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2018 Honda Clarity PHEV: First Drive Review

If you’re looking for information on a newer Honda Clarity, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 Honda Clarity Review

The 2018 Honda Clarity PHEV is the latest creation in Honda’s green initiative. Following the hydrogen-powered Clarity FCV (fuel cell vehicle) and the Clarity Electric (battery electric vehicle), the final phase of this three-pronged eco-plan is the plug-in hybrid version here. And this model is available for sale in all 50 states.

In each instance, the Clarity is a midsize sedan with distinct differences in styling and equipment compared with Honda’s mainstream midsize sedan, the Accord. So onlookers and owners alike will know the Clarity is something special and more environmentally friendly.


However, it seems some parts of the motoring public are still unsure over what exactly a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) might be. Part of the problem could be the name. The "plug-in" aspect tells people that they have to do something beyond get in the car, drive it and buy gas occasionally. They may think that if they don’t plug it in, the car will run out of electric power, and they would be stranded. That is most definitely not the case.

Perhaps if it was called an "enhanced hybrid" it might look more like the attractive proposition it really is. Most of us are on board with the Toyota Prius kind of hybrid and understand that concept. The main difference in a PHEV — for the user — is that it offers a certain amount of miles that can be covered using just the battery’s energy and the electric motor; the combustion engine stays shut down. Those miles become available when the battery has been fully charged, like at home overnight or at a dedicated spot during the working day.

For example, the Clarity PHEV has a maximum electric-only range of 47 miles. If an owner has a fairly short commute, it’s possible that he or she would not use any gasoline during the week and perhaps only think about getting some if there’s a road trip planned. Yes, the Clarity PHEV can also work for longer journeys, because the engine acts as an on-board generator.

If any of this sounds complicated so far, don’t worry, because the Clarity PHEV is not only accessible for anyone with the ability to drive, it’s also a pleasant experience made all the more enjoyable by the knowledge that it’s extremely fuel efficient. See the 2018 Honda Clarity models for sale near you


The whole point of green cars is to use fuel sparingly, from a running costs point of view and in the quest for lower emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the Clarity PHEV achieves a miles per gallon equivalent of 110 MPGe. With a full tank of gas and a fully charged battery, maximum range is 340 miles. When the car is working as a regular hybrid, the EPA puts consumption at 44 mpg in the city, 40 mpg on the highway and 42 mpg in combined driving.

It takes about 2.5 hours to replenish the battery using a Level 2/240-volt charger.

Day-to-Day Practicality

One thing the PHEV version has over the other Clarity cars is trunk space. The other two are quite limited cargo-wise, while this one has 15.5 cu ft. of volume. That should be able to accommodate four sets of golf clubs.

Passengers should also be happy for the most part; the seats are certainly comfortable enough. The only gripes might come from a 6-footer sitting in the back.

The PHEV is easily the most convenient Clarity to live with. No need to worry about looking for a hydrogen pump (which is a fruitless task anywhere but California) or getting range anxiety.


There’s a distinct classiness to the cabin’s materials, especially in the higher trim level, which could even pass for an Acura (Honda’s luxury marque). This class goes right down to how the switches feel under the fingers, how the acoustic treatment of the glass contributes to the general hush, interior design and the overall build quality (for which Honda is rightly renowned).


Another appropriate use of the word "quality" comes when describing how the Clarity PHEV rides. The accent is more on comfort than control — it might be a little bouncy for some tastes — but take things at a steady pace and everything feels refined and civilized.

Total power output from the 1.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine and electric motor is 212 horsepower and 232 lb-ft of torque, which is one of the more energetic among midsize sedan plug-in hybrids (for example, the Ford Fusion Energi has 195 hp). The drivetrain provides a smooth surge of power for easy overtaking and freeway driving.

Even though most buyers of plug-in hybrids won’t have dynamics high on their list of priorities, the Clarity PHEV turns into corners with a surprising yet welcome enthusiasm and precision. And that’s despite the somewhat nose-heavy overall feel (both the engine and the motor are under the hood).

Regenerative brakes in hybrid cars are often criticized for their weird feel (or not much feel at all). It’s been something that used to go with the territory of capturing braking energy and feeding it back into the battery. It’s clear that Honda has spent many hours on this aspect, since this car’s brake pedal feels familiar right from the first press. Deciding how much pressure to apply quickly becomes intuitive.


The 2018 Honda Clarity PHEV comes in regular and Touring trims, with prices starting at $34,290 and going up to $37,490 for the Touring version.

The regular version comes with a lot of equipment, including an 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, 18-in alloy wheels, a rearview camera and the array of advanced safety features known collectively as Honda Sensing. To be honest, we would have liked a leather-covered steering wheel for this kind of money.

The Touring trim adds leather upholstery, navigation, power-adjustable front seats and a dashboard covering of simulated suede.

Finally, there’s a Clarity that’s on sale everywhere in the United States, that owners can live with while making just a few minor changes to their driving habits (like remembering to charge it), that looks and acts like a high-class product for really no more than what rivals are costing and keeps emissions low. That’s a package worth pondering.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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Colin Ryan
Colin Ryan specializes in writing about new cars. But he has also covered trucks, vans, 3-wheelers, even the occasional motorbike. That’s the kind of thing that happens while contributing to the Los Angeles Times, Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, Popular Mechanics, Variety, Mazda and Lexus customer magazines, as well as many enthusiast sites and publications. He was also a staff writer at BBC Top... Read More

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