2021 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid Review


Electric vehicles are taking over the world, and almost every manufacturer is gearing for this major transition. However, I would still like to make a case for Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). Hybrids have been on the roads for decades now, and they are incredibly efficient. Modern plug-in variants add a moderately sized battery pack, and provide 50-100km of pure-electric range. 

In the case of Honda Clarity, its 17kWh battery gives the car a 77km EPA rated pure-electric range. With most commuters driving less than 35km a day, and a typical pure EV requiring a battery size four times larger, one can argue that the smaller battery packs of  PHEV are better use of the limited lithium-ion battery supplies. 

In addition, after its battery is depleted, the Clarity can still be driven for another 547km with its incredibly efficient hybrid drivetrain. Which means you won’t need another car for those occasional road trips, and you will never have to experience the range anxiety. It all sounds very good on paper, but does the Honda Clarity really bridge the gap between pure EVs and internal combustion engine vehicles? 

Thanks to Honda Canada, we were loaned the 2021 Clarity Touring for one week to find out. Below is my unbiased review.


The exterior of the Clarity remains polarizing. It is actually a rather conventional, handsome looking car if not for the pronounced three-quarter behind. For the most part, the engineering efforts of maximizing aerodynamic efficiencies don’t look out of place at all.

At the front, these include high efficiency LED headlamps, LED daytime running lights, side air curtains, full underfloor cover and specially shaped A-pillars to reduce air turbulence around the body. 

From the side, the most notable feature is the controversial rear tire cover and rear air curtain. They are there to increase aerodynamic efficiency around the rear wheel.  The 18” aluminum alloy wheels feature turbine inspired aerodynamic covers that reduce drag and improvise brake cooling. A sharp rising beltline runs through the door handles and ends at the taillight. It compliments the raindrop shaped roofline, for a fluid, aerodynamic look. 

The rear profile of the car is still my favorite. The two wide LED tail lights feature integrated washboard surfaces to allow more efficient airflow around the lenses. Function wise it is similar to the dimples on golf balls. 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.


The interior of the Clarity feels surprisingly premium. Clean lines and upscale materials give the interior a contemporary, elegant vibe.

The double-deck center console looks both classy and futuristic with sharp angles and wood-grain accent panels. By replacing a shift lever with low profile buttons, the front cabin feels more spacious. In order to reduce carbon emissions, Honda appointed the Clarity with many plant-derived and recycled materials. Regardless of the origins, the materials are of good quality. Hard plastics are textured nicely and tucked away at lower parts of the cabin. 

The heated leather front seats are plush and supportive. They are very comfortable for longer drives. Here, some cost cutting measures are noticed. The seats are only manually adjustable. It is a somewhat surprising choice given the premium feel of the interior. 

The rear seats are also quite enjoyable. There is a good amount of legroom for rear passengers, but taller individuals might find the headroom slightly limited due to the sloped roofline. Other comfort features include dedicated air vents and a power socket behind the center console. 


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 to achieve the same function. 

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, but the USB ports are located at the lower deck of the center console. Not the easiest to find the first time.

A 7-inch TFT display within the instrument cluster offers a clean presentation of useful information. The display also clearly displays power consumption, regenerative braking status, and battery levels.

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 Assist

The Clarity Plug-In Hybrid offers a comprehensive set of standard Honda Sensing safety and driver assist features. They include:

  • Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) 
  • Road Departure Mitigation (RDM)
  • Forward Collision Warning (FCW) system
  • Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Low Speed Follow
  • Lane Departure Warning (LDW) system2
  • Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS)
  • Hill Start Assist
  • Tire Pressure Monitoring System

In addition, the standard Honda LaneWatch utilizes a camera located below the passenger-side exterior mirror to send a wide-angle rear view from the passenger's side to 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. 


The electric motor Honda equipped the Clarity is on the larger side of an PHEV. It produces 181hp of peak horsepower and 232lb.ft. of peak torque. The engine, on the other hand, is a 1.5L 4 Cylinder Atkinson cycle DOHC that produces 105hp of power and 99lb.ft of torque. Combining the two together, the drivetrain is capable of producing a peak horsepower of 212 hp. 

Just like most Plug-In Hybrid vehicles, the Clarity has three basic operating 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 77km EPA rated range, but it is closer to 65km during our test drive. 

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 through a generator to supply the electric motor. 

In Engine Drive mode, which is typically engaged when cruising at medium to high speeds, or when the car is pushed hard, 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 great job of blending the three modes together to provide a pleasant driving experience. Other than a faint engine noise, I could barely notice when the engine kicks in. 

There are three user-selectable drive modes: 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 using the steering wheel paddles. I find it annoying that the setting always reverts back after restart.

The steering is composed, but provides little feedback. The low resistance tires do not provide the best cornering performance. They tend to slip laterally in wet corners. 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 2021 Clarity has a very usable cargo space of 439L. The 40/60 split rear seats can be folded down to accommodate longer objects. However, the trunk compartment divider has a rather small, and oddly shaped opening. 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 bin 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 two large storage pouches behind the front seats. Another two small storage pouches behind the front seats are dedicated for smaller items like smart phones. All four door pockets are on the smaller side, but they can still manage to hold at least one water bottle each.


Even though pure electric vehicles are grabbing all the headlines. A good PHEV like the Honda Clarity still makes a lot of sense for people who drive less than 35km a day, who don’t have convenient access to charging stations, or people who occasionally want to go on longer road trips. Having a gasoline engine means there is no range anxiety, and the hybrid system ensures those gasoline are put to good use. 

The premium interior and refined driving style of the Clarity makes the car easily recommendable. 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. 

It is too bad that Honda has decided to pull the plug on this little gem. There will be no PHEV Clarity for 2022. So maybe it is a good time to head to the dealership and grab one while you can.

Test Vehicle
2021 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid Touring

$48,505 CAD as tested


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