The 2018 Honda Clarity is available in Plug-in Hybrid, Electric and hydrogen Fuel Cell versions, making it the only model on the road to net such a hat trick of electrification. If you live in California at least, the Clarity gives you options about how to be green, while sharing the same midsize sedan dimensions, refined driving experience, comfortable and quiet cabin, and reassuring Honda ownership experience.
Of course, that California bit is key. You can only lease the Fuel Cell in the Golden State, which is also the only place where you can realistically fill it with hydrogen. The Electric at least expands its lease-only availability to Oregon, but that doesn’t really fix the fact that it’s saddled with a rather pathetic 89 miles of range.
As such, most people are going to be weighing the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid, which they definitely should, as it’s one of the more appealing examples out there. Not only does it score big on paper (its 48 miles of range is second only to the Chevy Volt’s), but it’s generally nicer to drive and spend time in than other plug-in hybrids.
What’s New for 2018?
The Clarity is all-new for 2018. Although its hydrogen-powered Fuel Cell version replaces a previous-generation model available in extremely limited quantities, the Plug-in Hybrid and Electric versions are new variations.
What We Like
Bigger, quieter and more comfortable than other electrified competitors; high-quality cabin; refined driving experience
What We Don’t
Frustrating last-gen infotainment and safety tech; Electric model’s meager range; hydrogen’s meager availability
$33,400-$36,600 (Electric and Fuel Cell are lease-only)
This is going to get complicated, so bear with us here.
The Plug-in Hybrid operates much like a regular electric car, for an ample 48 miles on electricity alone (only the Chevy Volt surpasses that among plug-in hybrids). When that’s depleted, it effectively runs like an Accord Hybrid, with a gasoline engine replenishing the battery (for the most part) while the electric motor continues to power the wheels. Regardless of the fuel economy achieved when operating as a hybrid (42 miles per gallon combined) or the mile-per-gallon equivalent rating (110 mpge), that ample range gives the Clarity a big-time advantage over plug-in hybrids like the Toyota Prius Prime for those who can plug in regularly. On the other hand, combined driving range is 340 miles, which is considerably less than other plug-ins because of its tiny 7-gallon gas tank.
The Clarity Electric removes the gasoline engine from the equation and adds batteries, therefore adding all-electric range. However, that range of 89 miles is rather pathetic given most electric cars are now in the 110-140-mile range, while the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3 top 200.
The hydrogen-powered Clarity Fuel Cell is available for lease only in California, which is the only place with any semblance of a hydrogen infrastructure. It has a fuel cell that chemically combines hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O) to create energy, the only byproduct being regular old water. The created energy is sent through an electric motor aided by a battery pack that’s replenished by the fuel cell and regenerative braking.
Now, for reasons too complicated to explain here, Clarity owners basically get their hydrogen for free, so its mpge rating of 69 mpg in the city, 67 mpg on the highway and 68 mpg in combined driving is only relevant in regards to how frequently you refill, as opposed to cost. This is basically the same as the hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai, but as the Clarity has a more powerful motor, you’ll be enjoying better performance with the Honda.
Standard Features & Options
The 2018 Honda Clarity is available in Plug-in Hybrid, Electric and Fuel Cell versions. Each isn’t available in every state, but all should be eligible for substantial tax rebates.
The Clarity Plug-in Hybrid is available in two trims: base and Touring. The base model ($33,400) comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, lane-keeping assist, forward-collision warning, Honda’s LaneWatch blind spot monitoring system, a backup camera, adaptive cruise control, automatic LED headlights, proximity entry and push-button start, dual-zone automatic climate control, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, cloth upholstery, heated front seats, a 60/40-split folding back seat, an 8-in touchscreen interface, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, two USB ports, satellite radio, HD Radio and an 8-speaker sound system.
The Plug-in Hybrid Touring ($36,600) adds leather upholstery, power front seats (8-way driver, 4-way passenger), a leather-wrapped steering wheel and integrated navigation.
