially good packaging of components over the driven front axle. Given the e:Ny1 has neither an especially impressive turning circle nor notably good luggage space, though, this packaging manifests solely in the form of a longer cabin and more occupant space than you may expect from a car with this wheelbase.

The front-mounted motor is good for 201bhp and 229lb ft – enough to send our 1756kg e:Ny1 Advance test car to 62mph in a claimed 7.6sec and on to a top speed of 100mph. For entry-level Elegance trim, that kerb weight drops to 1733kg, a decently low figure given the size of the battery pack and achieved by the e:Ny1’s generous proportion of high-tensile steel.

That battery pack is a watercooled 68.8kWh unit spread under the floor. It yields a 256-mile WLTP range, but with no heat pump (as offered on many rivals), this figure is likely to be especially vulnerable to wintry conditions. Maximum DC rapid charging speed is also modest, at 78kW. However, Honda claims the e:Ny1 will sustain higher average charging speeds than rivals, with little dropoff approaching full capacity.

Suspension is by MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear, controlled by a passive spring-and-damper setup. The e:Ny1 unsurprisingly takes after the HR-V in this respect also.

INTERIOR

7
honda eny1 review 2023 010 dash

Our test car’s light-hued, synthetic leather gave the cabin a thoroughly unthreatening, easy-going ambience. On first impressions, this is a more optimistic-feeling environment than you get with many dour rivals in this portion of the market. Matters are enhanced by fine forward visibility and a comparatively low beltline and scuttle, relative to the slightly perched driving position.

The e:Ny1 doesn’t offer the most cosseting experience for longer drives, but for shorter and urban routes, it offers a fine and comfortable base of operations. Special mention also goes to the packaging. It’s a remarkable fact that the Honda’s typical rear leg room of 780mm is a match for Audi’s much larger and more expensive Q8 E-tron – a full-sized SUV. Rear head room is also unproblematic, despite the sloping roofline. Finally, the flat floor makes life easier for middle-seat occupants, although width isn’t overly generous.

A special app allows you to tune the car’s recharging times for optimal off-peak cost, for the lowest grid carbon emissions or to align with the greatest output from your house’s solar panels. Clever.

The e:Ny1 begins to lose marks when it comes to storage. The door bins and cubbies are small, and while the high boot floor is useful for loading, outright boot space is quite poor by class standards. The e:Ny1 isn’t a particularly big car, but it’s priced in line with larger ones from other brands, and while those (think Kia Niro EV and BMW iX1) manage close to 500 litres with the second row of seats in place, the Honda offers just 361-. There is at least a compartment for storing charging cables underneath the boot floor and those second-row seats do fold almost perfectly flat, but neither of these makes up for the car’s lack of outright capacity.

There’s also the unmissable, portrait-orientated, central 15.1in touchscreen up front, which is split into three levels of functionality (see ‘Multimedia’, below). For some, it will add an element of glamour to the cabin, although it can’t entirely distract from some cheap trim elsewhere. The upper dashboard, for instance, is edged in a strangely hard plastic, and the clunky air-vent controls have a flimsy, insubstantial feel about them. However, the car’s various buttons and switches are positioned intuitively and work at the first time of asking.

Multimedia

The e:Ny1 introduces a new touchscreen for Honda in the form of a 15.1in, portrait-orientated tablet. It has a zoned interface, with climate controls in the bottom third; a ‘Driver Assist’ zone in the middle, with shortcuts to audio, phone and vehicle settings; and the upper third dedicated to the navigation display and vehicle cameras.

In this respect, the Honda’s system differs from the similarly proportioned set-up found in current Mercedes models, where the majority of the screen can be dedicated to a single function, making it easier to use. The screen’s resolution is good, though, and latency is almost non-existent.

The e:Ny1 is also compatible with Apple CarPlay (wireless) and Android Auto (wired), although it repeatedly failed to connect to our Android smartphone during testing. Both versions of the car come with wireless phone chargers and four USB ports.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

6
honda eny1 review 2023 021 motor

The baby-faced e:Ny1 has no pretence of being performance flavoured. However, its power and torque figures are reasonably generous for a small crossover and you might therefore expect it to be surprisingly quick off the mark and energetic in terms of its roll-on acceleration.

