The Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle (PHEV) is a midsize, five-passenger car that can operate as an electric vehicle or as a hybrid electric vehicle. It is Honda’s newest addition to an already very green lineup. We found the Clarity’s many strengths included a sophisticated, Zen-like ride, an impressive all-EV range, and seamless hybrid operation. Like many green cars today, its after-incentives price is also remarkable.
Honda Clarity – Size and Shape
The Clarity is about the size of a Civic, perhaps a bit larger, but it has its own Honda styling. The car has a large trunk area, a roomy cabin, and would serve a family very well if their needs worked with a midsize sedan. Inside we found the Clarity relatively roomy, but our right leg contacted the wide decorative center console on hard plastic during the entirety of our drives. If you are under six-feet tall, this may not be a problem. This was the single imperfection we found.
Honda Clarity – The Green Bits
Honda uses an electric drive system coupled to a small gasoline engine. EVangelists, this is your cue to head down to the comments and tell us all how much you prefer the all-electric Tesla that costs buyers twice as much as this car does. Don’t forget to add “Let them eat cake.”
Truth be told, most plug-in hybrid electric vehicle owners use their cars almost entirely as EVs. So much so that these types of cars actually have programming to refresh fuel before it gets stale. Unlike battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), there is never any range anxiety in a Clarity PHEV. When fully energized, you can drive it for 48 miles on electric power and then continue on to a total of 340 miles under hybrid power. You can then stop for literally five minutes and drive another 290 miles. To cover this amount of ground in a Clarity BEV you would need to stop to charge the car multiple times using a high-speed charger for about five hours in total. If you can find a charger on your route. And that assumes it is not occupied. This is why PHEVs work better as primary vehicles for families as opposed to affordable BEVs. You don’t have to keep an ICE car for vacations, driving kids to college, or other long trips.
The Clarity boasts a 110 MPGe rating, just 4 MPGe lower than its BEV sibling. It can also operate as a 42 MPG hybrid when it is depleted of charge. The EPA says your energy costs will be about $700 per year in the Clarity PHEV. Since gas is affordable, and electricity is not in many areas, the Clarity BEV will cost you $600. Why buy a BEV with a range of 89 miles when you can buy a PHEV with an EV range of 48 miles and a total range of 340? We don’t mean that rhetorically. Why would you do that? Please tell us below in the comments section if you can think of a justification. Even though the BEV Clarity was launched many months ahead of the PHEV, the PHEV Clarity is outselling the BEV by about 8 to 1.
Honda Clarity – The Drive
The Clarity is buttery-smooth in all situations. It is also almost silent in operation in all situations. Honda has a gas engine in there somewhere, but it is hard to tell when it engages or disengages. It’s that seamless. Even after you deplete the all-EV-range of 48 miles, you will still be covering a lot of EV miles. The regenerative braking adds a lot back. By the way, if you want to feel that regenerative braking Honda has paddle shifters (see video at bottom of story), but if you want the brakes to feel totally normal, do nothing.
Drivers can also opt to use the EV-range where it has the most impact (in town and in traffic). If you have some open highway ahead, tap HV mode and cruise efficiently using a sip of gas. Then return to PHEV mode when you exit. Smart. Most PHEVs have this simple feature, but most don’t couple that with an impressive 48 miles of EV range.
In addition to its refined drivetrain, the Clarity also is silky smooth over all road surfaces, even broken up roads. This car is really special. If you like your car to be silent and comfortable this is the car for you. If you want a more dynamic driving experience Honda is still your brand. Start your search with the very diverse Civic line. You really can’t beat the Civic for bang for the buck. The last two we tested returned 40 MPG in real world driving.
Speaking of bang for the buck, our $37,490 Clarity Touring trim sure sounds expensive. Except, as all educated green vehicle consumers know, nobody – ever – pays full price for any green car in this country. We tested the Clarity in Massachusetts. The state has done an admiral job of corralling together all the green cars available locally on its Drive Green website. It shows the green cars available from specific dealers’ inventory and the cost at the end of all the discounts and incentives. The Clarity Touring presently sells in my area for about $22,000. That is roughly half the price a smaller Tesla Model S costs buyers in my area. Remember, Tesla lied to you about the $35K starting price. Nobody has bought a Tesla Model 3 for less than around $40K after incentives in my state. Most paid more.
And that Clarity price comparison is for the fully-loaded Touring Clarity vs a base Model 3. Base Clarity cars are selling for as low as $19K right now in both RI and Mass. (These two states combine their green car websites).
Interior & Infotainment
As good as the Clarity is to drive, we were even more pleased with the Clarity’s interior. No pretend-green plastics seats (Tesla). Honda went with perforated leather. No recycled hemp waste for the dash (BMW). Honda instead chose premium microfiber and stylish matte wood. This is a car that has many luxury elements more expensive competitors do not offer.
The infotainment system is also a breath of fresh air. A big, clear screen with no clutter is the centerpiece. Honda offers both Apple CarPlay and also Android Auto. No Tesla offers this. No Toyota offers this. No Lexus offers this. We rocked Waze and Pandora from Android Auto and found Honda’s system one of the best in the business at any price point. This is modern infotainment at its best. You will love it even more if you are not a fan of knobs.
Competitive Analysis & Opinions
Suddenly, the world is awash in affordable fantastic compact and midsize cars with PHEV drivetrains. We have tested the Hyundai Ioniq PHEV and liked it. We also remain loyal Prius Prime fans here at Torque News. However, this Clarity seems bigger, more refined, and simply better than what the competition has been offering at this price point. This new Clarity is a hard car to ignore if one is shopping for a green car. Simply said, it would be our first suggestion to anyone who wanted a green car.
That said, are you shopping for a car of any type? Most people are not. Crossovers are all the rage and they have the cargo, lifestyle, safety, and visibility benefits to justify that popularity. As much as I loved this Clarity one thing haunted me the week I tested it. Why didn’t Honda use the all-wheel drive CR-V platform for its latest PHEV? That’s a vehicle we think the public is dying for. If Honda or any leading affordable automaker wants to put up big green vehicle sales numbers it need only bring us a green vehicle as good as this Clarity but packaged as an AWD compact crossover.