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Driven: Honda MC-B shoots for Renault Twizy

Green machine: The Honda MC-B is part golf-cart, part motorcycle, and has a range of clever app-based autonomous driving modes.

Honda unveils road-ready MC-B electric quadracycle in Japan, and we drive it

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Honda logo19 Nov 2013

By MIKE COSTELLO in JAPAN

HONDA this week displayed a production-ready concept of its MC-B (Micro Commuter-Beta) electric quadracycle, a vehicle it believes heralds the introduction in Japan of a new category of vehicle even smaller than the Kei-class, called ‘ultra-micro’.

The pure-electric MC-B is a conceptually-similar rival to Europeans such as the Renault Twizy, Opel Rak-e and the Audi Urban Concept.

If a proposal put to the Japanese government’s regulatory commission passes, local buyers may not even need a regular full license to drive one on Tokyo’s hectic roads, but rather a partial license.

Road testing is poised to get underway, with pilot studies planned for three Japanese prefectures in a collaboration with local police forces: Kumamoto, Saitama and Miyakojima. Honda wants to be selling the car in Japan by 2017, although unless Australia quadracycle laws change, you won’t see the MC-B Down Under any time soon.

The super-light runabout has a tandem two-seater layout - think of it as part golf cart, part motorcycle - and uses a 15kW/57Nm electric motor and lithium-ion battery combination with a range of 80km and a charging time via a 200V input of a little more than two hours.

It’s also a slick little machine. We had a brief spin around a test circuit this week at Honda’s invitation, and found the whiney little motor provided plenty of oomph to hit the 80km/h top speed in fairly rapid time, considering its appearance. We hit 50km/h in somewhere beneath 10-seconds, which is perfectly ok for inner-city commuting such as that found in Tokyo.

Measuring 2495mm long (900mm shorter than a Kei-car), 1280mm wide and 1545mm high, the MC-B should already be a breeze to park (even without power-steering, which adds unwanted weight). But to make it easier still, Honda added a nifty iPad-operated parking pilot for good measure.

The owner can command the car to park itself, and remove itself from the carpark, via a tablet app that works via a plethora of ultrasonic sensors, all while standing at a distance and watching the show. A turning radius of 3.3 metres means even the tightest spot is no drama.

We viewed a demonstration of the technology in Tochigi this week and can vouch for its efficacy, and also for the clever sensor and sonar-based system that ‘locks-on’ to a car ahead and follows it robotically, around corners, without any driver input.

Honda calls this, bizarrely, ‘Duck-following’, and it works via the same tablet app that power the parking pilot, with the device using photo-recognition to target the number plate of the car ahead, and locking it onto the same course. Honda wants technology such as this to lead to a “collision-free future”.

The lack of power-assisted steering or brakes may appear retrograde, but in reality you hardly need it for a car that weighs fewer than 400kg - a figure helped no end by the use of plastic outer panels that no doubt impinge on passenger safety.

Indeed, the lack of assistance gives it an almost meaty, hydraulic feel. It actually belies its proportions and feels quiet stable through corners, and eager as a puppy to dive-in.

Only the flat seat bases impinge on the fun factor, because you’re too busy holding on for dear life to really widen your smile.

It’s refined as well, with little wind noise despite the lack of window and the quietest of EV ‘whines’. The tiny tyres make a fair old din against the asphalt, however.

There’s no firm guide on pricing this far out from 2017 production, but Honda says it will likely undercut even the cheapest, conventionally-powered four-wheel model in its current Japanese domestic range: somewhere under ¥795,000 (or AUD$10,000).

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