It’s the nature of the Geneva Motor Show that to get to the fun new EV designs, you have to walk past an exhibition of ridiculous vehicular opulence, but nothing was going to slow me down en route to seeing the Honda e Prototype, the evolution of the most appealing electric vehicle concept I’ve yet seen. 2017’s Honda Urban EV Concept charmed me at last year’s Geneva exhibition, showing off a retro three-door design with a bench front seat, a car-spanning ultra-widescreen display on the interior, and huge suicide doors. Its old school minimalism and new school electric powertrain were an irresistible combination for hipsters like me.
The new e Prototype carries over much of the original’s appeal, though loses a few of the edgiest features in the name of practicality. The front seats are now conventional, the enormous single display has been segmented into two touchscreens in the middle and a pair of rear-view monitors on the sides, and the doors have increased in number to five while their opening is now hinged at the front rather than the rear. With a rounded-off front and a more familiar body shape, the e Prototype looks a lot less alien than the concept that spawned it, though it’s also a lot closer to mass production.
I confess I’m a bit disappointed that so much of the character of the earlier concept has been stripped away, but there’s still plenty to like about this Prototype. It uses side-mounted cameras instead of rearview mirrors, and those cameras also host the turn signals. The headlights and tail lights are perfectly round, echoing the concept car’s theme of having a human face. The door handles sit flush with the side of the car, and they open in the same fashion as you might find on an Aston Martin or a Tesla Model 3. Frameless windows aren’t a huge innovation, but they also contribute to the car’s foundational minimalist sensibility.
The contrasting black-and-white color scheme is still a delight to behold, though I’m not in love with the glass panels at the front and back of the e Prototype — I saw both of them picking up dust and lint and scratches easily, and it’s only the first day of Geneva. How is that stuff supposed to hold up to years of unmindful use? To charge the car, you pop open the black panel in the middle of its hood — centered so that you can charge it from either side easily — and there are LED indicators that will greet the driver and provide information about the current charging status.
The e Prototype is said to have a WLTP range of 200 kilometers / 124 miles, and it has fast charging that will top it up to 80 percent in 30 minutes. For a car intended to be an urban commuter vehicle, performing quick small trips where topping up quickly is more important than having boundless range, this is just about perfect. The dashing good looks and added modern niceties are just a bonus.
Internally, Honda’s goal has been to create a “lounge on wheels,” which is why you’ll see plenty of wooden paneling and textiles. Judging it by the Tesla-like extremism of the Urban EV Concept, the e Prototype feels a lot more conventional and, dare I say, busy in its arrangement of buttons, menus, and screens. But comparing it to the typical car out on the road today, it’s a streamlined interior that prioritizes digital displays and interfaces and only keeps the most essential analog ones.
Honda tells me that what is being shown in Geneva is very close to the finished mass-production vehicle, which will go on sale in Europe before the end of 2019, with deliveries to follow in 2020. Pricing hasn’t yet been set, but according to Honda, the current speculation of a UK price between £25,000 and £40,000 ($33,000 to $52,000) is reasonable. That’s right in line with Tesla’s latest Model 3 pricing. Honda also intends to do a limited production run for Japan, but as of right now, the company doesn’t have plans to bring its city-oriented EV to the US market.
Photography by Vlad Savov / The Verge