by Roger Biermann
The midsize Honda Clarity trio gives the world a glimpse of alternative energy transportation, not just in the form of hybridization and electrification, but hydrogen fuel cells too. It’s part of Honda’s commitment to a greener future and shows that it’ll be ready for whichever form of technology ultimately replaces the traditional gasoline/diesel combustion engine. While the Clarity Plug-In is available nationwide, the Electric is only offered in the states of Oregon and California. Available for lease from $199 per month, both states offer $2,500 incentives, while a federal tax rebate of up to $7,500 also applies. A 25.5-kWh battery pack supplies electricity to a 161 horsepower, 221 lb-ft electric motor driving the front wheels through a single-speed transmission. In a world of ever-improving EVs, the Clarity Electric offers just 89 miles of range on a charge, which is a far cry from chief rivals like the Chevy Bolt and Hyundai Kona Electric who offer 238- and 258-miles respectively.
For 2019, Honda is keeping things just the same as they were in 2018. Safety and specification levels have been high since day dot, and the styling - once futuristic - is now contemporary. So if it ain’t broken, Honda doesn’t plan on fixing it, and that’s why things remain exactly as they were.
Honda has endowed the Clarity with standard car-like dimensions and design features like LED headlight clusters. The front end features unique J-shaped LED DRL clusters on the outboard edges of the front bumper while the wheels are low-drag 18-inch alloys. The B- and C-pillars are blacked out for a floating roof effect, the lower bumper and side-sills are blacked out, while a rear lower brake-duct also boasts blacked out surrounds. Over the rear wheel, the arch covers the top of the rear wheels for aerodynamic purposes. Around back, the LED taillights feature clear lenses.
With an overall length of 192.7 inches, the Clarity Electric measures longer than the Honda Accord in size, despite riding on a wheelbase of 108.3 inches which is far closer to that of the Honda Civic. The Clarity Electric measures 58.2 inches tall and 73.9 inches wide, wider and taller than an Accord sedan, while at 4,024 lbs it carries a curb weight of 600 lbs more than even the Accord Hybrid, with the batteries accounting for the additional mass.
The Clarity Electric is available in three exterior colors: Modern Steel Metallic, Platinum White Pearl, and Vortex Blue Pearl. It retains the same color palette as previous years, with none of the color options carrying any additional cost.
The Clarity Electric pairs a 25.5kWh lithium-ion battery pack with a 161-horsepower electric motor and a single-speed transmission to drive the front wheels of this battery electric vehicle - front-wheel drive is the standard for this class of EV. In-town performance is swift, however the system suffers a little at highway speeds or when needing to effect swift overtaking maneuvers. 0-60 mph is glacial, taking more than 12 seconds to achieve the mark. In this regard it lags behind more accomplished competition like the Hyundai Kona Electric with a hot-hatch-like sub-seven second sprint. Other rivals like the Chevrolet Bolt and Hyundai Kona Electric are far sportier, more comfortable, and crucially, offer a better powertrain and greater range than the mere 89 miles from the Clarity Electric.
The 25.5-kWH lithium-ion battery pack in the Clarity Electric is paired to an electric motor rated at 161 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque and a single-speed transmission. The system offers less power than the FCV version of the Clarity but delivers the same amount of torque. This makes swift work of around-town excursions, and the low-down torque delivery is perfect for getting up to midrange speeds to merge into traffic. It’s not blazingly quick, but it does the job efficiently enough up to about 40 mph. From there, things slow a little, and getting up to highway speeds or accelerating to overtake takes a little more time. To use the combustion-related term, the Clarity Electric gets asthmatic and runs out of puff towards higher speeds.
Those expecting something sporty from an EV are better off vying for a Hyundai Kona Electric because the Clarity Electric is anything but. Low-rolling-resistance tires don’t have an abundance of grip when cornering with vigor, while the suspension isn’t really set up for performance either. But, it is geared towards smoothness, and for the most part, the Clarity cruises plushly along the roadway. However, it can get floaty on anything but the smoothest of surfaces, and undulations make the Clarity feel boat-like the way it porpoises over bumps. There’s an abundance of body-lean, even under mild cornering, and changes of direction yield an unsavory heaving sensation as the Clarity doesn’t change direction effectively. The brakes on the plug-in and FCV models are a standout feature, but on the Clarity Electric, they feel sub-par. There’s no feel and the pedal feels unnaturally soft under heavy braking.
