It’s ok if you’ve never heard of a Honda Clarity. This name was first introduced on the Honda FCX Clarity, which was a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle built from 2008 through 2014. This innovative car was available by lease only in Southern California, and Honda only leased out 46 of them in that time. A second-generation model, now called the Honda Clarity, launched in 2017, but it too was limited to certain areas of California and to leasing customers only.
For 2018, Honda has expanded the lineup for this fuel-efficient mid-size hatchback to include two all-new models: the all-electric Clarity EV and the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid. Since most of America will probably never see the Clarity Fuel Cell and the Clarity EV is currently only offered as a lease vehicle in California and Oregon, the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid is the mainstream offering of the Clarity lineup, and it’s the one we spent a week in for this test drive review.
2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid Exterior
Each of the three Clarity variants has a slightly different look, but they all have a surprisingly mainstream appearance. With the exception of the squared-off rear wheel openings, the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid looks more like your typical Accord sedan than a purpose-built electrified platform vehicle. That being said, this car is constructed with advanced, lightweight materials including ultra-high-strength steel, composite plastic steel and glass fiber reinforced plastic, and it uses aluminum for the hood, trunk, fenders and doors. The overall design is meant to maximize efficiency with aerodynamics including the air curtains for the front and rear wheels.
The front end of the Clarity Plug-In might be the most notable departure from other Honda vehicles with those plunging LED daytime running lights, but you still get the familiar upright grille and full-width chrome accent you see on everything from the Fit up to the Pilot. The sleek, rounded profile is about the same as the Accord, although it has a slightly chunkier rear end that results in the hatchback-like split rear glass; rest assured, the Clarity is most certainly a sedan with a separate – and sizeable – trunk.
2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid Interior
Generally speaking, most of today’s electrified vehicles make some sort of compromise whether it be a smaller interior, limited cargo room or some overly dramatic attempt at a futuristic cabin design, but that isn’t the case with the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid. The biggest difference in the Clarity’s cabin design is the stadium-style rear seat due to the packaging of the battery under the seats. This raised up view gives rear-seat passengers better visibility, but it created a challenge for rearward visibility for the driver, which was fixed by adding a cutout and window between the rear headrests.
The mid-size Clarity offers slightly less space than the Accord, but you’re not going to notice the difference. This car offers all of the space expected from a standard mid-size family sedan with 15.5 cubic feet of trunk space to ensure plenty of cargo room. Far more cabin space than similarly priced – yet smaller – plug-ins like the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius Prime.
The Clarity Plug-In comes in base and Touring trim levels, with the latter getting more luxury appeal with navigation, leather-wrapped steering wheel, perforated leather seats, an eight-way power driver’s seat and a four-way power passenger seat; both trim levels deliver a quiet cabin at highway speeds thanks to standard acoustic windshield and front door glass. This tester also had a suede-like material on the instrument panel and door panels as well as a dark, matte-finished wood accent trim throughout the cabin.
2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid Powertrain
Interestingly, the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid and the equally new Accord Hybrid feature the same total system output of 212 horsepower, but each car gets to that number in different ways. Under the hood of this plug-in Clarity is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine (rated at 103 horsepower and 99 lb-ft of torque) paired to a 181-horsepower electric motor. More importantly, this motor has 232 lb-ft of torque for smile-worthy off-the-line acceleration.
The end result of this powertrain is an EPA-rated all-electric driving range of 47 miles, which is almost as much range as the smaller Chevrolet Volt and almost double the EV range of family-friendly plug-ins like the Sonata PHEV, Fusion Energi PHEV and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. This is more than enough to cover the average daily commute, and the battery can be charged in just 2.5 hours from a 240-volt source (12 hours using a standard wall outlet). Plug-ins offer the inherent lack of range anxiety with the Clarity’s engine and seven-gallon gas tank providing an additional 300 miles of hybrid driving range. The official EPA-rated fuel economy estimates are 110 MPGe (in full EV mode) and 42 mpg combined when the battery is depleted **.
At 4,059 pounds, the Clarity Plug-In weighs 600 pounds more than a comparable Accord Hybrid Touring, but it certainly doesn’t feel as heavy to drive as that weight difference would suggest. In fact, with the lithium-ion battery pack fitted under the seats, this actually gives the Clarity a low center of gravity, which along with instant-torque acceleration, leaves this plug-in sedan feeling quite fun to drive.
2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid Safety
The 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid – along with the other Clarity models – has yet rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This car does come standard with all of the latest safety features, though, including Honda’s LaneWatch blindspot camera as well as Honda Sensing, which is a full suite of driver assistance technologies that includes Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Collision Mitigation Braking System, Road Departure Mitigation System, Lane Keeping Assist System and Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow.
2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid Overall
Although zero-tailpipe-emission cars are the goal for most automakers in the future, plug-in hybrids represent a fuel-efficient bridge until more advanced batteries and a better charging infrastructure make electric cars ideal for mainstream buyers. The 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid is the best example yet of how great these plug-in cars can be offering all the conveniences of a family-style EV without compromising on efficiency, style or comfort.
As you’d expect from a modern-day PHEV, the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid has a modest price premium over your standard mid-size sedan. The starting price of $33,400* is about $8,000 more than an Accord Hybrid, but this powertrain is far more advanced and efficient than a standard hybrid. Not to leave out the luxury-minded crowd, this Touring trim tester packed in plenty of added content and carried an as-tested price of $37,490, which is about what you can expect to pay for a fully loaded, non-hybrid mid-size sedan these days. Of course, these prices don’t include any available state or federal tax incentives.
Make sure to visit your local AutoNation Honda dealership and test drive the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid today!
*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.
**Based on 2018 EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending on specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.