2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid: Review — Cars.com

plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are a
strange phenomenon theoretically they’re a great idea you plug the car in charge
a battery pack and then you get to drive a certain number of miles on electric
power before a gas engine turns on and keeps you moving the problem is that so
many models of this description have such a short electric range we’re
talking about in the teens of miles or maybe the 20s and that is why when an
automaker seems to have done it right we take notice and that is the case with
the Honda clarity plug-in hybrid note that I’m talking about one type of Honda
clarity there are two other versions one runs on battery power alone and another
has a hydrogen fuel cell system those who are pretty limited in their appeal
the one with more broad appeal across the nation is the plug-in hybrid version
now before we go for a ride let’s talk about the numbers which are really
important the epa-estimated electric vehicle range
for the clarity is 48 miles which is pretty good the Chevy Volt is just a
little bit more at 53 miles but here’s the thing because of our driving history
and the fact that the weather has been favorable we’ve had temperatures in the
80s and 90s we’ve been seeing projected ranges of 58.5 miles at the highest when
the battery is full and we are getting that now if you have winter weather and
it’s colder or you drive more aggressively around Hills will that
number be lower yes and history suggests it might even be lower than the EPA
estimate but understand that that is going to be the case with any plug-in
vehicle now key to maximizing your range with any plugin is conditioning the
cabin ahead of time which is a fancy way of saying cooling it down or heating it
up before you go driving and that is because when you’re driving an electric
mode all the power for heat and air conditioning comes from the battery and
that just steals your range so it’s best to precondition the cabin when it is
still connected to the charging system and you’re using grid power we were
really pleased to see with the clarity that it includes a key fob based
system for turning on the air conditioning or heat remotely and
there’s also a provision for it on the app now the phone that we were provided
didn’t have a mobile plan so we didn’t get to test it fully but it does have a
fair number of features on it actually shows you more on it than you can see
inside the car if you buy a clarity plug-in Hybrid you are going to want 240
volt level 2 charging which is this unit here or another one like it that’s
currently plugged in and I’ll tell you why
partly because when you go to precondition the cabin you’re getting
five times more power that way we tried to cool down the cabin of the clarity
sitting in the Sun using the provided household voltage 120 volt system and it
just couldn’t cut it likewise if you are charging using this you’re adding about
four to five miles of range for every hour of charging so when the battery is
empty that’s up to 12 hours and that’s just not fast enough now if you get a
level two system that is capable of 30 amps or higher then you will be able to
charge the battery completely at about two and a half hours you’re adding about
20 miles of range for every hour of charging it’s well worth the investment
overall we’re pretty impressed with the driving experience in the clarity it
kind of recalls the Chevy Volt when it is in its electric mode because it has
pretty robust acceleration on electric power alone and it’s pretty linear in
ways that hybrid cars often aren’t with a hybrid sometimes the gas engine turns
on it turns off it’s a little jerky it’s not what your average car enthusiast
really wants but it is efficient now because it can run an electric mode
alone no gas it’s much more natural in linear now one difference is in the
Chevy Volt even if you stand on the accelerator it’ll stay electric
propulsion only in this car if you really got it
it will turn the engine on for a maximum power for what it’s worth when I said
you have to stand on it to trigger the gas engine here in the flatlands where
cars calm is headquartered i drove a few days without turning on the gas engine
without even really thinking about it so there is enough power for normal driving
in electric-only mode there’s actually a section of the gauge that’s gray it’s
almost like the red line on a tachometer but in this case it’s the grey line and
if you keep the needle or virtual needle out of that area the gas engine won’t
turn on there’s a definite difference in the feel of the drivetrain when you’re
in hybrid mode now hybrid mode means either you’ve activated hybrid mode to
maintain your state of charge on the battery or the electric charge from
plugging into the wall is depleted and you’ve got electric and gas it’s not
quite as inconsistent as a regular gas electric hybrid but it is definitely not
as linear and and a natural feeling as the car behaves when it is running on
electric power alone now there are some quirks though in this system and one of
them involves the braking not the regular braking which is actually pretty
decent pedal feel not to be confused with a normal car but when you drive a
hybrid or a pure battery electric you get regenerative braking the brake pedal
