Opinion: Is the Honda e:Ny1 yet another electric legacy squandered?
Can you remember the standout car from the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show? Of course not, that was ages ago. But it wasn’t the newly revealed Ferrari Portofino or the highly anticipated BMW Z4 concept, nor was it the new Porsche 911 GT3 Touring. No, all of that and more was put in the shade by… the humble, retro-looking Honda Urban EV Concept.
That car really tapped into something, y’know? The public response to it was overwhelming, as was the torrent of demands that Honda must ‘build it now’. And so Honda did. By 2019 the Urban EV had morphed into the E Prototype and later that year we got the e city car; an EV that still sits comfortably in the higher echelons of our Top 20 electric cars list.
Why? The looks more than anything: the exterior styling is both out there and charming, while the interior blends a familiar layout with that futuristic-looking, full-length digital screen. We’ll gloss over the tiny range and the not-so-tiny price.
But for a first try at a mass market electric car, Honda had set out its stall incredibly well. Design that was both distinctive but not controversial (see BMW, it can be done), tech that could impress but not overawe, an interior that felt both homely and premium. And so it should for the price.
Which brings us to the e:Ny1, revealed last week in exact tandem with the new Honda ZR-V and facelifted CR-V. Oh dear. It’s problem isn’t that it’s an SUV – they’re simply a fact of life now – but all of the promise, all of the groundwork laid by the e has, on this evidence at least, been completely abandoned.
Let’s start with the looks: how often has it been said that the worst crime a design can commit is be boring? Clearly the memo wasn’t applied to the e:Ny1, which is so featureless that the only noteworthy thing about it is its own lack of noteworthiness.
Then there’s the cabin. In direct contrast to the e’s bright, uplifting interior space, the dark surfaces don’t so much complement that whopping 15.1in screen but merely disappear behind it; like peering at a laptop at the far end of a cave.
Meanwhile the dashboard has been purged of buttons, save for three which operate the hazards, and front and rear windscreen demisting. Yep, even Honda wants you to jab away at a flat bit of glass to turn the temperate up. Its core customers will love that.
And the name is infuriating. It’s a pain to type and with punctuation, a capital letter and a number crammed into five characters, what you have here isn’t really a name but the beginnings of a secure password. And your accounts will still all be hacked before anyone realises e:Ny1 is meant to be pronounced ‘Anyone’.
Honda is far from the first to squander such a strong start to an EV portfolio, however.
Jaguar springs to mind: the I-Pace was European and World Car of the Year in 2019, and four years later it’s cashed in on that credibility with… nothing.
Worse than nothing, actually. It reportedly burned through hundreds of millions of pounds on the development of the (now cancelled) electric XJ, and only recently decided what its plan to go electric-only would actually involve. Not everyone’s convinced.
BMW? The i3 was one of the first electric cars to show that EV driving could both be workable and cool, but the bespoke approach for that first attempt gave way for the afterthought that was the iX3, arriving as it did many years later with its cells crammed into an ICE platform. At least it moved on quickly with the i4 and iX.
Nissan? For several years the Leaf was the best-selling electric car in the world but the empire has gone now and its only other electric endeavour is the Ariya. Not a bad car by any means, but Nissan emerged as a market leader for EVs and then never bothered to fight for the territory. It’s got big plans for 2030, so maybe it’s playing the long game.
Honda had the chance to learn from its rivals’ mistakes and present the e:Ny1 as a bold, confident statement about its future electric cars. It certainly seems like it's blown it.
STORY Joe Holding