by Morgan Carter
After some trial and error, Honda seems to be refining its offering in the alternative fuel segment with the Honda Clarity. The full-electric Clarity has been discontinued, leaving only the PHEV and Fuel Cell variants. The latter is only available in California at present, so the rest of us will have to make do with the Clarity PHEV. But making do may be misleading. The Clarity Hybrid is reasonably priced at a starting MSRP of $33,400 and comes with a host of features, including the full Honda Sensing safety suite. The gasoline engine and electric motor produce a combined 212 horsepower, and the 17-kWh battery is able to carry the sedan 47 miles with no assistance from the combustion engine. Together, they give the Clarity an impressive, although not class-leading, range of 340 miles. When you consider the potentially lower operating costs of a hybrid, and the tax incentives when buying one, the Honda Clarity Hybrid is certainly worth a look.
Not many changes have been made to the Honda Clarity in 2020. Honda added an Acoustic Vehicle Alert System (AVAS), which alerts nearby pedestrians and cyclists of the usually silent vehicle's approach when moving at low speeds on electric-only power.
There is no mistaking the Clarity PHEV for anything but a hybrid vehicle, with distinct design motifs from the segment present throughout the exterior. The front grille is quite small, with most of the front fascia dominated by the solid horizontal bar that hosts the Honda emblem, digging into the LED headlights. L-shaped LED daytime running lights cut into the lower bumper, complementing the PHEV aesthetic of the partially-covered rear wheel arches. LED taillights also come standard, along with a remote power trunk lid. Within the asymmetrical wheel arches rest 18-inch alloy wheels, and every model gets a body-colored deck spoiler and a sharkfin antenna.
A bit bulkier than a standard midsize sedan, the Honda Clarity measures in at 192.7 inches long, with a 108.3-inch wheelbase. What really sets it apart, though, is its girth and height, measuring 73.9 inches and 58.2 inches, respectively. It's no surprise, then, that the PHEV is a bit on the heavy side, weighing 4,052 lbs in base form and 4,059 lbs in Touring guise. The particularly large battery size and magnet motor are probably to blame for this, as the Honda Accord Hybrid weighs 725 lbs less.
The color palette for the Clarity Plug-In can hardly be called extensive, with only six colors available to either trim level. Of these, two metallic and four pearl paints are offered. The former comprises of Modern Steel and Solar Silver, while the latter can be had in Platinum White, Crystal Black, Moonlit Forest, and Crimson. On the plus side, all paints are available at no extra cost, although not every paint can be matched to every interior color.
Hybrid vehicles geared toward fuel efficiency aren't known for their blistering performance, but there are some that don't shy away from flexing their muscles a bit. The Honda Clarity PHEV falls into this category, with a combined output of 212 hp and a respectable 0-60 mph sprint time of around 7.7 seconds in real-world conditions. That assumes you are using both the engine and the electric motor, though. Using only the latter, the sedan takes a much more lethargic 12 seconds to get up to speed. Only front-wheel-drive is offered, which isn't all that unusual in a segment that focuses on efficient town living.
Unlike it's now discontinued electric-only sibling, the Clarity PHEV gets a combination powertrain consisting of a 1.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder combustion engine (103 hp and 99 lb-ft) and an electric motor (181 hp and 232 lb-ft). Working in unison, these produce a combined output of 212 hp. As is quite usual for hybrid vehicles, power is regulated by a CVT transmission, which simulates gear shifts, or at least tries to.
The high torque output from the electric motor certainly gives the Clarity a surprising kick from pull-off. However, this burst of speed tapers off quickly, making the PHEV more suited for sedate town driving. On the highway, the lack of oomph certainly hurts the Honda when overtaking. The CVT also lacks clarity - forgive the pun - when hunting for the correct power modulation at higher speeds, giving off a rather annoying drone in the process.
With both a combustion engine and an electric motor in the works, Honda had to perform a balancing act below the surface of the Clarity Plug-in. The extra weight, especially over the front wheels, actually helps the sedan feel more grounded over rougher sections of pavement that would rock lighter rivals. The more solid stance of the Clarity also helps improve handling, which is saying something, since it's not all that nimble as it is.
