An (almost-)no-compromise plug-in hybrid arrives from Honda.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
When it comes to EVs, as well as a plug-in hybrids, there has always been the issue of simple range anxiety for EV customers and the lack of true EV range for plug-in hybrids. Sure, there are a couple of exceptions, but the mainstream competitors all fall into these categories. Enter the new Honda Clarity. Honda sells it as a “no-compromise Electric Vehicle”. That’s not quite true, but it’s close.
Here we find the vehicle’s biggest compromise in my opinion. While I really only take issue with one single line in the Clarity’s styling, it’s a big one. Let’s talk about the stuff that’s fine first. A typically busy but perfectly fine Honda front end and grille start the show. Slick, aerodynamic lines and a strong character crease along the side make their way to the back of the car, where things get a bit awkward. The rear glass lies nearly flat and meets a strange rear end that juts out, with the cargo lid becoming a mostly vertical surface. The overall shape and resulting car definitely isn’t pretty and while somewhat awkward with its droopy butt, it isn’t terrible. Some angles are actually not bad at all.
What is terrible, and what never grew on me, and what literally every single person who looked at this car agreed on me with, is that rear wheel well. The visual difference that this one simple line makes would actually be a deal-breaker for me. I hate to say that, because as you’ll see, the rest of this car is fantastic. I know it’s functional in terms of aerodynamics and I’m sure it’s a bit of an homage to the original Honda Insight hybrid, but come on! I’d happily give up the few drops of fuel that styling saves.
Thankfully, the 18-inch wheels inside the wheel wells are beautiful – the turbine design is awesome. They are shod with some big boots too – 235/45s all the way around.
The Clarity gets LED lighting everywhere. Headlights, turn signals, driving lights, brake lights, tail lights – everything is LED.
Some “Plug-in” badging is prominently placed on the charging port door as well as the rear end of the car. I definitely got a lot of attention in this car, and plenty of questions too.
The interior design felt modern and clean to me. It is quite bright even though most materials are dark.
I like the choice of materials throughout the Clarity. The wood trim, which I’m certain is fake, has some texture and looks really good. And then there’s that swath of Alcantara across the dash and door panels.
We found the heated leather seats to be very comfortable and well-bolstered too. Although Honda’s Touring trim (which this car was) is usually loaded, I was a bit surprised to find the seats were not power-adjustable.
Otherwise there’s a configurable digital dash and an 8-inch touchscreen that is dash mounted. The screen unfortunately is stuck without a volume/power knob – so you’re either using the screen-based flat buttons or the steering wheel controls. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto play really nicely with this system. There’s a dual-zone automatic climate control system and a push-button transmission.
There’s plenty of driver assistance technology. The Clarity in Touring trim has collision mitigation braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and Honda’s camera-based blind spot monitoring system, LaneWatch and a backup camera. I also really like that Clarity drivers can stay in touch with their car remotely. Using the HondaLink app, you can check the real-time charge level and remaining range, the location of the car and can pre-condition the temperature remotely so it’s warm or cool enough before you get in.
At 5’10” and sitting behind my own driving position, the legroom is very generous and I had about an inch of head room to spare as well. The middle position is not that great – there’s a floor tunnel, the seat is narrow and raised and even my third kid was never happy there. Rear passengers get a 12V power outlet. One innovation I really enjoyed was that, in addition to map pockets, the back of each front seat has a padded storage slot for smartphones. Slide it in there and you’re never looking for it.
There are a couple of cupholders and a small space under the armrest lid. The real bonus in terms of storage is found under the floating centre console. There is an open bin with two USBs and one 12V charging port.
The 439L trunk is surprisingly big and useful, especially in consideration of the size of the battery. I think if you start looking at longer road trips, you might run into a bit of a capacity issue but overall, it’s a good size trunk. The rear seats do fold down (you have to do that from the trunk) in a 60/40 split to create a large pass-through.
Under the Hood
As is standard hybrid fare, the Clarity mates a gas engine with an electric motor. The engine is an ultra-efficient 1.5L inline-4 rated at 103HP. What really matters here is the 181HP electric motor with all of its 232 lb.ft of torque instantly available – together the system combines for 212HP.
I ended up averaging 1.5 L/100 km. That’s because I drove it for approximately one day of the week I had it, where it had not been charged and so it operated in hybrid mode. The rest of my time with it was spent completely on electric power. In other words, had the car been delivered charged, I would not have used a drop of fuel.
The huge 17 kWh battery gives the Clarity a very respectable 76 km electric-only range. Charge times vary from 12 hours with a normal 110V household plug to 2.5 hours with a Level 2 240V charger.
I’ll speak to driving in full EV mode first. After you unplug the car, you’re treated to that range of around 76 km. This allowed me to commute to and from work with plenty of battery left over. While it’s not exactly snappy, there is plenty of power for around town and freeway driving. Should you need the maximum amount of power for accelerating, you can press through a resistance point at the bottom of the gas pedal to access the gas engine’s output as well. To be honest, it’s not worth it. It still isn’t really much faster and just makes a lot of noise. I found the Clarity to be quite a rewarding drive in full EV mode. It’s shockingly quiet, of course. And it’s very smooth. The ride is fantastic and always comfortable. The handling is fine, although it’s a bit squishy – this is no Civic, but it’s perfectly fine.
There are 4 drive modes. Econ, Normal and Sport – all of which impact the car’s responsiveness obviously. And then there’s the HV mode which allows you to tap into the gas engine, but only for the purpose of charging the battery. Interesting concept.
The brakes are regenerative, and you’ll find the typical mushiness because of that. You can also select increased levels of motor-based deceleration using the paddles on the steering wheel, adding more and more resistance akin to engine braking.
WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was decent. She was not a fan of the looks at all, but was surprised that we got anywhere we wanted to go and back again without ever using a drop of gas, and she was impressed with the silent, luxurious ride.
Although I’ve been quite clear about how I feel about the rear wheel well styling, I found the Clarity to be a very rewarding and highly livable car. The range is awesome, and will work for many Canadian commuters, particularly if you have the opportunity to charge the battery at work. And of course there is no range anxiety as you run it as a hybrid once the battery is depleted to reserve levels.
I really like how modern this vehicle felt. It felt like this is a great bridge between gas vehicles and electric vehicles, with very little compromise. It’s roomy and accommodating, drives beautifully and would be easy to live with. It is quiet, refined and sophisticated. Bravo Honda – I like where you’re headed. And if you are in this market, but can give up the plug-in EV part, keep in mind that Honda has the new 2019 Insight hybrid coming which looks fantastic, averages 4.9 L/100 km and sells at just over $31,000 for the loaded Touring trim.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Honda Canada.
If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out my other vehicle reviews under the car reviews tab at the top of my blog.
Pricing: 2018 Honda Clarity
Base price (Touring trim): $43,900
Price as tested: $45,681