I had a chance to get behind the wheel of Honda’s new Clarity plug-in hybrid. It seats five comfortably, has steering wheel paddle shifters and leather-wrapped wheel, head-turning good looks.
The fuel economy impressed me as I clocked an excellent 51.6 average mpg, nearly 10 miles more per gallon than the official EPA 42 mpg rating.
It was during a week-long road trip in Southern California that I fell in love with the new Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid. The driving was a mix of freeways, alternating between traffic-choked to wide-open raceways, mountainous switchbacks, as well as local errands. And let me repeat that I did it all with 51.6 average mpg. Pricing starts at $33,400.
The Clarity PHEV has a 47-mile range on electric-only and 350 miles total on battery and gas. At 212 horsepower, it’s powerful, zippy, and responsive, especially in Sport mode. By comparison, the Prius Prime has 121 hp, but the similar-size Chevy Volt has 149 hp.
Clarity PHEV has two modes. One holds the battery charge level, for highway driving when you want to save the battery for “downtown.” The other charges the battery, including using regenerative braking, to store EV range for later in the trip.
Honda launched the hydrogen fuel-cell Clarity a decade ago, extended the model line in 2017 with an all-electric model, and added the PHEV version for 2018. They are all built on the same body, which can be fitted on the assembly line for any of the three green powertrain systems. That production efficiency helps lower costs.
The Clarity line is part of what Honda calls its Electrification Initiative, planning to make EV, PHEV, and hybrid models account for two-thirds of global sales by 2030. The hydrogen and EV models are available only in California. My new paramour plug-in hybrid Clarity is available in all 50 states. And it’s produced in the U.S.
Honda has several decades of hybrid experience: The company’s first mass-production hybrid was the Insight, introduced in 1999 and still being sold. Honda previously produced a PHEV Accord, which was discontinued, but still offers a traditional hybrid Accord.
The Clarity PHEV has all the bells and whistles expected in a high-tech car, including keyless entry and remote start, as well as adaptive cruise control, lane departure assist, and pre-collision automatic braking, all part of the Honda Sensing package. New wiper technology puts the washer solution jets on the blades themselves, so you use less fluid and get more-evenly wipe coverage.
I especially appreciate the camera that turns on automatically when you put the car in reverse. It saved a life by showing a small child behind the car in a driveway, and prevented an accident by showing an approaching vehicle as we pulled out of a shopping mall parking spot. And, we are becoming familiar with so-called blind-spot monitors that warn us via a blinking light on the side view mirror or on the dashboard, or both, that something’s coming.
Clarity goes one better by combining both: Honda’s LaneWatch activates the blind-spot camera on the dashboard touchscreen when you activate the right blinker, for a live, full-lane view of traffic alongside the vehicle. It’s a broader view than the side mirror, and closer to the driver’s line of sight. Brilliant! The system is standard on all Clarity models and available on some other Honda models.
There’s ample leg- and headroom in the front, roomy enough for my 6-foot son who has rejected as a tight squeeze other vehicles we’ve tested together. At 5’1″ I look for how far the steering wheel adjusts downward and whether the seat rises upward to unblock my view over the dashboard. All good, and it proves again how important it is for everybody who will drive a vehicle regularly to test drive it first to be sure it’s a comfortable fit. Bottom line, the 2018 Clarity Plug-In Hybrid is a great addition to the Honda family, and yours, too. — Evelyn Kanter, Motor Matters