Except for the exotic high-performance Acura NSX 2-seater, Honda isn’t in the business of producing low-volume specialty vehicles. Yet the Honda Clarity sedan, which up until very recently was available only as a fuel-cell or full electric vehicle, belongs to a very exclusive club. Honda moved barely a thousand of the green midsize sedans as of the end of 2017, and most of those in California. But with the 50-state-available plug-in hybrid version just introduced this month, the prospects for you seeing and driving with Clarity are looking much better.
You probably already know the difference between plug-in and conventional hybrids. Just in case you don’t, both types of vehicle have a gasoline engine, an electric motor, and a battery. A plug-in hybrid offers electric-only driving at higher speeds and for much longer distances, courtesy of a larger battery and more powerful electric motor. When a plug-in hybrid is out of electric driving range, the gasoline engine starts and the car operates just like a conventional hybrid vehicle. It gets its name from the electric charge cable that you plug in to the grid to charge the battery, whereas a conventional hybrid car keeps its battery charged by running the engine and using the brakes.
Sure, plugging the car in is an extra step and our lives are already busy enough, but forgo it and you’ll miss out on some fossil-free miles of electric-only propulsion, about 47 of them in the Clarity’s case. And that could be enough range to run back and forth to the office or run a few errands without burning a drop of gasoline.
Function takes precedence over form
Ask most any Prius owner and they’ll tell you they like the fact that their Toyota is different from most cars, with a look and a planet-saving mission that sets it apart. The Clarity 4-door sedan’s design also distinguishes it from the mainstream midsize crowd.
Call it an Accord in a Power Ranger suit, complete with an LED-strewn cyborg face and armor-clad rear fender skirts that signal aerodynamic design. Additional aero measures you can’t see include a full body underpan, and the Clarity features air curtains that smooth the passage of air over the wheel wells, the front curtains getting their air through ports in the front fascia and the rears drawing through slits in the rear doors. Skirts cover the top half of the rear wheel wells, “Pimp My Ride” Buick Roadmaster-style. It’s maybe just a bit thick looking as a result.
But that’s exactly what you’d imagine coming from an engineering-driven company with a keener focus on performance than consumer clinic opinions. Honda’s description of the Clarity on its website contains nary a mention of dash-to-axle ratios, broad shoulders, an aggressive front fascia, or a coupe-like roofline. This car is about design, at the same time that it isn’t.
A skosh longer, taller and wider than the 2018 Honda Accord, but with a wheelbase some three inches more abbreviated than the Accord’s, the Clarity ends up with a somewhat ungainly front overhang. The tall tail not only helps reduce turbulence as air exits over the rear of the car but it also makes for a deeper trunk.
At 15.5 cubic feet, the Clarity plug-in’s cargo area is midsize appropriate, nearly as large as the 2018 Honda Accord’s. That figure is also nearly double the size of the Ford Fusion Energi’s trunk and about 50 percent more commodious than the luggage space in the Chevy Volt, the Hyundai Sonata Plug-in, and the Kia Optima Plug-in. And because the Clarity’s battery resides under the floor and there are no hydrogen tanks to get in the way as there are in the fuel-cell version of this car, the rear seats fold down to accommodate longer items. Honda says it will even hold four golf bags.
If the trunk impresses, know that the Clarity’s best space is in what Honda calls an “advanced modern lounge.” Okay, it’s just an interior, but it comes off as feeling roomy and upscale.
The instrument panel is sleek and uncluttered and high-quality mouse fur, or ultra-suede, adorns the dash and door panels. The heated front seats are on the comfy side with soft bottom cushions and mildly supportive backrest torso wings, while the rear perches can easily handle three adults in full go-to-church attire. The electronic push-button shifter, spread out over the forward part of the console, actually looks like it makes sense in the Clarity.
An 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system is standard, equipped with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration, HD Radio, SiriusXM, Pandora, SMS text message function, and Siri Eyes Free. Two USB ports are provided, along with an 8-speaker, 180-watt sound system. The high-resolution display also acts as a multi-angle backup monitor with dynamic guidelines, but sadly there are no redundant volume or tuning knobs as in the new Accord.
As with the Prius, Honda says many interior materials are derived from recycled or plant-based content. There’s not much stash space atop the console but a big, purse-sized bin under the shifter and forward part of the console can easily handle a tablet. Each front door holds three bottles. Door armrest sides are padded but not the sides of the console, making hard contact against the knees.
Sightlines to the front at least are very good, with thin windshield pillars, offset mirrors and small triangular side windows ahead of the front doors. The Clarity’s high tail presents a visibility challenge creatively addressed with a novel rectangular viewing slot between the back seat headrests and an “oven door” window at the rear of the luggage lid, enabling the driver to literally see through the trunk and view objects directly behind the Clarity that would otherwise be obscured. This approach works well, provided you don’t stack the trunk high with stuff.
Driving with Clarity
In normal driving, the Clarity Plug-in operates as an electric car, propelled in near silence by its Honda-designed 181-horsepower 4-stage synchronous electric motor and drawing energy from a fairly large 17-kWh lithium-ion battery. While that’s slightly smaller than the Chevy Volt’s 18.4-kWh energy source, it’s nearly twice as large as the battery in the Toyota Prius Prime, Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in, or Kia Optima Plug-in and more than double the capacity of the electric energy source in the Ford Fusion Energi.
A 103-horsepower 1.5-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder gasoline engine is hooked to a generator, operating only when needed to recharge the big battery and provide extra current to the electric motor for greater power or acceleration demands, such as when passing or climbing a steep hill. The engine can also automatically couple directly to the drive motor via a clutch to drive the front wheels such as when cruising at high speeds. No driver interaction is required.
