The 2019 Honda Clarity is not the prettiest Honda anyone’s ever seen – but aside from its aerodynamics-first bodywork and a few other minor quibbles, it makes a compelling argument to give PHEV ownership a try.
For the apprehensive PHEV shopper, the Clarity provides a generous dose of all-electric range, and a driving experience that’s nicely dialled in and completely conventional in feel and function. Electrification enthusiasts may gravitate towards the Clarity for its impressive numbers – including reasonable pricing, and the ability to go about 70 kilometres per battery charge (and hundreds more on gasoline, after that).
The Clarity is a mostly a treat to drive – and a machine that could get many, many Canadians totally off of gasoline for their daily commutes and errands.
The Clarity’s styling is the result of one goal placed ahead of all others: aerodynamics. A bulbous hatchback shape, complete with bodywork that partially covers the rear wheels, gives the Clarity away from a mere glance. On closer inspection, rear door-mounted ducts and special aerodynamic slits in the wheel surfaces further the effect.
Though not destined to find global appeal with styling aficionados, the looks help enable maximum energy efficiency as the Clarity moves down the road. Further, it will work well for the shopper who wants to drive something that really stands out.
Onboard, an upscale and distinctive take on Honda’s typical interior design language is imparted. There’s little new in terms of switchgear, interfaces, or controls – though elements like a floating centre console with push-button shifter, suede trim, abundant wood accenting, and plenty of contrasting colours and textures help create a look that’s both instantly Honda and instantly unique.
Most drivers will find the Clarity’s cabin to be styled and assembled in strong support of its asking price – $40,100 for starters, and $44,100 for my Touring-grade tester.
With little short of the latest and greatest Honda safety tech included, the Clarity Touring should leave drivers feeling well-supported for safe and confident motoring. Those set on a vehicle with all modern safety systems are covered – thanks to Honda’s networked array of hazard-detection systems and sensor-driven safety gear.
Included were a lane-change camera (which displays a side-view of the Clarity’s right-hand side when you signal in that direction), adaptive cruise, collision alert, lane-departure alert with steering assist, and more.
Should an accident prove inevitable, the HondaLink system can autonomously call for help, even if the driver can’t.
Brake feel is less precise and urgent than some drivers will like – par for the course with hybrid cars – though a heavy stomp on the pedal does pull Clarity down from speed with authority, and minimal drama.
Headlight performance is decent, about average for the segment.
Provided a car of the Clarity’s size is sufficient for your needs, tastes, and lifestyle, practicality is excellent. First, the Clarity sips fuel – and that’s if it’s even using fuel at all. Often, it doesn’t need to, because it’s a plug-in hybrid (or PHEV, for “plug-in hybrid electric vehicle”), capable of some 70 kilometres of driving per charge on stored electricity. More on that later.
The Clarity should prove roomy enough for four adults of average size, and their things. Each occupant has access to above-average levels of handy storage for items big and small, including dedicated smartphone slots stitched in the back of each front seat. Up front, two deep height-adjustable cupholders keep drinks at the ready, with room beneath your latte for smaller items like keys, change, or gum.
Trunk space is adequate for most jobs, though a thick hump in the floor (to accommodate the battery beneath) may make things awkward in some situations. Further, while the Clarity’s rear seats are of the split-folding variety, the opening created is relatively small.
Other than a slight awkwardness to the shape of the trunk, the Clarity is effectively as practical as any other four-door vehicle of similar size.
User Friendliness: 9/10
The Clarity demonstrates some expert touches deployed towards enhanced user friendliness, which will benefit first-time and repeat Honda shoppers (and PHEV shoppers) alike.
Former owners of recent Honda models will be familiar with most of the controls, interfaces, and switchgear – right down to the central command touchscreen (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto). This is the same unit used in other models, including the Civic. Bluetooth pairing is fuss-free, and control placement is generally logical – with most buttons and controls clearly labelled, and positioned as expected around the driver. The push-button gear shifter – as seen in some other Honda models – allows for simple push-button access to the desired gear while giving the cabin a cleaner and more modern look.
