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We don’t know all that much about the Honda Sports EV, which just debuted at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show, except that it’s a performance-oriented take on the Urban EV concept the automaker unveiled in Frankfurt.

The automaker bills the Sports EV as “a concept model which combines EV performance and AI (artificial intelligence) inside a compact body with the aim to realize the joy of driving the user can feel with a sense of unity with the car.” Impenetrable manufacturer-speak, naturally, but we think it means Honda is trying to combine the straightforward appeal of a classic sports car with Asimo. Somehow.

Its styling reaches back into Honda history and grabs a few lines from the tiny S600 coupe, drapes them over an electric vehicle platform and then adds the requisite futuristic halo headlights and taillights and the concept-spec flush door handles and rearview cameras.

Honda Sports EV electric coupe concept profile Tokyo Motor Show

The Sports EV concept would share underpinnings with the Urban EV Honda revealed in Frankfurt.

The Honda Urban EV Concept is the enthusiast's green car

Despite their hypothetically shared underpinnings, this is a very different sort of vehicle than the retro Civic-inspired Urban EV. Yet it’s instantly recognizable as a part of the upcoming Honda EV lineup, and in a lot of ways, its clean lines are almost the polar opposite of the hyper-stylized cars, like the Civic Type R, that Honda is building now. So we at least know what kind of design cues we can expect when these cars go into production.

And these are supposedly happening, for real: In Frankfurt, Honda president and CEO Takahiro Hachigo said that a production version of the Urban EV would roll out in Europe around 2019, with a Japanese-market intro in 2020.

Something like the Sports EV would be a logical follow-up and a way for Honda to prove that it is still interested in fun vehicles even as we roll inexorably toward an electrified future. That brings us to a bigger question: We know that electric sports cars can be fun (ask anyone who has driven a Tesla Roadster) and even utilitarian EVs like the Chevy Bolt can be entertaining in a golf cart sort of way. But what kind of personality will they have?

Honda Sports EV concept rear 3-4

If this and the Urban EV concept are anything to go by, Honda’s electric cars will wear simple lines — a departure from the automaker’s current lineup.

Honda will be an interesting case study here, because so much of its fame (and fan base) has been built on the strength of its internal combustion engines. We’d like to think that instant torque will make us forget about singing cylinders, but … it’s just not the same, for better or for worse. And the tradeoff EVs ask us to make is particularly ironic when it comes to Hondas, which have been historically celebrated despite their lack of low-end shove.

Ideally, a truly great sports EV would be so engaging that we wouldn’t even miss the exhaust note (don’t even start with the simulated soundtrack crap) and enjoy the car on its own merits. It should have a personality distinct from the combustion-powered cars that proceeded it, even as it draws on their best attributes. If we’re going to have a future full of EVs, we don’t want simulations of our cars from the past — we want to see what designers and engineers can do with a more or less blank sheet.

These are tall orders, no doubt, but at the very least Honda’s concept looks the part.

Honda Sports EV concept front 3-4

The Sports EV is less obviously retro than the Urban EV concept, but it feels just the right amount of old-fashioned.

Graham Kozak

Graham Kozak – Graham Kozak drove a 1951 Packard 200 sedan in high school because he wanted something that would be easy to find in a parking lot. He thinks all the things they’re doing with fuel injection and seatbelts these days are pretty nifty too.
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