However, as with many other cars on the road today, the driving experience can be customized with driver-selectable operating modes. Using console-mounted buttons, the driver can choose between Econ, Normal and Sport modes which provide increasingly sharper throttle mapping and acceleration response along with an associated reduction in fuel efficiency. At engine start, the Clarity always defaults to the Normal mode.
There’s a fourth mode, too. By pushing the HV mode button on the console, the driver can choose to maintain the battery’s charge level, say during a long interstate trip, by running the engine more in order to save electric power for later use.
Total system output including the electric motor and gasoline engine is 212 horsepower.
On the road
At more than 4000 pounds, the Clarity Plug-in is no lightweight despite extensive use of high-strength steel and aluminum. The big 17-kWh battery has some heft to it.
On the road, the Clarity’s ride is firm but not harsh over impacts with good body damping. With the hybrid battery under the cabin floor, the Clarity’s chassis benefits from a low center of gravity, helping to reduce fore/aft pitching and body roll in turns. The fairly quick 2.41:1-ratio dual-pinion steering gear has a natural heft if a bit light coming off-center, but like most electric systems has less than optimal road feedback.
Braking, on the other hand, is surprisingly organic with a good blending of hydraulic and regenerative systems. Pedal feel is crisp and fairly linear without the two-step and unpredictable response that plagues some hybrids and electric cars. The Clarity’s 235/45R18 Michelin Energy Saver tires have a fairly wide footprint, and if you drive the car like it’s a cosseting midsize sedan that’s also capable of Prius-like fuel economy, that is plenty of tire for most situations. I heard nary a squeal.
The steering wheel paddles aren’t used for shifting gears (the Clarity has no transmission) but adjust the amount of regenerative deceleration. So don’t call them paddle shifters; they’re deceleration selectors. Pushing the right paddle increases the rate of deceleration, pushing the left one minimizes it. And just like paddle shifters, after some seconds the regen braking function returns to the baseline setting unless the driver has selected Sport mode.
It’s quiet and Zen-like inside the Clarity, with no appreciable wind rush around the mirrors or the base of the windshield. There was absolutely no whirring of electric motors or clicking of relays to be heard. Credit a comprehensive noise-reduction effort including acoustic glass used for the windshield and front doors, as well as triple door seals. The only acoustic intrusions amounted to some boom from the tires over aggregate surfaces and a very hard-working 4-cylinder engine trying to keep the system charged on steep, highway uphill grades.
On a fully charged battery, I headed out on a 120-mile route from California’s Napa Valley that took me over one mountain range, several inland valleys and varied hilly terrain at highway speeds in search of the 47-mile all-electric plug-in range. Interestingly, the average fuel economy readout was 199.9 mpg with a full charge.
Purposefully avoiding heavy accelerator pedal use that might cause the engine to fire up, this time the Clarity got only about 40 miles of EV range before the engine kicked in. Because the Clarity is so quiet in normal operation, I didn’t even notice the engine running and had to rely on the dash readouts. Later in the day after several restarts for snacks and photos, I saw an indicated 58.2 average mpg in Normal mode mixed driving after the initial EV range was used up.
As with the all-new 2018 Accord, Honda Sensing is standard on the Clarity. It includes adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, Road Departure Mitigation, lane departure warning, and lane keeping assist. Oddly, and especially in consideration of the car’s high rear end, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are missing. Instead, Honda touts its LaneWatch passenger mirror-mounted camera that sends a wide-angle image of the right side of the car to the center display when the right turn signal is activated. LaneWatch does not, however, cover the left side of the Clarity.
If the car drifts across painted lines without signaling, the lane departure warning system delivers a haptic wobble to the steering wheel. You can avoid this by engaging the lane keeping assist system, which works for about a minute without your hands on the steering wheel. The switch to turn it on or off is on the steering wheel.
No range anxiety
Think of the Clarity Plug-in as a roomy, luxurious, reasonably peppy (0-60 mph in around 7.5 seconds) electric car, but without the range anxiety. It will go 340 miles on one tank of gas and one charge, whereupon you can just refill the gas tank and be on your way, the Clarity functioning as a conventional hybrid with an EPA-estimated 42 mpg in combined rating.
To use the estimated 47 miles of electric-only range, you’ll need to first plug the car in. If your garage is equipped with a 240-volt outlet, Honda says the Clarity will recharge its big, low-profile 17-kWh lithium-ion battery in 2.5 hours using a level-two 32-amp charger. Otherwise, recharging stretches to 12 hours with a conventional 120-volt house outlet.
At the end of the day, the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid’s driver’s seat is a pleasant place to spend some time. The base model ($34,290) comes with cloth and vinyl seats, manual seat adjustments, and a urethane steering wheel whereas the Touring trim ($37,490) brings leather seating, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power front seats, driver seat memory and navigation with voice recognition and traffic info. Prices include the $890 destination fee.
Dialing in the $7,500 federal tax credit (while it’s still available!) makes the Clarity PHEV a more interesting proposition. Also, it is worth noting that the battery warranty is 8 years/100,000 miles or 10 years/150,000 miles, depending on the state in which the car is purchased.
The Clarity’s robotic styling is either intriguing or off-putting depending on your individual taste, but it certainly is a welcome respite from a vehicular population teeming with crossover SUVs. Honda hopes to sell (or lease) about 75,000 Clarity models over four years, including fuel cell, electric and plug-in hybrid drivetrains. Those are not exactly mass-market numbers, but on the leading edge of Honda’s Electrification Initiative, wherein two-thirds of Honda’s new models will offer some level of electrification by 2030, the Clarity is setting the table for the automaker’s future.
Gallery: 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell Photos
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Source : http://www.nydailynews.com/autos/latest-reviews/first-drive-2018-honda-clarity-plug-in-hybrid-review-article-1.3710909