2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In

PHOENIX — Honda has introduced an entirely new model line of vehicles called Clarity. It encompasses different fuel powertrains including a hydrogen-powered electric car, a fully electric vehicle, and a 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 is for sale nationwide.

Honda expects to sell about 75,000 Clarity models over the next four years. Of the three models, Honda says the plug-in will be the biggest seller although, overall, these are relatively small numbers.

Clarity is larger than the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, and about the size of a Honda Accord. There’s seating for five, however, 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  automotive designs in recent automotive history. In addition to the hideous half-fender skirted wheel openings, there’s the split rear window trunk design and the front grille that at first just looks odd but after awhile is just downright (insert colorful metaphor here).

The last Honda to display this sense of design betrayal wholly unwelcome by the car shopping public was the first-generation Honda Insight (1999-2006).

Global sales of just 17,020 units in eight years of production was a monumental failure. This background seems necessary to decode the heroic lengths the company has gone to develop the styling flavor of the new 2018 Clarity. For some, the Clarity’s looks might be a deal breaker. However, because reasonable people often disagree on issues of taste, I’ll leave that judgment to you.

According to Honda, fully 73 percent of consumers do not know what a plug-in hybrid vehicle is, which, of course, makes it a difficult sell. It can be a bit complicated so we’ll explain it here.

The plug-in Clarity is equipped with a rechargeable 17.0-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that, when fully charged, can travel an EPA-estimated 48 miles on pure electric power from the 181-horsepower electric motor. Once the battery power has been completely depleted, the 103-horsepower 1.5-liter inline-four cylinder gasoline powered engine seamlessly switches in to spin a generator to provide additional electric power to the motor and recharge the battery.

It can also assist in driving the wheels for a total horsepower of 212 and a total EPA-rated driving range of 340 miles. The combined EPA rated fuel economy is 110 MPGe on electrons and 42 MPG on gasoline. Charging from a 240-volt outlet takes about two and a half hours; 12 hours from a standard household 120-volt wall plug.

To further confuse you (assuming you’re already a bit out to sea here) there’s also a regenerative-braking system with four different settings that actually recharges some of the battery life when applying the brakes in normal driving.

Now, for those whose daily commute is 48 or fewer miles, and 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.

It’s worth noting that the fully-electric Clarity will only have a maximum driving range of 90 miles with a fully charged battery pack. So the real advantage of the plug-in hybrid Clarity is the 340-mile driving range. And know that if you fail to recharge the plug-in you can drive exclusively on gasoline, as long as you refill the tank when it gets low (the small seven-gallon gas tank ensures an additional 300 miles of driving range when the battery is depleted).

Inside, the cabin looks good on our top trim level Touring model that adds additional $3,200 to the price and includes navigation, wood-grain trim, leather seats and suede trim on the instrument panel, and a few other upgrades. I 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 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, however, there is a redundant audio volume switch on the steering wheel.

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. However, 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. It turns on when the driver flicks the turn-signal stalk to the right. It is not only distracting (and it takes over the whole infotainment screen), but it’s also no substitute for a true blind-spot detection system that covers both sides. The driver is able to turn it off though.

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, but we think most drivers won’t complain. There was enough engine power for acceleration and getting up to highway speeds with ease.

Overall, the Clarity is a perfectly acceptable and mostly comfortable car. 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, leg and cargo room. But Volt does offer up to 53 pure electric miles and up to 420 total driving range miles with a full charge and a full tank of gas.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $33,400 - $36,600
Price as Tested: $37,490
Powertrain: 1.5L 4-Cyl. Hybrid System with E-Continuously Variable Transmission
Fuel Economy: 110 MPGe (electricity and gasoline) – 42 MPG (gasoline only)
Seating: 5

Crash Test Results: The Clarity has not been crash tested for results by either the NHTSA or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Competes With:
Chevy Volt
Ford Fusion Energi SE
Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid
Kia Optima PHEV

Fab Features
Impressive fuel economy
Quiet, roomy cabin
Larger trunk than many hybrid competitors

— Jim Prueter