2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid – Road Test Review – By Ben Lewis



A friend just asked about buying a Diesel-engine car.

Diesel?

Really?

It seems like that boat has sailed a while ago, with VW’s diesel-gate putting the powertrain on the chopping block for most passenger cars.

Hybrids and EV’s are where it’s going – for their combination of low or zero emissions, hefty government subsidies (ok, those may go away) and driving fun. Yes, driving fun. And one of the most interesting of these vehicles is the new Honda Clarity.

A new way to roll

Well, the Honda Clarity actually gives you three ways to roll – if you’re on the left coast, at least. There’s the Hydrogen-powered Clarity Fuel Cell (California only, lease only), pure EV Clarity Electric (California and Pacific Northwest only, lease only) and our tester, a plug-in hybrid – available for sale, everywhere!

The plug-in hybrid is an interesting way to go – a mix of true EV and gas-powered hybrid. The plug-in models have larger battery packs, letting you drive for a good share on electrons before having to revert back to a gas/battery cocktail.

This is a good idea – with limitations. Most of the plug-ins we’ve driven have a range around 30 miles – good for a short commute, but after that, you’re driving a conventional hybrid – so the extra cost of a plug-in model is questionable. The first thing that got our attention is the Clarity’s range of up to 47 miles of EV bliss on a full charge. That’s a major improvement, and the best of any plug-in hybrid on sale.

Your spaceship awaits

You know the Clarity is different the first time you see it. Compared to the all-new Accord which is handsome in a European, Audi-ish way, the Clarity looks like it should have been in Blade Runner – either version. It’s interesting too, that while Accord and Clarity have a similar overall length, the Clarity looks much larger to our eyes.

Up front, a large chrome accent bar, slim LED headlamps and running lights give a distinctive face. The ¾ cut rear wheel wells definitely add to the retro-meets-future vibe, while the rear looks modern and fresh.

There’s even a little homage to the CRX with a small split rear window in the rear hatch area to look through. One surprise – although it looks like it’s a hatchback, it really is a 4-door sedan. One with a nice cargo pass-through, and surprisingly roomy trunk, though.

Under the pretty lines are some weight-saving tech, including aluminum hood, front fenders, doors, trunk lid and rear parcel shelf.

Sitting on some of the most aggressive-looking 18-inch alloys we’ve seen on any “Eco-friendly” vehicle and wearing a deep Crimson Pearl color, our tester looked rich, upscale, unique, and to our eyes, very cool.

Eco-chic

Inside is more of the futuristic-meets-the-familiar, in an interior that’s super luxurious and comfortable. It feels huge, with plenty of room for five adults. Our tester was the Touring model, and served up plush leather seating which we love. Along with that comes some of the least convincing faux wood trim we’ve seen. Other than that, it’s a great place to be – the driver has a full LCD screen with twin fuel gauges – battery level on the left, gasoline on the right. In the center, a clean digital readout for speed and power usage. All simple and understandable.

On the center console is a tablet-like 8-inch touchscreen for calling up all your info-tainment needs. All the mod-cons are there: Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, rearview camera display, 180-watt, 8-speaker audio system, Pandora, Sirius XM, Text messaging.

Along with leather seats, stepping up to the Touring trim like our tester gets you Navigation, Power driver’s seat with memory, and a clever remote climate pre-conditioning system, which lets you use your smartphone to pre-set the temp of the interior before you get in. Awesome on hot or chilly days.

Like Buttah

How does it drive? Unlike other PHEV’s we’ve driven where it feels like they make them light and thin to maximize range – the Clarity feels like it was designed to be a luxury car first – that just happens to have a PHEV drivetrain.

You really appreciate how quiet a vehicle can be in EV mode – with the 181 hp and 232 lb-ft of instant electric torque, this baby just glides up to speed, and the low-end acceleration is strong. If you feel the need for real speed, mashing the pedal kicks in the 1.5L gas engine’s 103 hp – which is also notably smooth and refined.

When we ran out of battery, we found the Clarity works as a traditional hybrid – and does an excellent job – you could barely notice when you were going in and out of charge…as we said, like buttah.

The EV system is also very clever, and can even go up to (and beyond) freeways speeds in full EV mode – and we easily ran a range of 47 miles on a charge – so it’s easy to do a full commute without ever using a drop of gas. Our office even has a charge point with the first three hours free – enough to give our Clarity a full charge without pinching our pocketbooks. Very cool. If you have to plug in at home, figure a good overnight charge will be needed.

If you are so technically inclined, you can choose between Normal, Econ, and Sport modes. There’s also a HV button that sustains the battery’s state of charge in the most efficient manner – causing the battery to recharged to approximately 58 percent.  You can also use the paddle shifters to choose one of four regenerative brake profiles – especially helpful going down a long downhill grade, saving brakes and adding extra battery charge.

 

Frankly we didn’t play around much with all this stuff. We just let the car figure out what it wanted to do, and enjoyed the super lux ride. Handling is good – but don’t expect Accord sportiness – this is a notably heavy car, and it never begs to be thrown around. Steering feel is quite good and it’s easy to get around – it’s just so calm and composed in its demeanor, you don’t feel like canyon carving.

Futuristic drivers of course expect all the safety goods, and the Clarity serves up Collision Mitigation Braking with automatic emergency braking, Road Departure Mitigation which will help guide you back should you start drifting out of your lane, Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keep Assist. There’s also Honda LaneWatch that uses shows you a right side and behind camera image when you turn on the right turn signal Great for merging and passing.

How much for the future, today?

Well, getting a Clarity Plug in Hybrid (PHEV) is pretty simple – the base model is very well equipped, and starts at $33,400. Go for a Touring like a tester, and you get the leather, Navi, remote climate pre-conditioning, memory seats, and CVT transmission with Sport Mode, and the bill is $36,600. That’s it for choices.

Competitors? The smaller Prius Prime loaded up is $33,695. The Kia Optima Plug in Hybrid, is $41,750 comparably equipped. And a well-equipped BMW 330e, a cool $49,250. And one thing about the Kia and BMW – they look like their lesser gas siblings. Less cool factor.

And that’s what really gets us about the Clarity. It’s cool. We like the slightly outlandish design. Love the longer range that makes EV a reality without having to sweat those times you have more miles than charge. Or you could just enjoy it for the whisper-quiet luxury drive.

The all new Clarity is an exciting and intriguing view of the future.

Why wait?

 

About The Author

Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round -- whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, or learning to surf.