Clarity is the name Honda has chosen for a three-tiered approach to passenger car electrification, three propulsive variations—fuel cell, plug-in hybrid, and pure electric—in the same sleek sedan.

At a glance, this strategy looks comprehensive, covering three different bases. But a closer examination raises questions. For example, though promising in Japan, where there’s solid government support, the future for fuel cell-powered vehicles in the U.S. looks iffy, due to the absence of support infrastructure.

Right now, California is the only state where there are enough hydrogen filling stations to make fuel cell vehicles practical, most of them concentrated in the greater Los Angeles area. A conventional pure electric seems more likely to score with customers, but the Clarity EV has a couple of self-imposed limitations.

For one, Honda’s initial roll out will be confined to California and Oregon, where public charging stations are more widely available than elsewhere. For another, and more significant, the Clarity EV’s max range on a single charge is 80 miles.

Honda’s position is that 80 miles is plenty—sufficient to cover the distance of the average commute. Also, like other EVs, charging with a 240-volt system doesn’t take long, about three hours, and it’s even faster with a DC fast charge system—30 minutes to 80 percent.

Modest range?

But what about perceptions? The arrival of the Chevy Bolt, rated to deliver up to 238 miles on a single charge, makes 80 miles look a little weak. In fact, the Clarity’s max range ranks eighth among the eight EVs currently offered by traditional carmakers; tenth if we include Tesla Model S and X.

Why did Honda settle for this modest range? Beyond the assertion that the Clarity’s max range will be sufficient for most users, the Honda engineers and product planners wanted to keep curb weight down and trunk space respectable, which led to a smallish lithium-ion battery pack, specifically 25.5 killowatt hours.

We don’t have official curb weight yet, although we know that the fuel cell Clarity weighs well over 4,100 pounds. But we do have some chassis specifications, drawn from the fuel cell version, that reveal a Clarity strong suit: size. Wheelbase: 108.3 inches. Overall length: 192.7. Width: 73.8. Height: 58.1. These dimensions are very similar to those of the Accord sedan, which equates with roominess that’s tops among the EVs.

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Output of the electric motor in the Clarity EV is rated for less horsepower than the fuel cell version—161 horsepower versus 174—but torque is identical at 221 pound-feet. Electric motors generate max torque almost from the first rpm, but urging two tons of sedan to 60 mph takes a fair amount of time.

What will the EV Clarity weigh? Because the fuel cell stack is constantly generating juice, the fuel cell battery pack is modes, just 1.7 kilowatt hours. The 25.5 kw/h battery pack in the EV is more substantial, which adds up at the scales. However, the fuel cell stack and hydrogen tank also add up, so it would seem to be a safe bet the EV won’t be any lighter.

Single speed

Like the fuel cell car, the EV is propelled by an electric motor sending power to the front wheels via a single speed transmission. Our drive at Honda’s Tochigi proving grounds, in Japan, was very brief, but it was enough to characterize the EV’s acceleration as languid—8 seconds to 60 seems likely. The EPA pegs the EV’s fuel economy equivalency—MPGe—at 111combined city/highway.

Other EV traits mirror those of the fuel cell Clarity: quiet operation—interior noise levels are in the library-at-midnight realm—and the steering is tactile and accurate. Similarly, dynamic responses are reminiscent of the fuel cell car, ie, agile, with modest body motions. Beyond that, we’ll have to wait for a more extended hands-on experience.

That experience will probably occur when the Clarity EV becomes available to customers. It will be lease only, $269 per month for 36 months, with $1730 plus the first month’s payment at signing. The Federal tax credit is baked into the lease, but California lessors qualify for a $2500 Clean Vehicle Rebate from the state.

A plug-in hybrid (PHEV), the third member of the Clarity troika, is due to arrive this fall. Like other PHEVs, the Honda version will combine electric propulsion with an internal combustion engine.

Aside from announcing the car’s electric-only range—42 miles—Honda wasn’t ready to reveal any other specifications, or pricing, at the Tochigi show. However, it’s clear that for the foreseeable future the PHEV will be the only Clarity available nationwide.


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