Everyone loves supercars. The typical low-slung, wedge shaped profile of a high-performance supercar is a timeless design classic, and for good reason - not only does it look sexy, it is the optimal shape for reducing drag and lowering the centre of gravity to improve driving dynamics. It’s not a coincidence that vehicles such as the pioneering fifty year old Lamborghini Miura and the latest supercars unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show, such as the Pininfarina Battista, share the same basic shape.
Perhaps this is also a reason why so many supercars were unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show. From the aforementioned Battista, Bugatti’s La Voiture Noire, the Koenigsegg Jesko, near-production concepts from Aston Martin and the new Ferrari F8 Tributo, these supercars (and hypercars) all share some common themes. Namely, a shape that will be a sure-fire hit with customers, and the opportunity to sell these vehicles in limited numbers at exorbitant prices. The pricing, of course, also allows manufacturers to include breakthrough engineering and performance that would otherwise be unviable for affordable, mass produced vehicles, and garner the consequent media attention.
So it’s a very welcome surprise, then, that Honda’s e-Prototype overshadowed these supercars at this year’s show. And with good reason. This car proves that industry leading design doesn’t have to be industry leading in terms of expense as well. When Honda thinks outside the box, so to speak, they can create a box like no other.
Above left and right: the Honda e-Prototype and the Honda Civic Type-R. It’s hard to fathom that these two cars are both produced by the same company.
The most striking thing about the e-Prototype is its clean, uncluttered exterior design, and how stark of a design departure this is from Honda’s current design language. At 95% production ready, the e-Prototype is a calming, Bauhaus inspired design icon compared to the almost maniacal, manga styled craziness that is the Civic Type-R.
The exterior is almost pebble like in its surfacing, with only a subtle character line to highlight the tumblehome being present. Additionally, the use of flush door handles and cameras, rather than wing mirrors, work with the otherwise smooth, clean panels to allow the underlying proportions of the car to shine through. A key design feature this reveals is that the wheels have been pushed right to the extremities of the car, much like the original Mini. This bodes well for its dynamic performance with regard to handling and grip.
Electric vehicles need much less cooling than their combustion engined counterparts, and the e-Prototype’s clean design also enables it to take full advantage of this fact. Unlike other electric vehicles who have had their noses awkwardly closed off to signify they are an electric vehicle, the e-Prototype uses its front to enhance the symmetry of its design. Notice how closely the contrasting black panel and circular headlights mirror that of that tail. This all speaks to a vehicle where the front and tail were cohesively designed by the same team, and together with the pure surfacing, creates a friendly and genuinely timeless look.
Just as importantly, the e-Prototype is a vehicle that is unashamed to be electric. It needs to be plugged in, and Honda isn’t afraid to own this. This is most obvious by contrasting colour of the charge port. Rather than hide it within a taillight or place it towards the rear like the fuel door in a typical combustion vehicle, the e-Prototype’s port is clearly visible, front and centre, and almost stands proud of the bodywork. Together with the darkened glass roof, and the blacked out A and B-pillars, this lends the styling a sense of character and prevents it from being so utilitarian that it’s boring.
The interior continues the Bauhaus theme of the exterior with a similarly clean, uncluttered look. Honda’s press release says the following about the interior design objective:
“Inside, a spacious cabin with a modern minimalist aesthetic creates a relaxed ambience for occupants. A comfortable lounge-like feel is achieved with the application of melange-style sofa fabric and other tactile materials often found in contemporary homes. The sense of spaciousness is enhanced by the walk-through flat floor in the front and rear of the cabin.”
I’d say this goal has been emphatically achieved. With a clear emphasis on the horizontal axis to enhance the sense of width within the car, the dashboard seamlessly blends form and function in a design that is fresh and contemporary without being unusable. The use of dashboard spanning displays above a matté plasti-wood dashboard recalls a TV perched upon an entertainment unit, and the use of some buttons and knobs ensures that all critical controls are at hand and easy to access. Note also the complete absence of a central tunnel to divide the driver and front passenger areas. In a typical front-wheel-drive combustion engined car, this is necessary to accomodate the transmission. In an electric car, no transmission is necessary, there is no engineering need for such a tunnel, and therefore not having one opens up the front cabin and adds to the lounge atmosphere by creating a much greater sense of space.
(As an aside - I love the new two-spoke steering wheel. It adds to the contemporary ambience and I wish more companies would design cars with one.)
The rear compartment offers an even greater sense of the open, lounge-like atmosphere that Honda has tried to develop in the e-Prototype. The flat rear seat (without any contours), with fabric upholstery that extends to the armrests is a clear reference to the typical family room sofa, and creates a relaxed, ‘home away from home’ ambience that reflects the themes developed from the exterior.
The greatest achievement of the e-Prototype is that, much like its spiritual predecessor, the Mini Cooper, it serves as a reminder that good design does not have to be expensive design. The e-Prototype has a certain purity and focus to its styling that is rare to find today. It isn’t aggressive, nor is it dowdy or boring. It’s clean surfacing means that its styling is highly unlikely to date quickly. Likewise, the interior is special too. The lounge atmosphere developed through the flat rear seat, sweeping dashboard and the absence of a centre console creates an abundance of something often lacking in vehicles of the e-Prototype’s size - namely, a sense of space.
The e-Prototype is a testament to the potential of Honda’s design and engineering teams when they’re let off the proverbial leash, and I can’t wait to see it on the road. Bravo.