It’s not all bad, though, as the Clarity Electric’s steering is pretty decent. It responds well to inputs and the front end is keen on initial turn-in. Feedback is nill, but at least the responses are reliable and consistent. On the whole, the Clarity Electric is best handled in a mild manner and within city limits where the roads are smoother and less curvaceous.
The Clarity Electric’s 25.5-kWh lithium-ion battery pack is housed beneath the floor of the Clarity Electric and only provides for an 89-mile driving range on a full charge. This is well beneath the up to 238-mile range offered by the likes of the Chevrolet Bolt and the class-leading 258-mile range of the Hyundai Kona Electric. But the EPA’s MPG-equivalent rating of 114 is impressive, nonetheless, even if the range is now completely outclassed. The Clarity Electric is SAE quick-charging compatible and can recoup 80% battery charge in 30 minutes. Standard level two charging takes a little more than three hours, while a 120-volt level one system will take up to 19 hours to fully charge the Clarity Electric.
The Honda Clarity Electric shares a cabin design with the other two members of the Clarity family. That means a consistently high-quality interior with well-fitted panels, no rattles or squeaks, and a layout that makes sense ergonomically. The standard heated front seats are power adjustable and are easy to maneuver into a comfortable seating position with exceptional visibility. The front seats are comfortable and the cabin spacious, and while the rear seating area is also capacious, the short seat base reduces comfort due to the lack of thigh support for taller occupants. Overall, the cabin is spacious and comfortable, and the rear bench houses two full sets of LATCH anchors.
The Honda Clarity Electric seats five, though occupants will be most comfortable with only four inside. The front seats are power adjustable and offer standard heating, and provide high levels of comfort, even if the seating position is perhaps just a touch too high. Visibility is, however, impressive thanks to the low shoulder line and well-positioned roof pillars, while a standard rearview camera aids rear visibility. The rear seats offer a good amount of headroom and legroom, with only adults taller than six-feet tall risking a brush with the headlining. Shoulder room is spacious too, but the short seat bases don’t provide enough thigh support for taller occupants.
The Clarity Electric is offered with seating upholstered in perforated leather but does allow lessees the opportunity of choosing a color based on the exterior paint scheme. Vortex Blue and Modern Steel exterior hues are paired exclusively with gray leather, while the Platinum White exterior color adds the choice of black leather to the mix. Regardless of the leather choice, a dark open-pore wood-look dash is standard with chrome detailing throughout. A leather-clad steering wheel is also standard in black leather.
The Clarity Electric is the more capacious of the Clarity range, devoid of hydrogen tanks and thus being able to expand on cargo volume by means of 60/40 split folding rear seats. The available 14.3 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk is in a shallow configuration and is below the capacity offered by other EVS that either make use of a traditional hatchback or sportback configurations to maximize cargo volume. The Ioniq Electric, for example, offers 26.5 cubic feet while the Nissan Leaf offers 23.6 cubic feet.
There’s an abundance of in-cabin storage options, however, with a good size console binnacle, large cupholders in the center console, cupholders in the rear center armrest, large door pockets, a good size glove box, storage under the floating center console, and smartphone pouches in the rear of the cabin.
Among the features equipped to the Clarity Electric as standard, buyers can expect a rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, HomeLink universal remote system, auto-dimming rearview mirror, auto-up/down power windows, adaptive cruise control, front and rear 12-volt sockets, sliding sun visors, dedicated smartphone pockets on the backs of the front seats, eight-way power adjustment for the driver’s seat with dual-memory function, four-way power adjustment on the front passenger seat, heated front seats, and satellite navigation with voice recognition and charging station locator.
Standard infotainment is by means of an eight-inch touchscreen display with AM/FM/Bluetooth/SiriusXM/HD radio inputs and an eight-speaker, 180-watt premium audio system. The system also offers Pandora compatibility, along with full Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality, and comes with two USB ports on the front console. The system offers voice controls which work fluently and allows you to avoid using the touchscreen, which is just as well, as it’s a frustrating system to use. The touch zones are too small, basic functions are hard to use while on the move, and the system is slow with dated graphics. Importantly, there’s no volume knob - something Honda has rectified on other models but not the Clarity.
