TEST DRIVE REVIEW: 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid – While Tesla 3s Are “On The Way,” The Clarity Is In Showrooms Now, For a Lot Less Cash

By Michele Spencer

Honda is following up on its 2016 hydrogen fuel cell Clarity and its 2017 all-electric Clarity with a third variation, the plug-in hybrid (PHEV).   Honda is a proven car manufacturer with extensive experience at mass production of quality vehicles.

The plug-in hybrid version of the Clarity is a five-person mid-size sedan with a luxury interior.  It has eye-catching exterior design elements in the front and rear; its body is low and wide, lending a dignified flair.  Several air ducts are smartly designed, including the rear tire cover, which features a propeller-style cap that directs airflow to the wheels.

In showrooms since December 1, 2017, the PHEV Clarity provides another option to the environmentally-conscious customer who is looking for a spacious, lounge-feel, comfortable ride and Honda’s reputation for value and reliability.   While Honda offers hybrid Accords and Civics, the Clarity is the upscale member of the Honda EV family.

The flagship color on the PHEV is a gorgeous dark aqua green called Moonlit Forest Pearl.   There are two trim levels, Base and Touring.  The Touring interior features a new material developed for the vehicle, a bio-derived Ultrasuede, is in the door panels and dash, along with perforated leather seats.  The base trim features synthetic leather and a biofabric called Prime Smooth.  Both trim levels feature rosewood accents in the cabin, in black or brown, for a luxury effect.   Everything in the interior is designed for the occupants’ comfort.

25 - 2018 Honda Clarity rear
Grapes and Green.

The PHEV tester was equipped with an automatic transmission, accessed by push buttons in the center console, along with a push/pull button for the electronic brake.   There are separate dial indicators for fuel level and battery charge level.  Power flow is shown in real time on the 8-inch display screen, together with remaining range.

At low speeds, the Clarity primarily functions in EV or hybrid drive mode.  At freeway / steady speeds, it switches to engine drive mode.  The tester consumed gas when at freeway speeds.  Otherwise, the needle didn’t move.  When tested in a combination of stop and go traffic and moderate freeway driving, the average consumption was 44.9 miles per gallon, without trying to be conservative on the pedal.
The EV-only range of the new PHEV is 47 miles (better than other plug-in hybrids), but the full range is 320-340 miles, thanks to the pairing with a gasoline engine.  Its 47 mile range puts the Clarity PHEV at the top of its class for plug-in sedans, making it more than suitable as a daily commuter.

The PHEV Clarity has 212 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque, also better than the Prius Prime (121 HP), and the Chevy Volt (149 HP).

As far as price, the Base trim MSRP is $33,400 (plus destination fee of $890), higher than Ford Fusion and Prius Prime, but less than the Chevy Volt; the Clarity is easily half the price of a Model 3 Tesla.

The Honda safety feature package called Honda Sensing is standard on all three of the Clarity models, even in base trim, while the Volt and the Fusion do not offer the same types of safety features without an upgrade on trim level or as a custom add-on that can cost up to $2,510.00, according to Honda’s studies.  All trims include a multi-view rear camera, straight driving assist, and LaneWatch, which provides the driver with a display view of the right (blind) side when the right turn signal is activated.  LaneWatch is Honda-exclusive safety technology.

As far as the drive experience, because it is a hybrid of electric and gasoline power, there may be a question as to how quiet it is compared to the all-EV Clarity.  The PHEV was road-tested for two hours in various conditions on the country roads of Calistoga, California. Its cabin remained whisper quiet, even at highway speeds.  The hydrogen fuel cell Clarity was also road tested.  Its engine makes a bit of noise, but it is not obtrusive.

The PHEV’s windshield and door glass panels were developed with sound insulation function.  There is extensive insulation in the dashboard, hood, inner front fender, and motor undercover.  The carpet was designed for sound absorption and insulation.

Sport mode in the PHEV is instantaneous, with the push of a button, and the engine responds with palpable force but the transition is seamless, with no kick or interruption in acceleration.

All three of the Clarity vehicles are smooth, quiet and comfortable to drive due to a low center of gravity.  The plug-in Clarity’s new rear multi link suspension supports the next-generation straight structure frame and insures a smooth ride, even on bumpy roads.

Regenerative braking paddles on the steering wheel are easy to learn to use, and cause the battery to recharge instantly, with maximum benefit seen in stop and go traffic or cruising down a hill.

Kiyoshi Shimizu, Honda’s Development Lead, said that in developing the Clarity, Honda listened to the needs of its customers, who said that they wanted a stylish and comfortable PHEV.  The Clarity PHEV delivers, as an amazing bargain for a green vehicle for the buyer who wants Honda quality with a luxury feel.

2018 Honda Clarity PHEV Details:

  • Powertrain:  1.5 liter Atkinson cycle DOHC-I-VTEC engine
  • Battery:  Lithium-Ion
  • EV range:  47 miles
  • Hybrid fuel economy:  42 MPGe
  • EPA MPGe rating: 110
  • Power:  181 HP; 232 pound-feet torque
  • Basic Trim MSRP: $33,400
  • Touring Trim MSRP: $36,600

[Note:  Clarity is offered only on a lease basis.  Lease terms, basic trim: $2000 down payment, $269.00/month. ]

[Add to both trim levels destination fee of $890.00]

  • Rebates:  $2500 CA rebate is available.  The Federal $7500 rebate is built into the lease.
  • Body construction:  Super high tensile steel, aluminum, resin, and composite material-applied parts
  • Wheels:  18 inch hybrid aero wheel, two tone design;  Michelin Energy Saver tires
  • Exterior Colors:  Moonlit Forest Pearl, Platinum White Pearl, Solar Silver Metallic, Modern Steel Metallic, Crystal Black Pearl, Crimson Pearl [No extra charge for any color]
  • Options: 18 inch alloy wheels, lower chrome door trim, deck lid spoiler, back-up sensors, body side molding, ash tray

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