In the end, it was difficult to get a true measure of either attribute on the day of our testing. In the damp, the e:Ny1 suffers from considerable traction issues, to such an extent that full use of the accelerator pedal at anything below 50mph results in a flare of wheelspin, even with the electronic traction aids enabled. Amusingly, extracting a representative 0-62mph time therefore required a similar level of coaxing to what used to be reserved for torque-rich, manual-gearbox V12 supercars in the days before computer-aided launch-control programs.

If this is supposed to be a refined EV, it has a drive motor with a curious amount of high-frequency noise. The levels can spike quite suddenly at just the right speed and load; it's never intrusive, but you do notice when it happens.

Our best effort resulted in 8.6sec taken to reach 60mph – a second or so slower than the claimed time – and an acceptance that the e:Ny1’s combination of abrupt torque delivery and efficiency-focused Continental UltraContact tyres isn’t especially useful when you’re, say, pulling out of a T-junction in less-than-ideal weather conditions.

As for overtaking prowess, the Honda’s 6.9sec for the dash from 30-70mph is not at all shabby. The heavier Skoda Enyaq in a similarly powerful configuration to the e:Ny1 takes nearly a second longer. It’s evidence that, in the dry, when this chassis can get its power and torque down neatly, the e:Ny1 is more than quick enough for its role in life, if not what you would call exciting.

In general, the driving controls are intuitive enough. Moderate inputs of the accelerator pedal are met with a considered response, with little of the deliberate and irksome sensitivity that some car firms tune in to the powertrain to make an EV feel faster than it is. It’s a similar story with the brakes, which have several levels of regenerative force to choose from, and offer reasonable feel for this type of car.

However, the objective data is eye-widening. In an emergency stop, on a damp track, the e:Ny1 took 73.1m to come to a stop from 70mph. In almost identical conditions, the 259kg heavier Ford Mustang Mach-E Extended Range took only 57.0m. Honda’s choice of low-resistance tyres are almost certainly the reason why.

Assisted Driving - 3 stars

The e:Ny1 features Honda’s ‘Sensing’ suite of safety technologies, which is offered as standard and uses a combination of cameras, radar and sonar sensors. In the manner pioneered by Tesla, when the adaptive cruise control is activated, other traffic that the car ‘sees’ is depicted by a graphic inside the digital instrument binnacle.

At speeds below 40mph, Honda’s Traffic Jam Assist feature can also be activated, before it then switches to the standard Lane Keeping Assist system at speeds above 40mph. It does so without prompt.

We tested the adaptive cruise control extensively and found it to be effective but also somewhat blunt in the way it interacts with other traffic. It can take too long to realise when a car is pulling out in front of you, but then slows overly dramatically and takes too long to speed up again, frustrating drivers behind you.

RIDE & HANDLING

5
honda eny1 review 2023 023 cornering front

There’s nothing outwardly untoward about the way the Honda e:Ny1 drives. It’s just that it almost entirely lacks the kind of quietly satisfying handling usually experienced with even basic examples of Honda’s own Civic hatchback, and also electric rivals such as the Toyota bZ4X, which shares some of its underpinnings with the excellent Corolla.

At least one tester noted that the e:Ny1’s combination of modest grip level and heavyish steering felt like a throwback to yesteryear, when electric cars were about numbers first and driving experience a distant second. A smallish, lightish crossover with a responsive electric powertrain should handle more deftly than this, especially from a manufacturer that knows a thing or two about what makes cars good to drive. Even the Honda E has some flair and verve to the way it goes down an interesting road; but the e:Ny1 asks its driver to work just a bit harder through direction changes than is desirable. There’s a subtle but undeniable flat-footedness here.

The car has driving modes ranging from Econ to Sport, but they’re concerned as much with different levels of energy expenditure as they are with the fundamental driving experience. Sport does shorten the effective length of the accelerator pedal, but why would you?

