We’re spending 12 months with this Honda Clarity, reviewing the full ownership experience with ongoing updates. Also, find out why we named the Honda Clarity Plug-in the Best Buy in its class for 2019.  

 

Learning to appreciate the push-button shifter

by Michael Harley on March 13, 2019

Current Odometer: 4,498 miles
Latest MPG: 74.08 MPG
Lifetime MPG: 84.61 MPG
Maintenance/Service Costs: $0
Time out of Service: 0 days

Honda equips all Clarity models with a push-button (PRND) shifter, a design that takes a futuristic leap away from the traditional lever-operated (PRNDL) shifters that have been fitted to most vehicles with a console-mounted transmission selector for the past several decades. Honda, and other automakers with this design, argues that this new digital interface may be more optimally placed on the dashboard because they aren’t burdened by a centrally-mounted cable that must be attached to the transmission housing – this also frees up valuable real estate on the center console.

Truth be told, I initially didn’t like the new design that Honda (and Acura) use as the combination of push and pull levers and buttons were anything but intuitive. Yet some automakers are now rolling out even less instinctive – make that bordering on dangerous – digital shift levers (RND) with a lever that always returns to center after being delicately bumped fore-and-aft (the 2019 Audi Q8, 2019 BMW 3 Series, and 2020 Porsche 911 come to mind).

After sampling those infuriating shift levers, which require looking for a small indicator on the dash for confirmation, I’ve decided that the Clarity’s illuminated push-button (PRND) shifter, with a very positive engagement action, is reasonably acceptable. 

 

Always allow the Clarity to manage its powerplant

by Michael Harley on February 25, 2019

Current Odometer: 3,842 miles
Latest MPG: 80.81 MPG
Lifetime MPG: 86.02 MPG
Maintenance/Service Costs: $0
Time out of Service: 0 days

As mentioned in an update on January 27, Honda puts an “EV” button on the Clarity’s dashboard that allows the driver to manually manage the battery consumption — press it, and the state-of-charge is held. After noting that high-speed driving requires an awful lot of battery power (meaning my full battery charge is typically consumed within the first 30 miles of my commute), I decided to manually control the powerplant during one of my morning treks and “beat” the computer — it typically runs only on battery until it is depleted, which then starts the combustion engine. My own logic said it should be optimal to use the battery/motor in the city cycle and use the engine exclusively on the high-speed LA freeways. So, I did just that (manually toggling the EV button throughout the drive) and my fuel economy was 68.8 MPG — not bad, I thought. I then did the identical drive the next morning and allowed the Clarity to automatically manage its hybrid powertrain. It returned 78.2 MPG — the computer beat me by more than 10 percent! In retrospect, I’ve discovered that the Honda will shut down its combustion engine during coasting and when it’s not needed at low speeds (even though the battery shows that it is depleted, there is still a minimum charge remaining for those periods). Lesson learned: Always allow the Clarity to manage its powerplant. 

 

Enjoying the silence

by Michael Harley on February 15, 2019

Current Odometer: 2,839 miles
Latest MPG: 107.03 MPG
Lifetime MPG: 92.21 MPG
Maintenance/Service Costs: $0
Time out of Service: 0 days

Everyone knows that electric vehicles make only minimal noise while they are operating – electric motors are nearly silent. But this silence is often a downside at highway speeds as nearly all EVs are prone to annoying wind and tire noise that makes its way into the cabin (these sounds are usually masked by rumbling exhaust notes in combustion vehicles). Honda’s engineers have gone to great lengths to minimize the noise penetrating the cabin of the Clarity. First, they paid close attention to aerodynamics to ensure that buffeting around the windshield’s A-pillar and external mirrors was minimal. Second, they isolated the suspension system and put additional acoustic insulation inside the wheel wells. Lastly, they laminated the glass on the front doors – it is literally two layers of tempered glass with a layer of sound deadening material sandwiched in the middle. The results of these additional efforts are nothing short of amazing – the Honda Clarity PHEV is one of the quietest vehicles that I have ever driven. 

 

Fuel economy in a PHEV is all over the place

by Michael Harley on February 5, 2019

Current Odometer: 1,740 miles
Latest MPG: 76.91 MPG
Lifetime MPG: 87.05 MPG
Maintenance/Service Costs: $0
Time out of Service: 0 days

Note that I earned “only” 76.91 MPG on my most recent tank of fuel with our long-term Clarity. Considering that the tank immediately before this one returned an amazing 156.50 MPG, my initial thought was that something was broken. Yet everything with this Honda is perfect (right down the tire pressures, which I check weekly).

