Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: December 18, 2017
SCOTTSDALE, Arizona - The Clarity Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) is Honda’s vanguard towards mainstream electrification, replacing the Accord PHEV and delivering both practicality and efficiency in one mid-size package. Honda tells us that while most EVs are hindered by the balance between fuel efficiency and body size, the Clarity threads the needle in between the cracks and offers no compromises with cargo volume or electric range.
Their claims are rather impressive. Utilizing a 1.7kWh lithium ion battery in conjunction with a 1.5-litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder combustion motor, the Clarity PHEV produces a net output of 212 hp (181 electric, 103 engine), and 232 lb-ft (133 electric, 99 engine), and can reach an impressive 76 km on electricity alone, and up to 547 km when used with the engine. That outpaces most of its competitors like the Hyundai Sonata PHEV (43 km), Kia Optima PHEV (46 km), and Ford Fusion Energi (35 km). Only the Chevrolet Volt exceeds the Clarity’s electric-only range with a whopping 85 km. Charge time is roughly 2.5 hours with a Level 2 charger (240V), and 12 hours with a household outlet (120V).
While Honda’s ultimate goal is the utilization of fuel cell technology, current legislation and infrastructure hold it back. Honda Canada doesn’t plan on bringing a Clarity Fuel Cell or full EV to Canada - they say it’s not the right vehicle or platform to do the job, and think the PHEV will suffice in bringing an electric vehicle to the mainstream market.
The looks are certainly there. With visual cues leaning towards the robotic future, the Clarity’s bold yet inoffensive looks comes off as attractive, with a sloping front hood on the overhangs and potent LED lights. Design inspiration has clearly come from previous Honda models as well, like the rear wheel coverings from the first-generation Insight, that serves an aerodynamic purpose by decreasing wind turbulence entering the wheel well. The rear end also appears like the now defunct Crosstour - that black glossy bar bears an eerie resemblance.
The interior is what garnered most of my attention. Wonderfully designed, the cabin exudes a welcome atmosphere of functionality. Ergonomics are appropriate, the seats are supportive, the dashboard is wide and expansive, and I like it better than the new Accord’s. The fans are situated above the infotainment screen instead, making the screen feel more cohesive to the interior rather than just an iPad-like screen tacked on last minute. I am not so sure about those suede inserts running along the dashboard into the door panels, though, and how more conservative Honda customers might feel about them. Personally, I love the open pore wood flowing through the center console, and would rather see more of that instead.
Honda’s transition into an electronic button shifter, like the Pilot and Acura MDX, helps to free up precious real estate in the center console. Without the need for a bulky gear shifter, there is now a cubby underneath large enough for storing small bags and phones, followed by two cupholders and a deep center pocket as well. There is even a smartphone pocket on the front seatbacks, giving passengers a convenient place to store their devices.
There are a few things that bug me though, such as the exclusion of ventilated seats and a proper volume knob. The leather surfaces on the top-trim Touring model are wonderful but some crucial traffic areas are still left out like the top of the window sills where most drivers like to rest their arms. Honda says that there are no compromises with interior packaging but I have noticed that the roofline is incredibly low, and the raised up floorbed from the battery doesn’t help much with headroom either. While my six-foot figure did not have any problems, anyone taller might have to slouch down a bit in their chair. There is no sunroof option either.
We put the Clarity PHEV through its paces in the hills and flatlands north of Scottsdale, Arizona, where it exhibited exceptional body control and remained relatively flat on tight corners thanks to a low center of gravity from the floor-mounted battery. The steering, though numb, was well weighted, and still allowed us to place the Clarity where we wanted. Of course the limiting factor was the 18-inch Michelin Energi Saver A/S tires geared towards efficiency and reduced rolling resistance, and offers a firm ride on uneven pavement. Where it is smooth, the Clarity demonstrates excellent road manners. There were zero complaints from me over my six-hour drive through towns and suburbs. Cabin insulation is surprisingly good as well without much tire or wind noise seeping in through the cracks.
What really stood out to me was not the Clarity’s performance, but the refined and seamless marriage between electrons and fossil fuels. The transition from electric to combustion is smooth and only becomes apparent when the radio is off or if you are actively listening for that telltale thrum. The 1.5-litre engine does not always power the wheels directly (it only does under certain conditions like coasting at triple digit speeds where it is actually more efficient to power the wheels themselves rather than the battery), so you do not get that kick when it fires up either.