The Clarity Electric is available for lease only in California and Oregon, and in only one trim level that equals the Touring’s equipment. The Fuel Cell is only available for lease in California and also shares the Touring’s equipment, but you do get $15,000 worth of free hydrogen.
The Clarity comes standard with stability and traction control, front side and full-length side curtain airbags, a driver-knee airbag, a backup camera, lane-keeping assist, a collision-mitigation system (forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking) and Honda’s LaneWatch blind spot monitoring system. The latter two items belong to Honda’s previous generation of safety systems, however. In other Hondas like the CR-V and Accord, LaneWatch has been replaced by a simpler yet arguably more effective blind spot monitoring system, while the collision-mitigation system has been enhanced with more natural brake application and smarter, less false-alarm-inducing software. The Clarity’s systems are akin to those in the cheaper Civic.
For those interested in the Fuel Cell but concerned with carrying hydrogen around in your car, the Clarity has been designed to withstand impacts to its two resilient carbon-fiber tanks. One must remember other cars drive around with extremely flammable gasoline.
Behind the Wheel
A back-to-back drive in the Clarity Plug-in and the Prius Prime (or most other plug-in hybrids) will reveal a car that’s far more civilized. There’s less road and wind noise, the engine is quieter when it kicks in, the ride is more comfortable, and the cabin has superior materials and a richer vibe. It also can legitimately seat five people, unlike the Prius Prime and Chevy Volt, making it a more viable choice for family use. Really, that the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid costs less than a Volt is a bit shocking.
Cargo space differs in each version. The fact that the Plug-in has a trunk rather than a hatchback like most other plug-ins reduces versatility somewhat, but the tall trunk height and ample width make it quite functional. The rising, stage-like portion closest to the back seat reduces space, but the deep covered well in the aft portion makes up for this somewhat. The Electric’s extra batteries and Fuel Cell’s hydrogen tank chew up considerable cargo space, further reducing their appeal.
In terms of driving experience, each of the three Clarity versions feels similar when accelerating, exhibiting the ultra-smooth and torque-rich thrust of an electric motor. The only difference is where that electricity comes from. When the Plug-in’s gasoline engine does come on, it stays mostly in the background unless you really gun the accelerator, and although you do notice an increase in vibration and noise, it’s far from objectionable. The Fuel Cell’s hydrogen fuel cell is largely undetectable, lacking the whirring and whizzing of the Mirai’s.
One area of frustration is infotainment. The Clarity has the Civic’s touchscreen, which irritates with slow responses, convoluted menus and a lack of supporting buttons and knobs. The CR-V and Accord have updated and superior infotainment interfaces, and we think the pricey Clarity should, too.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Toyota Prius Prime — The Prius Prime has basically half the Clarity’s all-electric range, but its more efficient gasoline powertrain makes it more efficient if you don’t plan on frequently recharging the battery. It has a greater total range and a cheaper price, and its hatchback may be more versatile, but it has less passenger space and isn’t as refined.
2018 Hyundai Ioniq — Like the Clarity, the Ioniq is available in Plug-in Hybrid and Electric versions. Most of the above points about the Prius Prime also apply to the Ioniq Plug-in. Ditto the Ioniq Electric, but it can go considerably farther on an electric charge than the Clarity.
2018 Chevrolet Bolt — The Bolt blows away everything not named Tesla in terms of electric range (238 miles), at a price that undercuts even the Tesla Model 3 (good luck getting one of those at its base price).
Used Tesla Model S — Higher-mileage examples of the Model S are starting to enter the Clarity’s price range, so they might be worth considering. They won’t be eligible for the same tax rebates, though, and Tesla reliability is poor.
The Electric has such poor range and the Fuel Cell such limited availability they might as well not exist. That leaves the Plug-in Hybrid, which is not only the one truly relevant Clarity, but a pretty compelling plug-in hybrid as well. Deciding between its trim levels really comes down to whether you want power seats and leather.