What's it like to drive a Honda EV?

For the longest time, I've believed Japan is always up there in terms of cutting-edge vehicle technology. As a 90s kid, I grew up when the Evos, the Skylines, and the Civics with their high-revving VTEC engines were at their peak. As a motorsports fan, I've witnessed how Honda developed their V6 hybrid to become the dominating force they are today in F1.

But of all the carmakers that are currently present in the Philippine market, Japanese brands like Honda (with the exception of Toyota) seem to be the ones that have been conservative in introducing electrified and fully electric models. Brands from other countries have been launching them left and right, and some have already left us impressed. With electrification the way to go forward, why is this the case?

First Impressions: Is the Honda e:N1 indeed an electric HR-V twin? image

It turns out, Honda is not in a hurry to go full electric for a good reason. Yes, the cars we've seen at the Japan Mobility Show may look like they came from sci-fi movies, but their EVs for the immediate future are something that's more relatable; something that doesn't fall far from the familiar tree. That was the impression I got at the Honda R&D Proving Grounds in Tochigi. 

The EV we tested is known by many names. Here it is the Honda e:N1. In China, it's known as the e:NP1 or e:NS1. In Europe, it's called the e:NY1. While the names could pass up as a strong password for your Wi-Fi, it's what Honda likes to call their electrified models. We see it with the e:HEV for their hybrids, now the e:N moniker is reserved for their battery-electric vehicles.

But regardless of the market in which it's being sold, the e:N1 crossover definitely looks like the HR-V with a different set of wheels, and its front grille shut.

First Impressions: Is the Honda e:N1 indeed an electric HR-V twin? image

There are few more differences outside though; whereas the Hondas we know come with chrome H badges, the e:N1 has laminated emblems with the H-mark in white. At the back, the Honda name is even spelled out. It's all part of Honda's strategy to create a new identity for their BEVs, much like how some brands put a blue halo on the badges of their electrified models.

First Impressions: Is the Honda e:N1 indeed an electric HR-V twin? image

Inside the cabin, there are new things like the huge touchscreen in the middle, the un-clustered digital screen for the driver, and the gear selector that uses buttons instead of a shifter. However, the e:N1's cabin still looks like 90% HR-V. It's simple and straightforward. The air diffusion system, the door handles, and even the steering wheel are the same, except for the electrified Honda badge in the middle.

While waiting for our turn, we were able to ask Honda's engineers if it was a simple case of removing the HR-V's engine and shoving in a battery-electric powertrain. Their answer? Well, it's far from swap-plug-and-play.

The Honda e:N Architecture F (F stands for front-wheel-drive) is actually a reworked version of the HR-V's chassis, with additional reinforcements to the floor and roof sections for better overall rigidity. It's not a dedicated EV platform from the beginning, but the e:N architecture F is what Honda plans to use in the underpinnings of its subcompact to compact EVs.

First Impressions: Is the Honda e:N1 indeed an electric HR-V twin? image

One of the particularly strong aspects of the current HR-V is the way it drives. On paper, the Honda e:N1 should excite a bit more as it is making more power than the HR-V's 1.5-liter VTEC Turbo unit with 204 PS and 310 Nm of torque.

But we all know power isn't everything. More importantly, it's the dynamics of the car that make it more fun behind the wheel. With me having had plenty of good impressions with both the turbo and non-turbo versions of the HR-V, I had high expectations with the e:N1. I'm happy to say however that in the short time that we had driving it, the e:N1 still drives pretty similar to the HR-V.

First Impressions: Is the Honda e:N1 indeed an electric HR-V twin? image

Whether it's on the sensitivity of the throttle, the bite of the brakes, or the weight of the steering wheel, the e:N1 closely matches the engaging driving dynamics of the HR-V. The power doesn't even come in one big lump like most EVs, which could get some people a bit car-sick. The e:N1 tends to accelerate in a more linear fashion.

It's a given that it's not as light-footed as its ICE counterpart because of the battery, but the e:N1 keeps its body composure in check on the test track's chicanes and tight turns.

First Impressions: Is the Honda e:N1 indeed an electric HR-V twin? image

It's not totally quiet either, unlike most EVs I've driven. The e:N1 lets out a sound that's close to a muffled version of a race car with straight-cut gears, and Honda did it by design to preserve driver engagement. I'm quite unsure if this will be an issue on longer drives, but on that short stint in the Tochigi Proving Grounds, it proved to be quite enjoyable. So overall, the e:N1 still tends to behave like a Honda. Instead of VTEC at 5,500rpm, the kick comes from the max torque of an electric motor at zero rpm. 

Much like how we switched from N-Series Nokias and Blackberries to Android phones and iPhones, I think familiarity would be a key factor when it comes to switching from ICEs to EVs, and that's what Honda is doing with the e:N1. It's not a totally new experience to begin with, but what you get are the familiar things (driver engagement minus the sound, of course) you remember whenever you get behind the wheel of a combustion Honda.

First Impressions: Is the Honda e:N1 indeed an electric HR-V twin? image

The Japanese manufacturer wants to introduce its first EV in the ASEAN region by next year, and we have good reason to think the e:N1 could kick things off for Honda.

So should we expect the e:N1 anytime soon in the Philippines? Well, Honda Cars Philippines is yet to confirm that. Our key takeaway from Japan is that more e:HEV models are bound to be introduced in the country before EVs like the e:N1 come into play.