Plug-In Hybrid Comparison Test: 2018 Honda Clarity
Starting Price: $34,290
Net power: 212 horsepower
Total range (gasoline/electric): 340 miles
Electric-only range: 48 miles
EPA fuel economy (city/highway combined): 42 mpg
Picking up fans wherever it goes
It takes about as long to adjust to driving the Clarity as it takes to get used to a Honda Accord. While its styling is admittedly quirky, the Clarity is much like any other sedan in most ways, but with the added bonus of 48 miles of electric-only driving. That's why we named the 2018 Honda Clarity PHEV a KBB Best Buy Award winner in the Electric/Hybrid Car category.
The nicely appointed interior uses attractive, quality materials, and the controls are well laid out and within easy reach. The Clarity has a comfortable ride, which adds to the car’s pleasant demeanor on the highway. The seats lack lumbar support and came second to the Prius Prime in terms of overall comfort, but still proved comfortable enough on long drives.
Driving ease and efficiency
Power comes from a 1.5-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder engine, an electric motor, and a 17-kWh battery pack. While the Clarity has the most power of this quartet -- 212 total system horsepower -- it is also the heaviest. Acceleration is still adequate, but the magic of this car is not the amount of power it has, but the numerous ways you can harness it.
As long as there’s still electric range, you can easily drive at freeway speeds without the engine kicking in. When you step on the throttle, it will initially keep the bias toward the electric motor. But for sportier maneuvers, push harder -- past the pedal’s “clickpoint” -- and the engine kicks in. Put it in EV mode and the Clarity acts like an electric car. In HV mode, it can act like a hybrid, or you can use mostly engine and save the battery charge for later. There are also steering wheel-mounted paddles that you can use to control the strength of the regenerative braking. Of all the cars we drove, the Clarity’s brakes felt the most natural. The Prius Prime’s are too grabby, and the Volt’s were mushy. The 2nd-best-feeling brakes were the Ioniq’s.
Is the Clarity for you? We wouldn't doubt it.
One thing that stood out about the four plug-in hybrids we drove was that each had a different take on what should be the highest priority in a PHEV. For example, the Toyota Prius Prime has about half the all-electric range of the Clarity, but nearly double the combined gasoline/electric range. So if you anticipate long road trips, the Prius Prime or Ioniq PHEV might be the better choice for you. The Ioniq has similar electric and gas ranges as the Prius Prime, with the lowest starting price of the group. And the Volt, which essentially started it all, still has the best electric range of the four, but its 53 miles just barely edges out the Clarity.
Much like a BOGO sale, the Clarity is essentially buy one, get one free. You get the comfort, space and amenities of a midsize sedan that starts at about $34,000, but Honda throws in electric-vehicle technology without range anxiety. You can easily skip the gas station forever if you like, the car is eligible for a $7,500 federal income tax credit, and there may be more state and local incentives as well. The Clarity comes loaded with value, with next to no compromise, and is easy to live with as the only car you own.
Our Pure-Electric Commute in the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In
The big question: Do you have to hypermile the 2018 Honda Clarity PHEV to squeeze the EPA-rated 47 miles of electric-only range out of it? The answer: No.
Driving in the morning rush-hour commute on the freeways of Los Angeles, I had the Clarity’s stereo on and the A/C and seat heater going, as if I were driving any other car to work. I used adaptive cruise control, a welcome feature in any car, as it does an excellent job of reducing fatigue while keeping the car going with the flow of traffic. Never exceeding the speed limit, but going as fast as 65 mph, yet never hypermiling, I drove 56.2 miles in the Clarity under all-electric power, a good stretch beyond the EPA’s 48-mile rating. On the way back home, there was less traffic (which meant less brake use, therefore less battery regeneration), and the Clarity still went 46 miles on electric power alone. This is a car I could easily drive on my 40-mile (each way) commute without ever having to stop for gas. --Allyson Harwood
The other PHEVs in this test: