2018 Honda Clarity Touring PHEV Review

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2018 Honda Clarity

I’ve always thought that Honda’s Clarity was hideous. The old car, and the new car. Keep in mind that I’m against plug-in-hybrid cars too. I won’t go over all the reasons as to why I think they’re completely bogus but the bottom line is that if you’re going to plug in a car every day, at every occasion, get a 100% EV.

So, combine my great displeasure with PHEVs and the Clarity’s physique and I was in for a loooong week with the car. On day one, I covered over 70km without ever using the gasoline engine. By day two, I was on the verge of converting. And it got better from there on in. My friends, I’m happy to report that Honda’s unlocked the true potential of a plug-in hybrid vehicle without fancy BS advertising and promises of unheard of technologies. They’ve decided to let the car do all the work and speak for itself. Now that’s a BRILLIANT plan!

Styling inside/out

We become so intolerant when we’ve got something against something, or someone. We’re close-minded and want nothing to do with whatever it is. The Clarity started off on the wrong foot with me as I was first exposed to the fuel-cell version. In two words, it was uninspiring, and boring. This did not help me out.

But now, when I browse through the gallery, I’m thinking to myself that everything from the “B” pillar rearward is not a visual aberration, it is uniqueness and form following function… This is in fact the reason why the Honda Clarity is shaped the way it is. Its many creases and rear wheel fender skirt are all about aerodynamics pushed to the max. Spending a week with the new Honda Accord also helped me digest the front fascia – it now reminds me of Optimus Prime’s face but stretched and mashed.

The cabin’s a far more normal affair. Perhaps what I find most wrong about it is that the car is new, to us, but features older Honda switchgear, gauges and technology. While the central display screen looks the part, it’s the one without buttons or nobs. It’s also where the abysmally distracting and pointless lane-watch camera display appears. The steering wheel too is lifted from older cars with oversized spokes and the odd volume switch.

The biggest issue with the Clarity’s innards is what they must have worked on the most: the floating transmission control bridge. The storage below it is great and I like the location of the USB plugs. Unfortunately, the edges of this bridge dig into my knees no matter the position. At 5’10” tall, I’m average. Another average-height person drove the car and was bothered by the same element. My spouse, who is shorter, was not encumbered but the edges.

Comfort/space

The 2018 Honda Clarity is designed as an alternative energy vehicle. There are electric versions, fuel-cell iterations as well as hybrids and as such, useable every day interior volume should not be affected as it can be in retrofitted cars. The boot is generous enough for regular use however, and given the car’s overall size, it should be greater than the advertised 440 litres.

The upside is that there’s an immense amount of room for passengers. The rear bench is wide and long, capable of taking on three side by side. I love the pockets in the seatbacks; there’s a smaller one for phones on top of the typical “map pockets.”

Up front, it’s all about storage spots and soft seats. While the perches are very comfortable for the short rides, I’m not sure they’d do the job for a long haul. About the storage, the door bins are large, then there’s the area below the bridge and under the armrest.

Value/equipment

This is an easy car to build. The base 2018 Honda Clarity PHEV retails for $39,900. If you want leather and the ability to select a colour, you’ll have to choose the Touring, my tester, and it sports a $43,900 sticker price.

Other than the leather, the Touring includes navigation, satellite and HD radio, and HomeLink. In other words, the base car is a far better option. Pick white or grey. That’s the only real choice.

Powertrain/handling

The driving experience is what really sold me on the Clarity. The lithium-ion battery has a 17 kWh capacity that when fully charged, endows the PHEV with up to 76 km of pure electric mobility. This number is roughly twice what you get is most other PHEV’s and what’s more, I never managed only 76… Indicated, I’d see 85 or more km. On day one, driving as I always do, I covered nearly 70 km without calling upon the gasoline engine for support.

Said internal combustion engine is an Atkinson cycle 1.5-litre 4-cylinder that develops 103 horsepower and 99 lb.-ft. of torque. Coupled to an electric motor capable of 181 horsepower and 232 torques, there’s no need to fret power-wise. The total system output is 212 horsepower at 5,000, which is plenty.

The E-CVT transmission and the system make for an entertaining drive. Once more, the FCV version was far less willing to get up and go. The massive torque gets the car up to speed while the paddle shifters slow it down. Paddle shifters? They activate brake regeneration in three steps – imagine downshifting three gears for max regen. The right hand paddle backs off the intensity. Unlike many EVs, regen intensity resets itself after only a few seconds. At the end of the week, after covering nearly 450 km, I needed only add 10.5 litres of fuel. The math is good.

The drive and overall comfort levels are excellent too. The suspension is calibrated for smooth operation which it delivered in droves. There’s nothing inherently sporty about the Honda Clarity, only efficient people transportation.

For the very first time, I find myself thinking that a plug-in hybrid is a real option. I’ve always been of the mind that if you’re going to plug a car in, make a real commitment – you don’t really need more than 200 km of range. The Clarity’s truly useable range make it possible to go somewhere, and return, on the same charge. And if I decide to cover a few hundred kilometers at once, I won’t have to deal with unforgivingly high fuel consumption.

As the wife and I are shopping for an EV, the Clarity would have made its way onto the shortlist had it not been for the bridge-knee issue.

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