2018 Honda Clarity PHEV Review

Honda Clarity was originally a hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle first introduced in 2008. It was ahead of its time, and the lack of hydrogen filing stations means there could only be a limited number of hydrogen driven Clarity on the road.

Now Honda, with its ambition to replace most of its line-up with hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric and even fuel-cell vehicles by 2030, decided to start fresh with the 2018 Clarity, a mid-size sedan offered in three variations: pure electric, plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and fuel cell.

Thank to Honda Canada, I was given the PHEV version of the 2018 Clarity for a test drive. Below is my unbiased review.

The the exterior of the new Clarity gives a very similar impression of an Accord, but with some design changes to improve aerodynamic efficiency. The front fascia has a wide inlet to reduce airflow under the hood. A air curtains built into the fender directs the air away from the front wheels to minimize air disturbances. Both the headlamps and the signature day time running lights are powered by LED bulbs to improve energy efficiency. A prominent chrome trim runs across the entire front face for a composed, grown-up look.

The side profile of the Clarity is smooth and elegant with the exception of the rear wheel well. I love the sculpted, rising character line that runs across the side panels though both of the front and rear door handles, but I loathe the rear tire cover that is designed to reduce air drag generated by the rear wheel. The stylish 18" aluminum alloy wheels features aerodynamic covers that reduce drag and improve brake cooling.

From the back, the taillight lenses are optimized with a "washboard" surface that lets air flow smoothly across them. The rear spoiler sits high to separate the air stream, and a decorative chrome trim breaks up the rear hatch to provide some visual cues.

Overall, it is a classy, conservative design that incorporates some features to maximize air efficiency. I personally would do away with the rear wheel cover, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The interior of the Clarity is finished exquisitely. The ivory white alcantara dashboard and the wood-grain accent panels look, and feel upscale. The double-deck center console with the lack of a shift lever makes the interior look open and futuristic. Unfortunately, Honda decided to put the USB charging port in the lower deck, which is very hard to find for the first time. Like other Clarity models, the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid interior was developed to reduce carbon emissions by adopting plant-derived and recycled materials.

The heated leather front seats are plush and comfortable, and there is plenty of head and legroom for front passengers. The rear seats also offer ample legroom, but taller passengers might find the headroom limited. There is a dedicated air vent, as well as a power socket for rear passengers

The lack of physical switch gears means everything has to be controlled via the 8" infotainment display. While this arrangement makes the interior look cool and spacious, the control menu is a bit outdated, and the response time is not the quickest. Furthermore, it is difficult to press the correct button while the car is moving. Thankfully, the Clarity is equipped with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which allow compatible smartphones to be connected via a USB cable.

A 7-inch TFT display within the instrument cluster offers a clean presentation of useful information for the driver. The display also clearly displays power consumption, regenerative braking and battery charge level, along with the hybrid drive system energy flow.

Drivers can control many features of the car remotely via the available HondaLink app. It includes viewing the car's real-time charge level, pre-conditioning cabin temperature, and locating the nearest approved EV station.

Safety and Driver Assistance
The Clarity Plug-In Hybrid offers the following suite of Honda Sensing safety and driver assist features:
  • Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) 
  • Road Departure Mitigation (RDM)
  • Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Low Speed Follow
  • Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS)
In addition, the standard Honda LaneWatch utilizes a camera located below the passenger-side exterior mirror to display a wide-angle view of the roadway on the touchscreen when either the right turn signal is activated or a button located on the end of the turn signal stalk is pressed.

A Plug-In Hybrid essentially has three driving modes. When there is enough juice in the battery, the Clarity operates like a pure electric vehicle (EV Drive Mode). The 17kWh battery is enough to provide 75km EPA rated range. The electric motor is on the larger side of an PHEV, which produces 181 hp of peak horsepower and 232 lb.ft. of instant torque.

In Hybrid Drive mode, the Clarity functions as a series hybrid. Like in EV Drive mode, the propelling force comes from the electric traction motor. The gasoline engine produces electricity, which is sent directly to the traction motor or to the battery pack, depending on the driving situation and the battery's state of charge.

In Engine Drive mode, which is typically engaged when cruising at medium to high speeds, the Clarity functions as a parallel hybrid. The engine and the traction motor both send power directly to the front wheels. Unlike most competing hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, the Clarity does not use a conventional transmission, which saves weight and minimizes complexity while improving efficiency.

In real world driving situations, the Clarity does a good job of blending the three modes to provide an un-disruptive driving experience. There are three user selectable driving modes to choose from: Eco, Normal, and Sport. The Eco mode is simply not much fun to drive with, and I prefer the Normal mode most of the time. You can also select how much regenerative braking you want from a left steering wheel paddle. One annoyance is that the regenerative setting always revert back to the standard amount after a while.

On the road, the Clarity is quick off the start. The steering is composed, and the body roll in the corner is well under control. The suspension is tuned to be on the softer side, but it also provides added ride comfort.

Honda decided to go away with the standard shift stick and use buttons for gear selection instead. This takes some getting used to as the mechanical feedback along doesn't tell you which gear you are in. On the other hand, it does free up the cabin space for a more open, modern feel.

The Clarity PHEV has a combined all electric fuel economy rating of 2.14 L/100km, and a 5.6L/100km of gasoline-only fuel economy rating. With the included 120V standard outlet charger, it takes about 12 hours to fully charge the battery from zero. A level 2 charger with 240V and 32 Amp current can fully charger the battery in 2.5 hours.

Cargo Space & Storage
The 2018 Clarity has a very respectable cargo space of 14.8 cu.ft. (419L). Both the rear seats can be folded down to accommodate longer objects, however, the design of the trunk compartment divider restricts the opening to the rear cabin and takes away some of the available space.

A range of storage options including a large storage compartment located under the center armrest, a center cup holder, an open lower storage deck under the center console, a rear fold down center armrest with integrated cup holders, and side pockets with bottle holders in all four doors provide plenty of spaces for smaller items.

All in all, the 2018 Honda Clarity PHEV is a perfectly practical bridge between an internal combustion vehicle and a fully electric vehicle. Its conservative look may not be for everyone, but should appeal to more mature customers. The interior on the other hand feels much more expensive than the sticker price would suggest, thanks to the implementation of premium materials, and the futuristic minimalist design. Once you get over some of the quirks of the car, the only complaint remaining would be the somewhat outdated infotainment system.

On the other hand, the Clarity offers a satisfying driving experience while delivering serious fuel cost savings. The battery alone is enough for majority of daily commutes, and the gasoline engine eases the range anxiety that stops so many buyers from going fully electric. It is a car I would seriously consider buying for myself.

Test Vehicle
2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid Touring
$43,900 without Destination
Moonlit Forest Pearl


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