Honda Clarity makes gas prices irrelevant

by Kelly Taylor  . Oct 19 2018
Photos by HondaThe Honda Clarity is a plug-in hybrid that not only lets you keep your gas money in your wallet, but it’s fun to drive with a surprisingly spacious interior.

Photos by Honda

The Honda Clarity is a plug-in hybrid that not only lets you keep your gas money in your wallet, but it’s fun to drive with a surprisingly spacious interior.

Gas, as I write this, is about $1.19 per litre. On the left coast, it’s pushing $1.50. Out East, about $1.25.

How much did I put into the 2018 Honda Clarity after a week? $0.

Zero litres times even $4 a litre is still $0.

It’s easily enough to make overlooking any issues more than worthwhile.

Here’s how I did it. Most days, I plugged it in at work. Leaving work, even with only a half-charge, I got home and then back to work the next day. Round trip for all? About 52 kilometres. All in pure EV (electric vehicle) mode.

I got it with a full tank and gave it back with a full tank. The total cost of electricity? It’s an estimate, but even on the high side, about $6. It’s clear that for most urban dwellers, their Clarity may never leave EV mode.

Even if you don’t believe in climate change, the economics, when compared with similarly priced vehicles, are hard to argue with.

The issues with the Clarity are few, but may be significant depending on the driver.

The first is obvious when you walk up to it. There are some challenges to the design, including a few too many lines and an odd, partially covered rear wheel well. Hey, 1991 called. It wants its Chevy Caprice fenders back.

The straight line off those rear wheel wells feeds into a crease in the door that builds in a vent for the rear wheels. It’s functional, but not in the way you might expect. No, Honda isn’t expecting you to be driving so hard they need to ventilate the rear brakes. Instead, they’re about creating a high-pressure zone in the wheel wells so air flying past the car keeps flying right past.

Honda Canada spokesman Alen Sadeh said the covers and the vents contribute to the car’s low coefficient of drag.

Price is probably the key issue: with a starting price of $39,900, it’s not economic if your only objective is lowest overall cost of ownership. If that’s your goal, the Honda Fit is a better choice.

Even if you live in the land of milk, honey, unicorns and $14,000 electric-vehicle rebates, it’s still an $11,000 premium over a Fit.

Any issues with the design evaporate inside. It’s a handsome interior, with a striking bridge for a centre console that houses the transmission controls and cupholders and provides for storage underneath. Some parts are clad in nice, open-pore wood trim, while others are clad in a sort of suede-like fabric. The suede looks nice, but I’ll be curious to see how nice it looks in five years.

As for driving, even in sport mode it’s no screamer, but what did you expect for zero litres per 100 kilometres? It gets out of its own way, and is quick enough to not be a rolling roadblock, however.

The handling is excellent, feeling like a larger Civic, but perhaps with better front-rear weight balance, thanks to the batteries in the trunk.

That trunk is impacted by the batteries, as you can see the load floor rising away from you towards the front of the car. That said, it is still quite spacious.

For charging, there’s the standard Level 1 charger supplied with the vehicle. It’s a roughly 12-foot cord with a power supply at the plug end, and a plug that goes into the port on the front driver-side fender. It uses the common SAE-J1772 plug, so it will accept power from a Level 2 charger if you have access to one. Charging with the Level 1 is about 12 hours, but about 2.5 hours at Level 2.

The Clarity might be a challenge on the highway, however. Since there is little deceleration on the highway, there’s no opportunity to recharge the battery from regenerative braking. The car has an all-electric range of up to 76 kilometres, which could be less without regenerative braking.

You very quickly get to the point where you’re driving just another four-cylinder gas-powered car, one that even Honda says has an overall average range of only 547 kilometres.

While I wasn’t able to test the highway range, I suspect, given the limitations of recharging while driving, combined with the highway fuel economy being .6 litres worse than city economy, a safe bet is to plan refills every 450 kilometres.

Issues aside, Honda has done a pretty good job of creating a plug-in hybrid that’s not only economical, but engaging to drive, too. A handsome, luxurious interior and excellent on-road comportment go a long way.

kelly.taylor@freepress.mb.ca

The Honda Clarity’s trunk holds the batteries but the back seat still has plenty of room.

The Honda Clarity’s trunk holds the batteries but the back seat still has plenty of room.