Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid — Bypassing the gas pump

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

A high purchase price and limited driving range have made the all-electric car a hard sell as a mainstream vehicle. But for those who want a car that can accomplish EV goals and be turned into a cross-country warrior with no range anxiety, the modern plug-in hybrid is the perfect solution.

The 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid is a good example of all things green in just one vehicle. When charged up, the Clarity can travel an estimated 48 miles on electricity before it has to fire up its 103-horsepower 1.5-liter inline 4-cylinder gasoline engine (combined horsepower is 212) extending total range to an EPA-rated 340 miles. The neat trick is that if there is no charging point available during a long trip, the Clarity will simply become a standard (gasoline) hybrid good for an EPA-rated 42 mpg.

When at home and kept charged up overnight, the grocery-getting and school-pickup chores can be easily accomplished using just the electric motor. Assuming you can plug-in your Clarity once you get to work, you’ll definitely make fewer stops at the gas station. You should also know that the Clarity comes with DC fast charging as standard equipment, giving an 80-percent recharge in 30 minutes, using the connector provided. Charging from a 240-volt outlet takes about two and a half hours; 12 hours from a standard household 120-volt wall plug.

The Clarity is actually an entire lineup encompassing three different fuel powertrains including a hydrogen-powered electric car, a fully electric vehicle, and the plug-in hybrid. For now, the hydrogen-powered electric car is only available in California, and only as a leased vehicle. The all-electric model is only available in California and Oregon, while the plug-in has been on sale nationwide since December.

Clarity is larger than the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, and about the size of a Honda Accord. There’s seating for five, but there’s a raised hump in the middle position of the rear seat and you’ll have your back against a protruding folding center armrest. There’s also a nice-sized 15.6-cubic-foot trunk that’s big enough to carry groceries, luggage and other equipment.

Visually, the Clarity is one of the most disturbing designs in recent automotive history. In addition to the disconcerting half-fender skirted wheel openings, there’s a split rear window trunk design and a front grille that looks odd and doesn't wear any better over time.

Inside, the cabin looked good on our top trim level model that included navigation, wood-grain accents, leather seats, and a few other upgrades. We didn’t find the seats especially comfortable, but rather soft with no lumbar support or tilt adjustment to the driver’s seat.

There’s an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, but inexplicably it’s the older Honda system that’s slow and awkward to use, lacking knobs, switches or buttons. The audio system controls are especially hard and frustrating to use. To make things easier there is a redundant audio volume switch on the steering wheel. Several newer models such as the Accord come with actual volume knobs and more user-friendly controls. Clarity also comes equipped with Honda’s fussy drive gear selector that’s a row of push-and pull buttons.

We like that the Clarity comes standard with Honda Sensing, which consists of forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping assist. But again it's the older version of Honda Sensing where blind-spot warning via the outboard mirrors is not available. Instead, you get what Honda calls LaneWatch, a video feed showing a rearward view that’s only along the passenger side of the car.

The best part about the Clarity is that, overall, it is a pleasant car to drive, extremely quiet on city and suburban roads as well at highway and interstate speeds. We wished it handled more like the Accord with less body lean in curves and corners. There was enough engine power for acceleration and getting up to highway speeds with ease.

The Chevrolet Volt, a direct competitor, certainly looks better to us and is priced similar for the base model and about $2,000 more fully equipped. But, it’s notably smaller, especially inside with less head, shoulder and leg room, and cargo room.

The Clarity Plug-In Hybrid comes in two trim levels — base and Touring — starting $34,290 including destination charge. The Touring model — such as the one we tested — comes with virtually everything Honda offers on the Clarity going out the door for $37,490 including destination. Check with your dealer to see if the federal government's $7,500 tax credit for the purchase of electric vehicles is still available.

Base price: $34,290; as driven, $37,490
Engine: 1.5-liter 4-cylinder; electric motor
Battery power: 17 kWh
Horsepower: combined 212 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 232 pound-feet
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 108.3 inches
Length: 192.7 inches
Curb weight: 4,050 pounds
Turning circle: NA
Luggage capacity: 16 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 7 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 110 MPGe, 42 mpg (gas only)
0-60: 7.6 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Chevrolet Volt, Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid, Toyota Prius Prime

The Good
• Long electric range
• Luxury-like ride
• Comfortable cabin

The Bad
• Infotainment system cumbersome

The Ugly
• Polarizing styling