As it turns out, this is simply the way PHEVs deliver fuel economy; it is 100-percent based on the segment distance traveled on each trip.

If I stay home for a long weekend (no commute), plugging the Clarity in each time it’s in my driveway, I won’t use the combustion engine at all. I can go five or six full days, putting 80 miles a day on the Honda, without consuming one drop of gasoline. However, my morning commute always requires the engine to consume about a gallon of fuel, and that hurts fuel economy.

Some people may own a Clarity and never use gasoline. Others, like myself, will use it regularly. Even so, earning an average of nearly 77 MPG on a tank of fuel is jaw-droppingly impressive!

 

EVs do not like high speeds

by Michael Harley on January 27, 2019

Current Odometer: 971
Latest MPG: 120.75 MPG
Lifetime MPG: 79.56 MPG
Maintenance/Service Costs: $0
Time out of Service: 0 days

In typical PHEV manner, the Honda Clarity (in default mode) consumes the charge in its battery pack before igniting the combustion engine in search of more electricity for propulsion. That said, the EPA rates the Honda’s battery pack at “47 miles,” which leads most to believe that the Clarity will cover 47 miles in EV mode before needing to consume gasoline – yet this isn’t the case. On my very early morning 98-mile commute across the LA Basin, which has me cruising congestion-free with a flow of vehicles at upwards of 80 mph, I am lucky to get 30 miles out of the battery (the complete absence of traffic means there is zero regenerative braking). However, if I leave the office during evening rush hour I have seen 52 miles of range in EV mode (credit near-continuous regenerative braking and greatly reduced aerodynamic drag). The lesson learned is that electric-only propulsion is wonderful around town and at low speeds when regenerative braking is involved. At high speeds you are doing nothing but fighting the wind and consuming electrons at an alarming rate. Yet, in a rather brilliant move, Honda’s engineers have put a little button on the dashboard (labeled “HV”) that allows the driver to “save” the battery’s charge for when it is optimal. Stay tuned, as I am going to manually control my power consumption on an upcoming commute.  

 

Welcome home – meet my Level 2 charger

by Michael Harley on January 20, 2019

Current Odometer: 276 miles
Latest MPG: New
Lifetime MPG: New
Maintenance/Service Costs: $0
Time out of Service: 0 days

It is possible, and completely acceptable, to plug the Honda Clarity PHEV into a standard 120-volt wall outlet and recharge its battery overnight. This “Level 1” charging is how I’ve been charging electric press vehicles at my home for many years. Moving up to a more powerful 240-volt “Level 2” charger, which is also home consumer friendly, completely changes the game. A Level 2 system delivers charging speeds that are about five times faster, which means PHEVs like the Honda Clarity PHEV may be brought back to a full battery state in fewer than three hours. I’m convinced that an EV owner needs to make the small investment (about $1,000 – after rebates and incentives) for a dedicated Level 2 charger at their home, so I had one installed in my garage over the holidays. I selected a ChargePoint Home unit, with a 25-foot cord, as it is easy to obtain (Amazon) and it offers a smartphone app that allows the user to schedule and monitor the charging process. This means I can schedule the Clarity to only charge during times when electricity is the least expensive – taking advantage of its shorter charge time to use those discounted windows. 

 

Introduction

by Michael Harley on January 15, 2019

A 2019 Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) joined the Kelley Blue Book fleet this month, promising a year of efficient EV-operation and hybrid fuel economy. The innovative family sedan boasts an innovative aluminum-intensive chassis and one of the most sophisticated powertrains available on the market, which is only part of the reason it won the Kelley Blue Book “Electric/Hybrid Car Best Buy of 2019” award.

Aerodynamic exterior and a luxurious interior

“Futuristic and functional, distinctive and efficient.” That’s how Honda describes the Clarity. Dimensionally very close to the Honda Accord sedan, the exterior of the Clarity is extremely aero focused — distinctive styling has been engineered to help the PHEV “fulfill its mission as a tech-savvy, energy-efficient and image-leading vehicle,” says the automaker. The low-drag design features air intakes ahead of each wheel to create “air curtains” that reduce turbulence across the wheel openings, a full belly pan to reduce drag, and partial tire coverings over the rear wheels to keep the air moving smoothly and freely. It goes without saying that the Clarity looks nothing like the Accord. In fact, the Clarity looks nothing like anything else on the road.