The gas pedal in the Clarity is unique. With other PHEVs, the combustion engine will kick in when it sees fit for optimum performance. With the Clarity however, the gas pedal is split into two sections. Once you press down past 80% of the way, your foot will encounter some resistance. Kick past that discernible barrier and the combustion engine will automatically flare up for assistance. This makes it easy to use electric range only without accidentally waking up the dragon. And if you travel less than 76 kilometres a day, you might never have to dirty your hands at a gas pump again.
That being said, the Clarity is not terribly quick off the line like other EVs. You don’t get that shove in the seatback like you would the BMW i3 or Chevrolet Volt. It is more of a gradual build up and might leave you feeling underwhelmed by its low-200 output figures. The Clarity will help you make the most of the powertrain though with three distinct driving modes: Econ, Sport, and HV (hold or charge). Econ ensures the engine will only kick in when absolutely necessary, Sport does the opposite, and HV mode allows you to hold the amount of juice in the batteries and maintain its state of charge. The latter is useful on the highway where it is generally more efficient to use combustion rather than electricity.
The Clarity takes advantage of regenerative braking, whereby letting off the gas pedal will slow the car and recharge the battery via kinetic energy. With some vehicles like the BMW i3, the amount of regenerative force is non adjustable, but with the Clarity there are four settings. The left paddle shifter mounted on the steering wheel will increase the regenerative force, while the right one will decrease it.
Surprisingly, the regenerative effect is rather smooth and gradual, and does not lunge occupants forward once letting off the pedal. That being said, the effect is not strong enough for you to drive with only one pedal, and even on steep hills it won’t slow down enough without the need for applying the brakes, but it is effective. My only criticism is that the regenerative strength setting resets every few minutes unless you are in Sport mode, meaning you will have to constantly click the paddles if you want the most from your battery.
The Clarity comes in two trim levels: Base ($39,900) and Touring ($43,900). The list of standard features are impressive like LED headlights, keyless entry and start, HondaSensing with LaneWatch, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, heated front seats, and a rear view camera. But the $4,000 surcharge for the Touring includes navigation, leather seating and leather steering wheel, suede dashboard, HomeLink remote system, and Sirius XM radio. I’d take the base model myself and forgo the tacky suede and use my phone with Apple CarPlay for maps, but Honda predicts 70% of the models to be Touring.
Be that as it may, the more impressive figure is the rebate that Canadians get from the government for purchasing these PHEVs. Claritys bought in Ontario get the maximum $14,000 credit, British Columbia $5,000, and Quebec $8,000. Do the math but those are attractive numbers. For a base Clarity in Toronto, I would be walking out the door with an MSRP of $25,900 before taxes. Don’t forget about the green plate that will let me hit up the HOV lane alone. Colour me impressed but this is by far the most enticing Honda sedan I have tested in a decade. Even a base Accord, and I mean the one with a manual transmission, will set you back a cool $26,490, and it only has 192 hp.
And with pricing out the way, Honda has paved a fast-line for Canadians to join the electric vehicle mania. The Clarity demonstrates a keen knowledge of the consumer market and offers a road-trip ready five-passenger sedan with enough electric-only mileage to seduce most commuters in the Greater Toronto Area. Whether or not the rest of us are willing to make the daring switch from fossil fuels remains to be seen, but the Clarity PHEV shines a bright and positive light on the future of mainstream electric vehicles, and shows us a world where compromise is but a bump on the road.
型号 Model: 2018 Honda Clarity PHEV Touring
顏色 Paint Type: Modern Steel Metallic
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $43,900
試車售價 Price as Tested: $43,900
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,750
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,895 / 1,902 / 1,478
車重 Curb weight (kg): 1,843
引擎 Powertrain: 17kW battery + 1.5-litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine
最大馬力 Horsepower: 212 hp (181 hp electric motor + 103 hp engine) @ 5,500 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 232 lb-ft (133 lb-ft electric motor + 99 lb-ft engine) @ 0 - 2,000 rpm
波箱 Transmission: e-CVT
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
油耗 Fuel Consumption ( Combined ) L/100km: 5.6 (2.1 Le/100km)
Range (electric only): 76 km
Range (combined): 547 km
輪胎尺碼 Tires: Michelin Energy Saver A/S 235/45R18