While Honda has been well known for its conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, its hybrid lineup typically tends to be forgotten when compared to Toyota. This is unfortunate as Honda has been in this game for almost as long. Starting with the Insight many years ago and now with the 2018 Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid (PHEV), one of the world’s largest manufacturers of combustion engines aims to hit the electrification market hard.
Looking like an odd hybrid (pun intended) between the current Accord (reviewed here) and Civic (reviewed here), the Clarity offers some distinction of its own by sporting a tiny arch cover over the rear wheels. Some might say its a throwback to the original Insight which had a near identical feature while others might say it’s for aerodynamics. Aside from that and the extra port on the drivers side for charging and the pronounced “Plug In Hybrid” badging, one can easily mistake the front end for an Accord. The rest of the body however, feels more like the Civic hatchback – almost.
This is a good thing as the Clarity offers extremely roomy cabin space as well as trunk storage that’s almost identical to the Accord. With my 5’10” frame in the driver’s seat, I still had plenty of room in the back for two full-sized adults to fit very comfortably. Finding a good driving position is a simple task thanks to the six-way manual adjustable seats that feel straight out of the Civic. They’re comfortable, have plenty of adjustment and come standard with heating for those who enjoy toasty buns. Vision lines are clean with minimal frontal view blockage and aside from the thick B-pillar (a standard gripe these days thanks to roll over safety laws), being aware of your surroundings comes easy.
The optional leather-wrapped steering wheel in our Touring trim tester fell on hand quite comfortably and for most part, didn’t block the dash view. In an interesting deviation from the norm, Honda has opted out of the standard gear lever shifter and instead resorted to buttons for a gear selector. This might be jarring to some initially but thought has been placed as to how these buttons operate. Park is a normal button, reverse is a pull trigger, neutral and drive are both standard buttons – all laid out in the exact same fashion as any old fashioned lever pattern. By eschewing the use of a big lever, Honda has carved out a large swathe of storage space underneath this panel of buttons, offering a large booth capable of storing a medium-sized purse or even a small bag of groceries.
Splashing itself in the middle of the interior is a monolithic 8″ touchscreen which Honda has graced with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities and also an optional Garmin-powered navigation system. The screen is bright and easy to read even on the sunniest of days but the suede-like trim that cuts behind it across the entire console betrays the sleek look of this interface. It’s an odd choice to an otherwise clean and elegant design that’s accentuated with faux deep brown wood trim.
As you start the vehicle, the silence can be refreshing. The 17 kWh battery will muster the 181 horsepower, 232 lb-ft. electric motor to pull the vehicle along with nary a sound. As far as all-electric range goes, this vehicle is rated for up to 76 kilometers without touching any gasoline but as with all other electrics, this comes with a heavy asterisk. In our testing with the unusually long winter stretching into April, the car could only muster just over 40 km before having to fire up the 1.5 liter, 103 horsepower, 99 lb-ft. Atkinson cycle, four-cylinder engine. Its noise when kicking in was not too noticeable and while it can be heard under heavy acceleration, it’s not intrusive. Combining the two engine outputs yields a net of 212 horsepower which is very respectable.
This heavy stagger on the electric versus gasoline engine outputs means the Clarity can hustle itself along quickly if electric power is had on hand and yet be equally meek when the juice is out. Given the fact that most buyers in this market will be going for strictly fuel economy, the Clarity managed to eke out a miserly 3.9L/100km in almost 560km of driving. Range anxiety? None to be had here. Honda rates the combined electric/gasoline economy at 2.1Le/100km and officially the gasoline at 5.3, 5.9 and 5.6L/100km for city, highway and combined respectively.
Going back and forth across ends of the golden horseshoe, I had to haul some work tools and luggage around and this is where the aerodynamic shape of the vehicle that so greatly gave headroom for the rear passengers, starts to reveal its weaknesses. The trunk on paper, appears to be decent at 439 liters of space but there’s a hump towards the rear making for an uneven surface (likely where the batteries get tucked into the body).
This makes the space less friendly should you need to put large rectangular objects like suitcases into the trunk. What further adds to the illusion of space is that the car looks like a liftback and sightlines from the front look like you can reach into the back (you can’t) which means there’s wasted vertical space above where the actual trunk space is. Granted, you can fold down the seats to extend the horizontal dimensions but one could only wish this was indeed a proper liftback to fully utilize that volume.
In terms of actual driving dynamics, the car’s suspension felt well damped and somewhat tight with a surprisingly responsive chassis. On-ramps and curves could be had with a modicum of enjoyment and fun can be had in deciding whether to save on the pump or keeping speed through the bends. Potholes and cracks are quite readily soaked up and the hush of the cabin does a wonderful job keeping the outside world, well, outside.
With the stiff competition like the Hyundai IONIQ (reviewed here) and the Toyota Prius Prime, the 2018 Honda Clarity Touring is an interesting choice that outpowers both. My best summation of the car is that it’s a larger Civic with great potential for efficiency. Given that our highest end trim Touring edition tester costs $45,682, current Ontario rebates bring it down to $32,682. The Clarity offers more power over rivals and makes for a real challenger to the IONIQ for those who dislike the Prius’ looks. City folks rejoice, electrification is here and the palette of choices leaves plenty of food for thought.