feels a little spongy there’s some of that here no question the issue is with
the selectable regenerative braking which is something many electric or
plug-in hybrid cars offer you where you can change the amount that it
decelerates when you lift off the accelerator now the weird thing about
this car is the way you activate a different level of regenerative braking
and that is through hitting the shift paddle what we usually see is a shift
paddle there’s a negative here and a plus here so you do this and there are
up to four steps the problem is you have to do that every time and when I say
every time if you’re in the regular drive mode
you are driving forward you hit it a few times if you come to a stop or if a few
seconds go by it defaults to where it was makes no
sense whatsoever I have not met anyone that likes this system we prefer if you
just were able to set it and it stayed where you put it
the only way that happens is if you activate the sport mode in sport mode
the accelerator pedal is more sensitive and if you set that deceleration for
greater regeneration it stays there but there’s a big difference between sporty
driving and efficient driving at least in the drivers mind so I’d rather be
able to just set the regeneration the way I want it in any mode not in sport
regarding the handling I liked the balance in the car the weight
distribution bear in mind it has an electric motor and a gas engine up front
a big heavy battery pack in the rear that gives it a nice balanced low center
of gravity feels good the steering feel is actually quite good but I would not
call this a sports car and necessarily even a sporty car typical of this type
of vehicle the weak link is the tires they are designed for efficiency so they
don’t have the greatest grip in the world you can accidentally spin the
tires on dry pavement once you get on to wet stuff it’s probably gonna happen a
little bit more but by and large it’s not a bad car to drive overall we find
the ride quality to be quite good in the clarity it’s not soft but it’s not
overly firm pretty good comfort for the front seat and back seat occupants in
our opinion the shortcomings of the clarity are mainly about the multimedia
system which we really haven’t liked that much in other Honda vehicles
especially earlier ones because this model came out technically more than a
year ago it doesn’t have the volume knob and tuning knob that have since been
added it’s all a capacitive touch system and it’s actually pretty short on some
of the neat graphics and details you get in a lot of plug-in
either plug-in hybrid or just purely battery electric vehicles you do get
very simple bar graphs like this one there is the requisite seems a little
slow stick with me the requisite vehicle energy page so you can tell how much
range you have electric versus gas and that is repeated also in the instrument
panel but by and large we’re talking about what seemed like older graphics
for what is a brand-new car and to that end there’s kind of a shortage of
information from the charging system as well there’s a little green dot that
glows when the car is charging which is good to have but you look at some other
vehicles out there and you can tell by the number of of indicators or the
blinking or something helpful the battery is at a glance in this car
you’re just looking outside you’re seeing that it’s either charging or it
is not you do get more information on the app which is good but if you have a
full touchscreen system like this why not have it here too the clarity plug-in
hybrids closest competitor is the Chevrolet Volt with a V as in voltage
the plug-in hybrid very priced practically the same just over thirty
four thousand dollars with destination and eligible for a $7,500 tax credit the
range is longer on the Volt but the combined miles per gallon once the
electricity is used up is the same between the two cars at 42 miles per
gallon pretty good there now I’m sitting in the best place to see one of the
great advantages of this clarity is that it’s larger it’s got about two inches
more legroom almost an inch and a half more Headroom just a larger vehicle
overall and ultimately that can be useful for a family I wish the seat were
a little bit higher off the ground my knees are kind of pointing up which
unfortunately is pretty common these days and cars of all types here’s one
claim to fame the smartphone holder in the seat back now that’s innovation now
one area where it might seem the clarity has an advantage over the Volt is cargo
volume because the specs suggest that it has a few
cubic-feet but for what it’s worth the Volt is a hatchback and there’s always
some inherent advantage there even though the battery pack is a little bit
high it does have folding back seats which is good so you can extend in I’m
gonna say it’s probably a wash between the two models for versatility versus
overall cargo volume you can get a lot in here it’s just a kind of a strange
shape there’s no question the clarity has a lot to offer especially if you
want to get decent electric range in your plug-in hybrid which let’s be
honest if you’re going to get a car that can be plugged in the more range you can
get out of electric the better so in that regard this plug-in hybrid makes a
lot more sense than a lot of the vehicles on the market now and a lot of
the plug-in hybrids to come you