Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid: the Future is Here

Strong points
  • Advanced PHEV technology
  • Luxury interior
  • Stellar fuel economy
Weak points
  • Weird looks
  • No volume knob
  • Infotainment system could be simpler
Full report

You may have already heard of the Honda Clarity in years past. In fact, the vehicle was originally known as the FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle that the manufacturer sold from 2008 until 2014 as a kind of test platform. Given the experimental nature of hydrogen-powered vehicles and the lack of any extensive refuelling network, it stands to reason that the FCX wasn’t going to be a mass-market car.

Honda has now released the next-generation Clarity which is available in three variants; hydrogen fuel cell, fully electric and plug-in hybrid electric. We Canadians only have access to the plug-in hybrid variant at the moment, and that’s what I had the opportunity to test recently.

The very first thing that stands out on the Clarity is its weird appearance. If you’re looking for a show-stopper, the Clarity might fit into this category, though not for the reason you think. Most of the feedback I received from friends, onlookers and readers was that it’s not a good-looking vehicle. I’m nuancing this a little bit as some of the comments were quite harsh.

Photo: Danny Geraghty

Many of the exterior design elements are a function of reducing drag. You may have remarked at some point or another that many hybrid or electric vehicles have a funny-looking shape to them. That’s because they’re designed with something called the Kamm tail design to improve airflow. The Clarity is no different, which means a high rear end that drops off at the trunk. The other design element that will draw the ire of many people is the presence of fixed fender skirts. They also work to improve airflow, but one has to wonder if their detriment to the looks of the Clarity is self-defeating.

The front end is fairly standard Honda-fare with long L-shaped LED daytime running lights being the most distinguishing feature. The rear end takes a page from the controversial (and discontinued) Honda Crosstour with big, bulging taillights. I think The Clarity has a few too many design controversies packed into a single product.

Once you get inside, however, the cabin is succulent enough to make you forget about the exterior. It’s so nice that it could roll with many of the high-end luxury brands, which was something I was not expecting. The woodgrain paneling and suede parts to the dash and doors are of the highest quality and craftsmanship. The touchscreen is beautifully mounted so as not to get in the way of the driver’s view or interfere with the flow of the design. The lower console is comprised of woodgrain and brushed aluminum with a uniquely designed shape that belongs in an art gallery. The seats and steering wheel are wrapped in high-quality leather that just pampers the body. The sensation of the steering wheel drew my hands to it so much that I ended up driving in the 10-2 position just to be able to touch it more.

Photo: Danny Geraghty

There were a few quarks that I need to mention, however. The steering wheel-mounted volume button is out of range of your fingers. You have to move your hand off the wheel slightly to be able to reach it. Similarly, the lack of a physical volume dial on the main system is a large disappointment. The tiny touchscreen volume slider is hard to locate, hard to press and should be switched out with the newer systems in the Accord and CR-V. Speaking of infotainment, the system’s display and menus are adequate to get the job, done but not as intuitive as some of the other systems on the market.

Under the hood is where things get interesting as this is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that Honda expects to sell a lot of. There is a 17-kWh battery pack, which feeds an electric motor capable of 181 horsepower and 232 lb.-ft. of torque, with an electric-only range of up to 76 kilometres. That’s quite a bit better than many of the twenty-something-kilometre ranges of so many other plug-in hybrids and likely covers the round trip of most urban work commutes.

When electric power runs out, the 103-horsepower, 1.5-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine can either act as a generator to recharge the battery pack or assist in driving the vehicle. In my time with the Clarity, my overall fuel consumption was just 2.8 L/100km and I even forgot to charge it overnight one time.

The Clarity offers three driving modes: EV, Sport and Hybrid. The default is EV when you start the vehicle, Sport will use the gas engine more to give you maximum power and Hybrid will preserve as much battery life as possible. Don’t expect the Clarity to handle like an Accord or a Civic, but I didn’t find it overly soft and the ride is very comfortable even on bumpy roads.

The government wants you to buy electric vehicles and offers attractive incentives for you to do so, which vary by province. Ontario will give you a cool $13,000, Quebec gives $8,000 and B.C. $5,000, for example. The 2018 Clarity has an MSRP of $39,900 for the base trim level or $43,900 for the fully loaded Touring version.

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