First Drive: 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In


NAPA, California — Is it an Accord? Nope. Is it a Civic? Nope. It’s the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In, the newest addition to Honda’s lineup here in North America.

If the Clarity name sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Back in 2008, Honda launched the FCX Clarity, a hydrogen fuel cell-powered EV. Zap forward to 2016, and Honda introduced a second-generation Clarity fuel cell car, which we drove earlier this year.

But instead of confining the name to the water-emitting offering, Honda expanded the Clarity family to include an EV and a PHEV, providing buyers with more options for alternatively propelled automobiles—ones not limited to the state of California, at that. As promising as hydrogen fuel cells are on paper, they aren’t replacing internal combustion-powered ones anytime soon, in part due to limited availability and infrastructure.

There isn’t much separating the Clarity EV and PHEV exterior from its hydrogen-powered sibling except for different badges. All variants are 192.7 inches long, 73.9 inches wide, and 58.2 inches high—all within one inch of the Accord’s. The love-it or hate-it futuristic design, which resembles an enlarged computer mouse with four wheels and a motor, might be a bit polarizing, but it’s designed specifically with aerodynamics in mind, and helps to separate the Clarities from anything else in Honda’s current stable.

Entering the Clarity feels like stepping into a technologically advanced Accord. Thus, it’s spacious, easy to see out of, and comes with material quality and fit and finish close to Acura territory. This is actually a good thing as it keeps the Clarity from feeling too alien, despite all the futuristic things happening under the hood and skin.

The Clarity PHEV is anything but a traditional hybrid. For one, it makes do without the continuously variable transmission commonly found in hybrids. In fact, there’s no gear swapper period. Instead, the Clarity PHEV relies on its electric motor, which serves up 181 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque, for primary propulsion.

Instead of a CVT, the Clarity PHEV uses a direct-drive, single speed setup with a clutch that engages when specific situations demand some extra support from its 1.5-liter gasoline four-cylinder. Such scenarios typically involve the gas motor when the throttle surpasses the 2/3rds point, when cruising at highway speeds, or when the 17 kilowatt-hour, 168-cell lithium-ion battery, which offers a class-leading all-electric range of 47 miles when fully charged, runs out of juice. Floor it from a stop and the end result is a total of 212 horses.

On a quick day jaunt through Northern California’s world-renowned Napa Valley, it was interesting to see the Clarity PHEV’s EV range remain almost untouched while traveling at highway speeds as the gas engine worked in tandem with the electric motor to maintain forward momentum.

Despite its use of a bespoke platform, the Clarity drives like a heavyweight Accord. You feel a little extra heft from the Clarity’s two-ton curb weight incurred by the large battery pack, but the Clarity felt nearly as tossable while zipping up Napa’s tight mountainous roads of Napa, offering a solid chassis, commendable road-holding abilities, and surprisingly quick and accurate steering with a decent amount of road feel—for a plug-in hybrid.

Despite the seemingly endless chant that the internal combustion engine is doomed, Honda expects the Clarity PHEV to be the most popular variant. But this application is much less conventional than a normal gas-powered car, and even most hybrids. The Clarity PHEV isn’t here to catapult current drivers into the 22nd century, but rather, represent a transition point of easing new car buyers into the plug-in EV life, a future that most, if not all cars, will eventually see in the next decade.

The trend of trying to ease the automotive industry’s reliance on fossil fuels isn’t going anywhere. And with cars that drive as well as the 2018 Honda Clarity PHEV, it’s proof that automakers are willing to hold the hand of the consumers towards an electrified future, by making the transition as seamless as possible. That is, until cars like the hydrogen Clarity Fuel-Cell become more of the norm.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $34,290 (base)
POWERTRAIN 1.5 16-valve DOHC I-4/103 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 99 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm plus AC electric motor/181 hp @ 5,000-6,000 rpm, 232 lb-ft @ 0-2,000 rpm; combined/212 hp, 232 lb-ft
BATTERY Li-ion, 17-kWh
TRANSMISSION Single-speed
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD hatchback
EPA MILEAGE 44/40 mpg (city/hwy); 110 mpge
L x W x H 192.7 x 73.9 x 58.2 in
WHEELBASE 106.2 in
WEIGHT 4,052-4,059 lb
0-60 MPH 8.0 sec (est)
TOP SPEED N/A

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First Drive: 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In

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