The digital instrument cluster is built around a centrally mounted “power gauge” that helps involve drivers with the operation of the hybrid driveline. The on-screen infotainment system also includes additional displays to help you monitor the currently deployed blend of gas and electricity driving the Clarity’s front wheels. At a glance, you can see what said driveline is doing, and use the gauge as a visual reference as to how fuel-efficient your current operation is. This setup can even coach you to make better use of its abilities – whether to save more fuel or go further on a charge/tank.
For further control over the PHEV driveline, three special buttons ahead of the Clarity’s shifter pad put drivers in charge of the Clarity’s, um, charge. At a tap, drivers can have the Clarity save its stored electric-only driving range for later, or to use it now. The Sport and Econ drive modes allow for further fine-tuning.
The Clarity makes it easy for drivers to engage with, monitor, and customize their PHEV driving experience. Drivers are backed fully by a technological toolkit to maximize their motoring efficiency, and accessing and using those tools is a cinch.
The Clarity Touring’s feature set may prove compelling – or disappointing – depending on where you stand.
On one hand, the Clarity Touring is a PHEV capable of generous all-electric range, and one that comes with heated leather, automatic climate control, remote cabin conditioning, abundant safety and connectivity features, and more.
On the other hand, it is missing features like a sunroof and power-adjustable memory seats, which are otherwise common at this price point.
Also notable is the central command touchscreen interface. Though logical and easy to use, the graphics and layout look dated and dull. Some drivers may find this interface to be disappointing, given the Clarity’s price-point.
The Clarity’s wheels are powered by two sources: a 1.5-litre gasoline engine fed by a tank full of fuel, and an electric motor fed by the 17 kWh lithium-ion battery beneath the trunk. Combined system output is rated at 212 horsepower – more than the sporty Honda Civic Si.
When driving around town in all-electric mode, throttle response is immediate (almost startlingly so, in Sport mode), and provides immediate thrust that’s devoid of any noise or vibrations.
In all-electric mode, there’s no power curve, no engine sound, and no gears to shift. Press the throttle, and the Clarity sails along, immediately, without making a peep. It’s quicker and quieter than many test-drivers probably think, your writer included.
Imagine you’re in a vehicle that’s attached by a lengthy chain to another vehicle, perhaps a half-mile up the highway (and out of earshot). Next, imagine the throttle pedal in your vehicle actually controlling the throttle pedal in the vehicle towing you – but that vehicle is so far away you can’t hear it. That’s what it’s like to drive the Clarity in electric mode.
In hybrid mode, the Clarity’s gas engine is also running to help propel the vehicle, or to sustain the battery. This adds a thin layer of vibration and sound to the driveline at times, though during most driving, it’s hard to notice.
The gasoline engine does make itself heard at full throttle, however. The Clarity scoots along nicely here, though the engine is a few notches louder, and less pleasant-sounding, than many will expect.
The biggest smiles arrive from driving the Clarity in all-electric mode with Sport mode engaged – thanks to the liquid smooth, punchy, and noiseless acceleration.
In the vast majority of driving, the Clarity is a very comfortable place to be. Creamy leather seats are easy to slide in and out of, with large door openings furthering ease of access. Adequate to generous room at each seat furthers the foundation of comfortable motoring.
Steering is feather-light in city driving situations, reducing driver workload. On the highway, it heavies up a few notches, helping lock the Clarity more firmly into the driver’s intended path. This helps reduce driver workload, too.
Ride quality is generally very good. Certain specific pavement imperfections can coax occasional rough sounds or sensations from the suspension, but ride quality is typically bang-on – even on rougher, real-world roads. Here, the suspension does its job without undue noise or harshness, and the Clarity feels dense and substantial, not flimsy and delicate. It rarely crashes into bumps.
I can happily report that the Clarity often rides like an entry-level luxury car, perhaps an Audi A3 or Lexus IS.
