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Honda’s Urban EV Concept is even more adorable in the flesh

A Japanese plush toy made real, coming to Europe in 2019

Honda’s pugnacious Urban EV Concept made its second auto show appearance ever here at Geneva this week, and it’s just as adorable and retro as it seemed when it debuted in Frankfurt last year. Not to worry, you will be seeing a lot more of this tiny heartbreaker when it goes into production in 2019.

Most electric vehicles without a Tesla badge aren’t really head-turners. The Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf may have decent range and affordable price points, but their function-over-form designs don’t inspire much joy. Honda seems to be trying to rectify that with the Urban EV, which is scheduled for release in Europe next year. It’s a Japanese plush toy come to life.

The concept “sets the direction for the technology and design that will appear on a future battery electric Honda production model,” the Japanese auto giant says. Built on a new platform, the pint-sized two-door EV is some four inches shorter than a Honda Fit. Honda made the design simple, starting with the rear-hinged doors that are about the only thing this concept has in common with a Rolls-Royce.

The interior is like a 1970s living room on wheels. There is space for four people inside. A superwide digital display sits on top of a dashboard that looks more like a sideboard. There is a noticeable lack of buttons or switches, which is a great visual relief, but such minimalism is not an uncommon feature in concept car designs.

Honda says the Urban EV will come with a digital voice-activated assistant called Honda Automated Network Assistant that “learns from the driver by detecting emotions behind their judgments.” If this sounds like something out of a dystopian science fiction novel, Honda is clearly trying to soften the blow by wrapping it in a cool, retro package like the Urban EV.

There’s still no word on important specs like the battery pack, propulsion, and range, but those will be sure to emerge as the Urban EV gets closer to production. While Honda has just started to offer the Clarity EV in the US and Japan, the company once known as a pioneer of hybrids has fallen behind rivals such as Nissan in the electrification stakes. The Urban EV is supposed to represent a clean start and indicate a fresh direction for Honda.

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