One virtue of the E’s small battery is that it can be charged quickly: about half an hour on a rapid charger lifts it from 20-80% and most home chargers need four or five hours to restore it completely from depletion. If you park the range subject, or reach your own accommodation with it, suddenly you’re talking about a rather special little car.
Honda certainly feels so: it points out that it could simply have strapped a battery under the recently launched front wheel-drive Jazz hybrid (longer and a bit more spacious in the back), but it instead chose to give the E a new platform to give it dynamically pure rear-wheel drive, plus a 50:50 weight distribution and MacPherson strut-type independent suspension at either end. The move away from front-wheel drive also allows the steered wheels to turn very tightly, which yields the taxi-beating turning circle of 8.6 metres between kerbs.
The E’s single electric drive motor sits between its rear wheels. In the base model, it makes 134bhp, while the Advance we tested gets 151bhp. Both are good for 232lb ft of torque (from standstill), but the Advance’s extra power shaves 0.7sec off the 0-62mph time of 9.0sec, even though its extra gear adds around 30kg. Power is fed into the battery via a Type 2 socket under a flap in the bonnet that neatly doubles as a styling feature.
Almost every dimension of the E points to its central purpose. It occupies about the same road footprint as the current Mini, but it’s nearly 10cm taller, so it feels pleasantly high, has a spacious and upright driving position, offers a great view of the road and affords easy cabin access front and rear. The 2530mm wheelbase is one of the longest going for a car of this length; combined with wide tracks and an ultra-low centre of gravity (courtesy of that underfloor battery), this lets the E muster impressive stability and good roll control.
Rear seat room is decent, given the car’s length, but the boot is small, because it has a high floor, due to the drive motor lurking beneath. The interior is a fascinating combination of trim that deliberately uses furniture-influenced fabrics and a matt wood finish across the dashboard (it’s much better than it sounds) to create “a lounge-like experience”. A complete contrast is the flat-fronted fascia, with no fewer than five screens across the dash.
The pair at its extremities provide rear vision: the E uses video cameras, not side mirrors, to look rearward. Ahead of the driver, there’s a classic TFT screen providing all-digital information that’s configurable in a variety of ways, and the rest of the dash is filled by a pair of 12.0in touchscreens, again very versatile in their configurations, but mostly used to control the sat-nav, ventilation and infotainment. A neat switching arrangement lets you swap the contents of the two centre screens so your passenger can juggle music or phone calls or request a new navigation route, then switch it back.
The HMI system will accept requests in a normal, conversational style if you preface them with “Okay, Honda”. The whole thing is a source of fascination to passengers and new drivers; we suspect an owner would need several days to gain full familiarity.