There is one comfort-related gripe, however, in regards to the air conditioner. Somewhere north of about 27 degrees Celsius, my tester took minutes, not seconds, for the first signs of cold air to arrive, and several minutes longer to effectively lower the cabin temperature.
If possible, assess the performance of the air conditioner of the Honda Clarity on a very hot day during your test drive – ideally with the vehicle parked and stationary – to make your own determination.
Driving Feel: 9/10
To this writer, the way the Clarity drives is its most valuable asset. Specifically, it works, feels, and functions like any well-to-do sensible sedan, but the PHEV driveline gives it a further edge in some areas.
Broadly, Clarity functions exactly the same as any other car. Hop in, start it, pick your gear, and drive off. Easy-peasy.
The highway drive is relatively quiet, with the nicely tuned suspension maintaining ride comfort without sponge-cake-level squishiness.
While touring around in the Clarity, many drivers will appreciate a perpetual sense of being relaxed, surrounded by a quiet environment that’s upscale and easy to interface with. If you’ve synced your smartphone up, access to navigation, communication, entertainment, and many other functionalities are a simple button-press or spoken command away.
There’s little remarkable about the feel of Clarity’s brakes or steering – but as a comfortable, laid-back, simple-to-use car that’s ready to handle a day-long road trip on minimal fuel, it will hit the mark nicely for most shoppers.
Fuel Economy: 10/10
During my extended drive of this particular tester, I found fuel economy to be hilariously good, as expected. Using a Level 2 charger, Clarity’s battery fills from empty in a little over 2 hours. Use of a 120-volt (Level 1) charger takes about 12 hours.
On a full battery, in the mid-July heat, I was consistently able to drive 70 kilometres per charge, with the air conditioner maxed out. For this writer, that’s more than plenty to handle about two days’ worth of daily errands, commuting, or running around town.
If I were a Clarity owner, I’d be visiting the gas station a few times a year, instead of a few times a month.
Your results may vary, but consider this: if you live less than 70 kilometres (one-way) from work, and if you’re able to recharge at work, you could be entirely off of gasoline for all commuting.
Once you exceed the Clarity’s 70-kilometre electric range, the gas engine uneventfully comes online, and you’re clear to drive about 600 kilometres more, on hybrid gas-electric power. Stop to refill the gas tank, and that’s 600 kilometres more.
As a PHEV, plugging the Clarity in is never mandatory. You can drive on gasoline as often as you like, and only need to plug Clarity into a charger when its convenient to do so. Put another way, it’s like having an electric car, with a long-range gasoline back-up plan.
Of all the PHEV models I’ve tested in the past few years, the Clarity is the one I’d be most tempted to spend my own money on. Specifically, that’s because of the generous all-electric range relative to its asking price, a good feature set, and the fact that it’s a relaxing and nicely sorted thing to drive in most conditions – including over the crumbling roads of Sudbury, Ontario.
As such, Clarity seems nicely poised to bring a taste of PHEV functionality, with plenty of all-electric driving range, to the masses. Shoppers can take confidence that they’re backed by a strong dealer network for maintenance and servicing, too.
Many shoppers will find further value in Clarity’s ease of use. Other than plugging into a charger at your convenience, there’s literally nothing a first-time driver needs to do, learn, or become accustomed to. Looks and driveline aside, this works and drives and functions like any other car on the road – and a good one at that.
A final note: though this review is based on the 2019 Clarity Touring, these are nearly sold out across Canada at time of writing. Pricing information below reflects the 2019 Honda Clarity Touring (before any federal or provincial rebate), though some changes are possible before the 2020 model arrives.
|Engine Displacement||1.5L, 135 kw motor|
|Peak Horsepower||212 hp @ 5,500 rpm|
|Peak Torque||232 lb-ft @ 0–2,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||2.1 Le/100 km cmb (hybrid); 5.3/5.9/5.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb (gas only)|
|Cargo Space||439 L|
|Model Tested||2019 Honda Clarity Touring|
|Price as Tested||$45,855|