The passenger cabin has been designed to accommodate four six-foot tall adults, or five in a pinch, with top-rate materials, fit, and finish — think Acura levels of premium appointments. The driver faces a modern digital instrument panel with a prominent power meter taking center stage. There is a battery state-of-charge display on the left and a fuel tank gauge on the right. The 8-inch touch screen floating on the center of the dash is well positioned, but it lacks a volume knob — it will be interesting to see how that goes (for the record, Honda has addressed this and brought the crucial knob back to many of its models). The transmission is shifted by a button stack on the middle of the center console, which rests atop a nice flying buttress — a shifter configuration that was first introduced by Acura. There are generous cup holders and storage space for phones beneath the flying buttress.

Kelley Blue Book’s long-term Clarity is a Touring model, in Solar Silver Metallic, which is the range-topping trim. In addition to the standard features such as full-LED lighting, Honda Sensing safety equipment, and an 8-speaker (180-watt) audio system, it adds navigation, leather upholstery, and power seats with a memory function.  

Sophisticated gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain

The Clarity utilizes two-motor hybrid technology that combines a 1.5-liter Atkinson-cycle in-line 4-cylinder combustion engine, a starter/generator motor, and a 181-horsepower AC synchronous traction motor – total system power is a solid 212 horsepower. The electrical energy is stored in a 168-cell lithium-ion battery pack located under the passenger floor, which is rated at 17-kilowatt hour (kWh). The combustion engine sips from a 7-gallon fuel tank, which is under the rear seat. While the fuel tank requires nothing more than common regular unleaded gasoline, Honda says the Clarity’s battery is optimally charged with a 240-volt Level 2 charger in about 2.5 hours. It may also be replenished with a standard 120-volt wall charger overnight.

Under most conditions, the Clarity PHEV runs off its electric motor that is driving the two front wheels. But, if the driver doesn’t ask for aggressive acceleration, the vehicle will run on nothing but electricity for speeds upwards of 100 mph. Above that, the combustion engine joins the party to deliver even more power. Once the battery is depleted – the Clarity drives up to 47 miles on EV alone – the engine fires up to generate electricity for the traction motor and propel the vehicle.

And this is where things get more complex. Honda doesn’t use a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to link the engine to the wheels, like most other automakers. Instead, the 1.5-liter engine is connected to the driving wheels through a simple single-speed gearbox that is lighter and much more efficient than a CVT. Based on speed and load, the engine will drive the wheels alone or ask for assistance by sending electricity to the traction motor for additional propulsion.

Three power modes offer versatility, flexibility, and efficiency.

Honda gives the driver quite a bit of control when it comes to managing the powertrain, but most of the time it switches seamlessly between its propulsion modes automatically. If there is a charge remaining in the battery pack, the vehicle will operate in EV Drive mode – the engine is off and decoupled from the transmission to reduce friction. When the battery is near-depleted, the Clarity will switch to Hybrid Drive mode. Propulsion comes from the traction motor, which is being supplied power from the gasoline engine turning the generator (excess power is stored in the battery). At medium or high cruising speeds, the Honda switches to Engine Drive mode. In this configuration, a lock-up clutch allows the engine to propel the vehicle.

While there is rarely a need to override the computer’s chosen drive mode, Honda gives the vehicle operator three driver-selectable operating modes – Normal, Econ, and Sport. Each is self-explanatory. A fourth mode, which is called HV mode, allows the driver to preserve the battery’s state of charge, or even charge the battery while the sedan is driving.

According to the EPA, the Clarity PHEV earns an all-electric 110 MPGe combined fuel economy rating. Its gasoline-only rations are 44/40/42 MPG (city/highway/combined). In theory, the combination of a 47-mile electric and an approximate 300-mile combustion range should add up to about 350 miles between fill-ups. However, our experience shows that most plug-in hybrids deliver much greater range when they are charged each time they are parked.

Our year-long test and Clarity pricing

The 2019 Honda Clarity PHEV joins a four-person family household, where it will be used as a daily driver for carpools, running around, and hauling the family all over the LA Basin. And, it will be forced to endure a two-hour drive to work — 98 miles each way. This should present an excellent opportunity to see how well the Clarity delivers comfort and efficiency during the daily trek.

The 2019 Honda Clarity PHEV starts with a base price of $34,320 (including $920 destination), but our long-term 2019 Honda Clarity PHEV Touring has a base price of $37,520 (including $920 destination). 

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