2020 Honda Clarity Review

 

Intro

With most of the new electric vehicles able to provide more than 250km of driving range, and many models capable of 400+ km of driving on a single charge, it is getting easier for average drivers to make the switch from fossil fuel burning cars to electric vehicles. For those who suffer from EV range anxiety or people enjoying taking occasional long road trips, Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) still make a lot of sense. With GM dropping the Chevrolet Volt, the Honda Clarity is now the PHEV with the longest pure electric range. Does a PHEV sedan like the Clarity still have a place in the market in 2020?

Thanks to Honda Canada, we were loaned the 2020 Clarity Touring for one week to find out. Below is my unbiased review.

Exterior

I appreciate all the design features Honda engineers implemented on the Clarity to squeeze every last mile out of the 17kWh PHEV battery. At the front, these include high efficiency LED headlamps and daytime running lights, side air curtains to reduce turbulence around the front wheels, precisely calculated inlet openings to minimize airflow under the hood, full underfloor cover and specially shaped A-pillars to reduce energy-wasting air turbulence around the body. 

From the side, you will immediately notice the rear tire cover and rear air curtain. They are implemented to increase aerodynamic efficiency around the rear wheel. I am not sure how much fuel efficiency the Clarity gains from this setup, but the the car would look much more elegant and balanced without the bulging body panels. The 18” aluminum alloy wheels feature special aerodynamic covers that reduce drag and improvise brake cooling. A sharp rising beltline runs through the door handles and connects to the taillight. The shape of the roof mimics the shape of a raindrop. It is the most aerodynamic shape in nature, and rightfully finds its way in the exterior design of the Clarity.

The rear profile of the car is actually my favorite. Wide LED tail lights feature integrated washboard surfaces to allow smoother airflow around the lenses. An integrated spoiler promotes smooth air separation and reduces drag. A tasteful chrome bar runs across the liftgate to give the car a sense of width from the back.

The exterior dimensions of the Clarity are very similar to those of the Accord. To set itself apart, the Clarity takes many design cues from the Insight to achieve maximum aerodynamic efficiency. Perhaps it doesn’t need to try so hard. Now I know in some markets, the Clarity is available as a pure EV, so it is absolutely critical for the car to be as energy efficient as possible. On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if a prettier package would give the Clarity a much needed sales boost.

Interior

I very much enjoy the interior of the Clarity. It is contemporary, classy, and spacious. The double-deck center console without a physical shift lever makes the interior look open and futuristic. The ivory white Alcantara dashboard compliments the wood-grain accent panels for a classy, exquisite vibe. In order to reduce carbon emissions, Honda appointed the Clarity with plant-derived and recycled materials. Regardless of the origins, the materials are of good quality. Hard plastics are textured and nicely tucked away at the lower parts of the cabin. 

The heated leather front seats are plush and supportive. They are very comfortable for longer drives, but are unfortunately only manually adjustable. The rear seats are also quite comfortable. There is a good amount of legroom for rear passengers, but taller individuals might find the headroom slightly limited due to the sloped roofline. The rear passengers also enjoy dedicated air vents, as well as a power socket behind the center console. 


Infotainment

The lack of physical switch gears means everything has to be controlled via the 8" infotainment display. While this arrangement makes the interior look clean and modern, the graphics of the user interface are slightly outdated. The lack of a volume knob is annoying, but thankfully you can use the volume control buttons on the steering wheel. 

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, but the USB ports are located at the lower deck of the center console. It is not easy to find for the first time.

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 levels, 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 battery level, adjusting cabin temperature, and locating the nearest approved EV stations.

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 rear view of the passenger's side on the center infotainment screen. This function is activated when the right turn signal is turned on, or when a button located at the end of the turn signal stalk is pressed.

Driving

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 a 76km EPA rated range, but it is closer to 65km during our test drive. The electric motor is on the larger side of an PHEV. It produces 181hp of peak horsepower and 232lb.ft. of peak torque.

In Hybrid Drive mode, the Clarity functions as a series hybrid vehicle. The propelling force comes from the electric motor, and the gasoline engine produces electricity to supply the electric drivetrain. 

In Engine Drive mode, which is typically engaged when cruising at medium to high speeds, the Clarity functions as a parallel hybrid vehicle. The engine and the gasoline 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. The lack of additional gears reduces complexity and improves energy efficiency.

On the road, the Clarity does a good job of blending the three modes to provide a pleasant 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 left the car in the Normal mode most of the time. You can also select how much regenerative braking you want from the steering wheel paddles, but the setting always reverts back to the original after a while.

The Clarity is quick off the start even without the gasoline engine. The steering is composed, but the low resistance tires do not provide the best cornering performance. The suspension is tuned to be on the softer side, but body roll is kept well under control. 

The Clarity PHEV has a combined all electric fuel economy rating of 2.1 L/100km, and a gasoline-only fuel economy rating of 5.6L/100km. With the included 120V standard household outlet charger, it takes about 12 hours to fully charge the battery from zero. A level 2 240VAC charger with 32 Amp current capacity can fully charge the battery in 2.5 hours.

Cargo Space & Storage

The 2020 Clarity has a very usable cargo space of 15.5 cu.ft. (439L) in the trunk. The 40/60 split 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 significantly. Under the trunk floor is a storage compartment for the included charger. A tire repair kit is located on the right side of the trunk wall.

In cabin storage options are above average. They include a large storage compartment under the center armrest, two center cup holders, an open lower center console deck, and a decently sized glove compartment. For the rear passengers, there is a folding center armrest with integrated cup holders, and various storage pouches behind the front seats. All four door pockets are on the smaller side, but they can still manage to hold at least one water bottle each. 

Verdict

Other than some quirky design elements, the Honda Clarity is an excellent vehicle for anyone wishing to go electric but can’t shake that range anxiety. The clean, premium interior and the refined driving style give the car a semi-luxury quality. The fact that it offers the longest pure electric range for a PHEV, and qualifies for the $5000 federal rebate further justify its price and its place in the market. 

On the other hand, if electrically adjustable front seats can be included, and the rear wheel cover can be removed, I am sure the Clarity can attract more potential buyers.

Test Vehicle

2020 Honda Clarity Touring

MSRP

$46775CAD without Freight & Destinations

Color

Crimson Pearl 

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