The Popular Version of the New Honda Clarity Will Be the Plug-in

By · March 22, 2017

Honda Clarity

The media introduction of the new Clarity Fuel Cell last week gave us a chance to drive Honda’s new platform for electric-drive vehicles. “Honda’s goal for the Clarity is to make electrified vehicles a true volume pillar,” said James Burrell, vice-present of environmental business development. The Fuel Cell version, which is available for lease now, will only be offered in California and in low volume. But here’s the exciting development for plug-in drivers: The Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid will offer 40 miles of all-electric range. Honda said the plug-in hybrid will be the Clarity’s high-volume variant when it goes on sale in all 50 states later this year.

Yes, there will also be a pure battery-electric version. Unfortunately, the Clarity Electric will only have 80 miles of driving range, and its market will be limited to California and Oregon. A new 80-mile EV is a tough sell these days when 100 miles of range is rock-bottom for a new model—and before long, there will be multiple affordable models with more than 200 miles of range. But for a plug-in hybrid that has an electric motor and a gasoline engine, an all-electric range of 40 miles is excellent.

The shortcomings of the pure electric Clarity should not distract buyers from the significant merits of the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid. Based on our experience with the Clarity Fuel Cell, we expect the Clarity Plug-in to be just as spacious and comfortable, and to offer excellent handling. With 40 miles of electric range before the gas engine is put into service, it could be a true contender for plug-in hybrid customers.

The only plug-in hybrid that offers more all-electric range is the 53-mile Chevrolet Volt. However, the Clarity is a quasi-luxury sedan that offers significantly more passenger room than the Volt. Besides, the annual use of gasoline for most drivers will be about the same for drivers of the 40-mile Clarity Plug-in and the 53-mile Volt (depending on commute distances and access to charging.)

Honda Clarity

For plug-in hybrid shoppers wanting a comfortable cruiser like the Clarity, they will also likely cross-shop with the Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid and Ford Fusion Energi, with 27 and 19 miles of all-electric range respectively.

The Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid’s price has not yet been announced, but might be published when the electric and plug-in hybrid Clarity variants are unveiled at next month’s New York International Auto Show.

After a day of driving the Clarity Fuel Cell last week in Santa Barbara, we see it as a worthwhile addition to the marketplace. Most new electrified vehicles—particularly dedicated models— have been compact hatchbacks. The Clarity will become one of the few sedans with plenty of legroom for five adults, even when the front-row passengers slide seats all the way back. The interior design has a luxury vibe with lots of high-tech features. If the plug-in hybrid Clarity is tuned like the Clarity Fuel Cell, it should provide more than enough power (even if not sporty) and its road manners will be consistent with top-selling sedans like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata.

The green-car market was already confusing because the term “electrified” is applied to conventional hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles. In the case of the new Hyundai Ioniq, a single nameplate comes in all three electric flavors. Now, the Honda Clarity will be offered in three variations, but in this case, fuel-cell electric, battery-electric and plug-in hybrid electric (although not as a conventional no-plug hybrid).

Honda Clarity

Each electrified fuel option has advantages and disadvantages, but the platform itself will have common attributes regarding passenger configuration, cargo space and driving manners.

Consumers might like one model in the form of an EV and another as a plug-in hybrid. Again, Honda expects the 40-mile 50-state Honda Clarity to be the volume seller—and for a good reason. It’s a spacious and capable five-passenger vehicle that will allow most drivers to complete daily commutes in comfort and style, without using a drop of gas. And then, if the need arises, to make long-distance road trips with an efficient gasoline engine. That’s the same argument for the Chevrolet Volt, and we advise shoppers to test-drive both vehicles before making a purchase decision.

New to EVs? Start here

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