Test Drive: 2018 Honda Clarity PHEV Touring
Honda is the Goldilocks of elecrified vehicle manufacturers — it has figured out the one that is just right, the 2018 Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid.
Most hybrid and all-electric vehicles are small to save weight and increase range and mileage. The new Clarity PHEV (as it is officially known) is a genuine midsize car with ample seating for five adults and a huge amount of cargo space behind its deceptively small trunk lid
Almost all other plug-in hybrids can go about 20 miles on a full charge before switching over to a combination of gas and electric power. The Clarity gets 48 miles of electric-only power on a full charge, enough for a full day of travel for the average driver. Only the Chevy Volt does better, and it doesn't have as much interior room.
And — although some people may disagree — the Clarity looks cool, not dorky like the many electrified vehicles. The exterior styling is futuristic without being too Buck Rogers. The partially covered rear wheels are reminicent of the revolutionary Renalt 16 of the 1960's, considered to be the first success hatchback family car with front-wheel-drive (like the Clarity). The interior design is refreshingly restrained, with a gauge cluster that prioritizes readability over razzle-dazzle.
In truth, Honda also makes two other versions of the Clarity that, like the fairy tale, don't quite hit the sweet spot. One is powered by a hydrogen fuel-cell and only available for lease in California. The other is all-electric model that get just 89 miles of range on a full charge, which cannot compete with the 239 offered by the Chevy Bolt and the 150 available from the 2018 Volkswagen Golf e and the second-generation Nissan Leaf, even though all three are smaller vehicles.
Like every other manufacturer, Honda hasn't been able to solve the price problem with the 2018 Clarity PHEV. It still costs more than similary equipped gas-only midsize cars, largely because of the high cost of batteries. But, with a base price of $34,290, it is about as much as the smaller Bolt, Leaf and Golf e, while still operating as an all-electric vehicle most of the time. And when you want to go on a long trip, the hybrid mode will extend the range to 340 miles before refueling.
In a week of daily driving, we found our test 2018 Honda Clarity PHEV to be an enjoyable ride. It felt solid and was very comfortable to drive, thanks in part to its well-sprung suspension. Although not overly fast, it could move briskly when pressed and the gas engine kicked in to help drive the front wheels. Mostly, though, it was remarkably smooth and quiet.
For drivers who want even more control, the Clarity offers three drive modes— Eco, Normal and Sport — which provide increasingly aggressive performance. The braking system has four settings controlled by paddle shifters, although none allows for one-pedal driving.
Our positive impression was enhanced by the leather trim and other amenities that come with the Touring version. But even the base model comes standard with a lot of equipment, including Honda Sensing driver-assistance features. All models qualify for federal and state financial incentives that could significantly reduce the purchase price for some buyers.
American consumers have been reluctant to go electric as long as gas prices remain relatively low. With all it has to offer, the 2018 Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid should help change that thinking. I went all week on electricity only and got the equivilent of 200 miles per gallon.
2018 Honda Clarity PHEV Touring
Base price: $34,290
Price as tested: $37,490
Type: Midsize plug-in hybrid
Powertrain: 1.5-liter inline 4 and AC electric motor (212 hp, 232 ft-lbs)
Transmission: Direct drive
EPA estimated mileage: 48 EV; 42/44 hybrid; 110 MGPe combined
Overall length: 192.7 inches
Curb weight: 4,050 pounds
Final assembly: Sayama, Japan