The Clarity Electric is one of the least reliable vehicles in its segment, with J.D. Power giving it an overall reliability rating of just 69 out of 100. Rivals like the Hyundai Ioniq Electric scored 70, while the Chevrolet Bolt scored 73. Complaints have, however, been limited, with just one problem occurring - the Clarity Electric seemingly not charging properly at all available charge stations. There are also reports coming through of the large battery packs failing and needing a full replacement - covered under Honda’s eight-year limited battery warranty.
Despite being available for the last three years, the Honda Clarity Electric has not been tested by either the NHTSA or IIHS for crash safety. It’s not just the Electric, though, as the Fuel Cell and PHEV derivatives have also not been evaluated.
Despite not being tested, the full complement of seven airbags (dual front, side, side curtain, driver's knee) is equipped. But it’s the Honda Sensing suite of safety features that gives the Clarity credible safety - equipping forward collision warning with collision mitigating braking, road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, and lane keep assist. A reverse camera is standard, while reverse parking sensors are optionally available.
There are a lot of reasons why the Clarity Electric may seem an attractive proposition if you’re in the EV market, like the attractive lease offer, access to the HOV lane in the state of California, and the fact that it’s available in Oregon, too, while several EVs are only available in California. The incentives and possible tax credits are also huge factors to consider. The Clarity combines a spacious interior with decent levels of specification and approachable looks, too, which all seem very attractive. But there are a few flaws, including the infuriating infotainment, floaty suspension, and poor electric range, all of which are big problems for us. The latter is a particular concern when class-leaders in the EV segment offer more than four times the range, along with better driving dynamics and more cargo volume. As far as EVs go, the Clarity Electric isn’t the best car you can lease. If you must have a Clarity, the FCV and PHEV are both better in many aspects, but if you’re willing to shop elsewhere, we’d recommend a Chevrolet Bolt or Hyundai Kona Electric.
The Honda Clarity Electric is available on a lease-only basis in the states of California and Oregon, with a downpayment of $1,799 and a monthly payment thereafter of $199 for 36 months, excluding tax, registration, license, and dealer fees. There’s just one trim available, but your monthly fee is for a highly equipped derivative, and lessees are able to spec the Clarity with a range of exterior additions and accessories inside and out.
But central to the decision to buy an EV is often the rebates and incentives available, and the Clarity is no different. Both California and Oregon offer $2,500 as part of their Clean Vehicle Rebate systems. As the Clarity Electric is lease only, it does not qualify for the federal tax rebate of $7,500 that the PHEV qualifies for.
The Clarity Electric is available in just one trim and is only available to lease in the states of California and Oregon. That lone trim line is well equipped though, boasting power operated heated front seats, leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, LED exterior lighting, extensive safety features, and a premium audio system with navigation and full smartphone integration.
While the Honda Clarity Electric is still only available on lease, Honda does give buyers some a range of options and accessories to choose from. The key options are rear parking sensors at $514 and available accessory wheels at $1,800. Honda also offers a $30 first aid kit, $250 rear seat covers, a $140 trunk tray, $290 door sill illumination, and a $299 decklid spoiler among other available accessories.
Honda Sensing and satellite navigation are, however, standard packages equipped to the Clarity Electric.
There’s only one option available, but thankfully it’s well-equipped. However if buying is on your mind then the Clarity isn’t for you - Honda only offers it on a lease basis, while other manufacturers allow you to purchase their EVs outright.
While both models share the same architecture, there are key differences between the two. The Electric is available more widely, with dealers in Oregon also offering the Electric, while the FCV is limited exclusively to California. The Clarity Electric also offers a larger cargo bay, and the rear seats fold in a 60/40 split to offer more storage space, while the FCV’s hydrogen tanks occupy space and limit practicality. But the Clarity Fuel Cell offers more power with 174 horsepower and crucially manages 366 miles of zero-emission motoring pleasure. Despite the limited availability and practicality, we feel the Fuel Cell is the better Clarity.
The Chevrolet Bolt offers all the same federal tax credits and state rebates as the Clarity Electric but crucially is available nationwide. Not only that, but it offers more power, more practicality thanks to the enormous volume provided by the hatchback opening, and the biggest drawcard is that it offers a 238-mile range on a full charge. The Clarity Electric simple can’t match the Bolt in this regard, and matters get more woeful for the Clarity as its infotainment system is terrible to use and doesn’t offer the ride composure and enjoyable driving dynamics of the Bolt. While a quality interior and decent interior room might be in the Honda’s favor, the Chevrolet Bolt is simply the better EV.