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Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid satisfies competing demands for space, efficiency

In the past year, Honda has birthed a trio of midsize electrified sedans. They share a platform and campaign under a shared name — Clarity — but run distinct powertrains.

There’s a hydrogen fuel-cell Clarity that’s available only in California and a Clarity EV that can be had in just two states; California and Oregon. Both are offered by lease only.

The Clarity Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV), is the only one of the three that can be purchased outright and the only to be sold in all 50 states.

The Clarity plug-in slips into a lightly occupied space in the electrification landscape. About the same size as the company’s midsize Accord, it’s larger, more comfortable and better equipped than the compact and subcompact hybrids that dominate the market.

Heavier and more powerful than most PHEVs, Clarity has a more substantial feel and presence.

It’s more spacious than most, as well, with legitimate room for five passengers. 

47-mile electric-only range

The Clarity PHEV can be had in base ($34,295) or Touring ($36,600) trims. Both are powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine mated with a hybrid system built around a 17-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Total system output is 212 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque.

Clarity’s efficiency numbers — 42 mpg combined/44 city/40 highway — are less gaudy than those of smaller and less expensive competitors like Toyota’s Prius Prime and the Hyundai Ioniq PHEV. 

The EPA rates the Clarity’s electric-only range at a segment-leading 47 miles, and at speeds of up to 100 mph. With its 7-gallon fuel tank, it has a range of 308 miles in city driving and 280 miles on the highway.

Using a 240-volt outlet, the Clarity’s battery pack can be fully charged in about 2-1/2 hours, compared with the 12 hours required of a standard 120-volt wall plug. 

Both trims are well equipped, with standard features that include keyless entry and start, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two USB ports, an eight-speaker sound system, and the Honda Sensing suite of driver-assistance features.

The Touring trim adds power-adjustable front seats, leather upholstery, navigation and remote climate-control preconditioning.

Upscale and clever cabin design 

Simulated open-pore wood trim and suede accents lend the cabin an upscale ambience. Materials quality and fit-and-finish are impeccable. The touchscreen is mounted in a horizontal, tablet-style panel and flanked by virtual buttons. The system’s menus are relatively straightforward, but the graphics are dated and the small touch-points are hard to actuate while driving. 

The audio system volume slider is particularly useless; I defaulted to the steering-wheel-mounted rocker instead. 

Cabin space is effectively utilized. A push-button gear selector tops a floating console with a large, open storage space below it. There’s also a large console bin, two size-adjustable cupholders and door pockets.

Clarity’s rear seatbacks are fixed, limiting formal cargo space to the trunk’s modest 15.5 cubic feet. 

Driver aids include a multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning and mitigation, lane-keeping assist and Honda LaneWatch. 

Crisp dynamics MIA

The Clarity’s dynamics lack the crisp and direct qualities typical of Honda products. 

The battery pack is mounted low in the chassis, bringing down Clarity’s center of gravity, but its suspension settings favor a gentle ride and abundant body lean in corners. The electronically assisted steering system is lightly weighted but communicates a modicum of road-surface information and has a solid on-center groove.

Three driver-selectable drive modes alter pedal responses and acceleration. The driver may also choose from four regenerative-braking settings and three battery-charge management modes.

The 0-60 sprint consumes 8.4 seconds. With the battery depleted, the 130-hp 1.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine labors to climb hills and pass slower traffic.

 The declining viability of diesel and the constant threat of gas-price hikes are spurring growth in the PHEV segment. From a single entry in 2011, it has grown to include more than two dozen choices.

The 2018 Honda Clarity PHEV takes its place among them as a new and worthy choice.

2018 Honda Clarity PHEV Touring
Vehicle base price: $34,295
Trim level base price: $36,600
As tested: $37,490 (includes destination and handling)
Options: Our Touring trim tester came without options.
EPA rating: 110MPGe
                   42 combined/44 city/40 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified
 



Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.