2018 Honda Clarity First Review
When you look at the wave of hybrid and other alternative-fuel options out there, it seems as if there’s a laundry list of compromises that go along with each: small size, lack of convenience and comfort amenities, concerns about range, high retail prices. Yet there is a type of hybrid out there, the plug-in hybrid, that can alleviate the concerns about range, and the new Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid not only does that but also handles the concerns about the rest.
The Honda Clarity is not just an individual car. Rather, it’s a lineup that includes a fuel-cell model, an all-electric (EV), and a plug-in hybrid (PHEV). While the Clarity Electric will only be available (lease-only) in California and Oregon, and the lease-only Clarity Fuel Cell is a California-only vehicle, the Plug-in Hybrid is sold in all 50 states. The Plug-in’s combination of electric and gasoline power means that you can commute to and from work – up to 47 miles -- without using any gas, yet if you use all the battery power or don’t have access to a charger, the car will run on gasoline for up to 293 miles after that. The Clarity PHEV is about as close to a no-compromise car as you can get.
Perfectly, Wonderfully Normal
The Clarity PHEV uses a combination of a 1.5-liter Atkinson cycle DOHC engine, two motors, and a floor-mounted battery. The system uses an electric continuously variable transmission (eCVT). The battery sends power to the motors, which initially propels the sedan. As battery power begins to wane, the gas engine takes up the slack, serving as a generator or directly powering the wheels. In total, there’s 212 horsepower and 331 lb-ft of torque on tap.
Despite being propelled by this sophisticated powertrain, for the driver it’s a very normal experience. Hit the start button, push the “D” transmission button to put the car in Drive, and go. (The Clarity’s transmission shifter uses a series of push buttons, much like you would find in the Honda Pilot.) It isn’t any better than the traditional PRND shifter, but using the push-button arrangement opens welcome storage space underneath. You can choose from different driving modes, including Normal, Eco and Sport. There’s also HV, which uses the engine to power the car while recharging the battery. This could come in handy if you’re driving on open road on the way to a city and want to save the battery for urban stop-and-go driving.
While we tried out the different driving modes, we spent most of our drive time in Normal. Honda’s PHEV has a very easygoing nature: The Clarity has plenty of torque at hand, so initial acceleration is quick and there’s ample power as you get to speed. While you can hear the transmission as it works, for the most part the powertrain is quiet. Transitions between battery and engine power are seamless. The PHEV has a comfortable ride, and the brakes feel pleasantly linear, something you don’t always find in a hybrid.
Loaded with Features
Something else you don’t always find in a hybrid is an interior that’s this refined. Attractive color combinations and excellent materials make this one of the nicest hybrid interiors we’ve experienced. The roomy cabin seats five, and there is good legroom in both rows. The interior is pleasantly quiet. The complaints we have are few, but they include the lack of a volume knob, and seats that are rather flat.
All Clarity PHEVs come standard with an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility, manually adjustable seats, the Honda Sensing suite of safety features, LaneWatch, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and a rearview camera. It’s easy to access EV-related data through the touch screen. The Touring trim adds leather power-adjustable (front) with memory, Ultrasuede interior, and satellite-based navigation.
Not Exactly Like the Rest
While spending time in the Clarity PHEV is much like commuting in a midsize sedan, there are some things that are distinctly different. For starters, it is hard to ignore the Clarity’s styling. All three variants have the same bold nose, with hockey stick-shaped LED marker lights. The side profile of the Clarity is streamlined and angular, but it has been burdened with unfortunate-looking side curtains over the rear wheels. And there is one slight compromise: if you compare trunk size, the Clarity’s trunk is 1.2 cubic feet smaller (15.5) than that of the Accord (16.7). But that’s a small price to pay for the benefits of this plug-in hybrid.
Pricing for the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid starts at $34,290 including destination, with the Touring trim starting at $37,490. When considering its cost, it’s also important to note that fuel economy is 110 MPGe when the Clarity runs on the battery and gas, and 42 combined mpg when the Clarity just uses the engine.
Our Electric/Hybrid Car Best Buy of 2018, the Honda Clarity is the best of both worlds: it’s a pleasant midsize sedan with high-quality amenities and seating for five, plus it offers a painless way to avoid gas stations if you want. It also ensures that you won’t break into a sweat when the battery is ready for a recharge. There might not be a nicer--or easier--way to save gas.