We’re spending 12 months with this Honda Clarity, reviewing the full ownership experience with ongoing updates.  

 

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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