None of which is to say that the e:Ny1 is downright enervating. Body control is reasonable in outright terms, and the steering, although a touch heavy-set, is as accurate as could reasonably be expected. You can make good progress in the car, and it isn’t a difficult or tiring one to drive; just an unremarkable one (traction issues notwithstanding). Subtly more direct off-centre steering response might improve its lowspeed manoeuvrability, mind. 

Comfort & isolation - 3.5 stars

Refinement is one area in which Honda is keen to highlight the e:Ny1’s strong capability. The wheels feature in-built resonators to partly cancel out road roar, and there’s a new damper on the rear axle, as well as ‘strategically placed’ cabin insulation aimed at quelling higher-frequency noises and vibrations.

On the move, the car is indeed well-mannered, and not just in subjective terms. At a steady 50mph, our microphone recorded 63dBA. This is marginally better than the hybrid-powered HR-V with which the e:Ny1 shares plenty of its construction, and notably better than the figures recorded in the Mustang Mach-E RWD and bZ4X. However, the Niro EV was substantially quieter at similar speeds, so the Honda can’t claim to set class standards in terms of rolling refinement.

There’s also a pronounced whine that accompanies the efforts of the electric motor, and at very low speeds, our test car exhibited a sort of powertrain-originating ‘click’ whenever the accelerator pedal was either dipped into or out of. 

In terms of ride quality, the e:Ny1 mostly does well enough on British roads, and part of this is perhaps down to Honda’s decision to fit thoroughly sensible 18in wheels to the car, rather than anything larger. It’s also a comfortable car, with well-sculpted seats and good adjustability in the driving position (although, for this price, you might expect adjustable lumbar support).

However, poor road surfaces can pose a problem. Isolation levels deteriorate and the ride quality can take on a certain brittleness.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

5
honda eny1 review 2023 001 cornering front

At the right point, despite its various foibles, the Honda e:Ny1 could be considered a fairly strong contender. It has excellent cabin ergonomics and, other than its dynamic drabness, it cuts an interesting figure.

However, that certain price point isn’t £44,995, rising to more than £47,000 if you opt for the higher of the two trim levels (Advance, tested here). The problem becomes clear when you assess the numbers. Both the Kia Niro EV and new Hyundai Kona Electric cost notably less than the Honda despite offering a similar, even superior, real-world driving range.

The e:Ny1’s 78kW maximum charging rate is also considerably off the pace in a corner of the market where upwards of 150kW is now expected.

As for practicality and all-round appeal, the Honda’s pricing puts it up against the bigger fish in the form of the Tesla Model Y, Skoda Enyaq iV and, most recently, the Fisker Ocean, which are all more spacious when you factor in luggage and not just passengers. It leaves the Honda in a precarious position, with no USP to stand it out from the crowd.

Should you opt for the e:Ny1, you can expect an efficiency of 3.1mpkWh at a 70mph cruise, which translates to around 190 miles of range. In mixed driving, expect to achieve closer to 3.4mpkWh, for a range of 211 miles against the claimed 256 miles.

Remember, though, that the car doesn’t come with a heat pump for the battery, so cold conditions will trim that range noticeably – as, in our experience, does the use of air conditioning.

VERDICT

6
honda eny1 review 2023 025 static front

After the fabulous but flawed E supermini, Honda has attempted with the e:Ny1 to broaden the commercial prospects of its burgeoning range of EVs. To nobody’s surprise, it has chosen the compact-crossover format, with all the potential sales – and competition – this brings.

And ultimately, it’s the competition that hobbles this new Honda. In isolation, the e:Ny1 is a reasonably practical, family-orientated EV that’s easy to drive, and much of the time feels like agreeable company. It’s a credible product. Yet compared with rivals at a similar price (or, frankly, a good deal less), it lacks versatility and some long-range capability in the form of its slow maximum charging rate.

It also fails to bottle the fun-loving, dynamic eagerness that’s possible with EVs of any format, from supermini to super-saloon. A brand as innovative as Honda should be hitting its marks in key areas, but the e:Ny1 does little to stand out beyond an interior that doesn’t always feel quite as good as looks. 

Honda’s shaky start as an EV brand continues.

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering.