by Roger Biermann
Honda's Clarity nameplate represents a range of clean driving vehicles including a fuel-cell vehicle, plug-in hybrid, and a battery electric vehicle. It's the latter that piques our interest in this review – an electric car available in California and Oregon only. Available only on a 36-month lease, you'll get 20 000 miles at your disposal annually along with incentives like use of the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane, even when driving solo. But the Clarity faces fierce competition, most notably from the Chevrolet Bolt which has fast become the yardstick by which all other EVs are measured.
Single Speed Automatic
The Clarity has been packaged for effective use in all 3 of its drivetrain executions, with Honda paying particular attention to the rear of the car. Trunk volume in the Electric is even more commodious than the fuel cell model, with an available 14.3 cubic feet available through a wide aperture. The rear seats offer space for 3 in a pinch, though 2 will be most comfortable. There's plenty of head and leg room, and the C pillar doesn't greatly impede ingress or egress.
However the seat is a bit short and those with longer legs will lament the lack of thigh support. Front occupants have plush accommodation, with broad shoulder room and ample head room. A low belt line provides great forward visibility, and though rearwards it's a bit compromised, a rear-view camera sorts that out. Buttons are clearly readable and easily within reach, though the touch screen is a little slow to respond to inputs.
Most electric cars are decidedly un-sporty – the Clarity Electric is no different. The ride errs on the side of super-soft, perhaps best classified as floaty. It's comfortable over smooth surfaces, but bounces over big bumps. Smaller bumps and rutted roads unsettle the Clarity, so it's best to keep to the smooth roads of the city. Body lean is incredibly pronounced, and changes of direction are at best wallowy. Despite the less than satisfactory ride quality, it's still better than some of the competitor offerings, and levels of grip are surprisingly impressive. However, the brakes leave much to be desired, with a squishy pedal that feels unnatural under heavy braking.
The Clarity Electric is best driven in a mild manner, with careful attention paid to driving smoothly. The steering responds well with decent directness that responds best to considered inputs rather than rushed small ones.
The Clarity Electric shares componentry with the fuel cell model in that it shares the same AC electric motor and its 221 lb-ft of torque. But it's down slightly on power, with only 161 horsepower to the FCV's 174hp. A 25.5kWh lithium-ion battery pack lies beneath the floor of the Clarity Electric, offering a disappointing 80 mile driving range and a 111 MPGe rating from the EPA. SAE quick charging will give you 80% battery life in 30 minutes, whilst level 2 charging (240-volt) gives a full charge in just over 3 hours. On a 120-volt system, a full charge takes a lengthy 19 hours.
Though the range may disappoint, the specification levels don't. High quality perforated leather seats offer heating as standard, whilst dual-zone climate control keeps occupants comfortable. Navigation is also standard, whilst back up sensors are optional for a little over $500. The Clarity Electric guarantees safety with Honda Sensing, comprising collision mitigation braking system, road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, and lane keep assist. The Honda Clarity – in any of its incarnations – has not yet been crash tested by either the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Though the Honda Clarity Electric offers approachable styling and impressive specification, passenger and cargo volume, it's only available in two states. But that's not the biggest issue it faces. The Clarity Electric doesn't offer the range of rivals like the BMW i3, and only betters a handful of rivals. The FCV is likely the better option.