Take a corner a little too fast, and you can expect quite a bit of body roll from this bulky PHEV, and the suspension still struggles to damp particularly consistent road abrasions. Thus, it's not surprising that ride comfort can be an issue if you take the hybrid off the well-maintained roads of the city.
The precise power steering certainly lends itself to city living, too, making it easy to maneuver the sedan around traffic or in a busy parking lot. However, don't expect much, or any, feedback from the wheels. The regenerative brakes are modulated by the steering-wheel-mounted paddles, but they aren't as intrusive as in many rival hybrids.
While it may only get a small seven-gallon fuel tank, the Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid boasts impressive gas mileage figures of 44/40/42 mpg. This gives it an almost 300-mile range with absolutely no charge in the battery. Speaking of which, the 17 kWh battery has a lot to boast about too, with an electric-only range of 47 miles. Combine both engine and motor, and the Clarity has an overall range of up to 340 miles. Recharging the battery takes 12 hours with a standard Level 1 (120-volt) outlet, while a Level 2 (240-volt) outlet can do the same in just 2.5 hours.
Honda spared no expense when it came to the interior of its Plug-in Hybrid, with plenty of high-quality materials used throughout the cabin, which is quite spacious for a PHEV. Even the basic cloth material on the lower trim looks and feels good, and there are plenty of tech and comfort features to make the Clarity feel as modern as possible. The infotainment is comprehensive, but the lack of physical inputs can be a bit distracting for drivers who aren't intimately acquainted with the system's menus. The rear seats lack the longer thigh-support needed to seat taller passengers over long drives, but they do come with two sets of LATCH anchors to secure child safety seats.
Like other midsize sedans from Honda, the Clarity PHEV offers appointments for up to five passengers. Those up front get the most room, naturally, with plenty of head- and legroom to spare. The front seats also come heated on the base model. However, if you want power-adjustable seats, you'll need to upgrade to the Touring, which provides eight directions for the driver and four for the passenger. The rear seats supply a good amount of head- and legroom, but you may still have a little trouble seating taller adults back there due to the actual size of the seats. Unlike in many hybrids with large batteries, the Clarity doesn't sacrifice passenger comfort for fuel-efficiency.
Only two trim levels make up the Clarity range, so there isn't all that much choice when it comes to customizing the interior. The base model comes upholstered in cloth only, available in a choice of black or beige, depending on the exterior paint you want. Most interior elements inherit the color accents of the upholstery, while the center console is trimmed with faux wood. If you want the more premium perforated leather upholstery, then you'll have to upgrade to the Touring trim, although you get no additional color choices, and the budget faux wood trim remains.
Hybrid vehicles often suffer from poor cargo space, as they need to do some interesting juggling during the design phase to accommodate the electric components. The Clarity PHEV bucks this trend by boasting an impressive 15.5 cubic feet of trunk space, beating out most of its hybrid rivals. By comparison, its siblings, the Honda Insight and Accord provide 15.1 cubic feet and 16.7 cubic feet, respectively. While conventional trunk space can't be increased, the rear seats can be folded down in a 60/40 split to accommodate the loading of larger items, although the aperture created is a bit awkwardly sized.
The interior is very passenger-friendly, with a pair of cupholders provided for both rows of seats, along with spacious door pockets and seatback pockets on the front seats that can accommodate smart tablets. There is also a standard glove compartment and a spacious center armrest cubby. Under the floating console, space is provided to store larger loose items without imposing on legroom.
While by no means an upper-tier luxury sedan, the Clarity PHEV presents buyers with a modern, well-appointed hybrid ideal for city life. Cloth upholstery comes standard but can be upgraded to perforated leather by opting for the Touring model. Standard features across both trim levels include dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, keyless entry and ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, and two 12-volt power outlets. The upper trim also gets access to the eight-way power driver's seat with memory, and a four-way power passenger seat, as well as a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Honda Sensing comes standard on both models, comprising forward collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, and road departure mitigation. At an additional cost, either trim can be equipped with rear sonar.
A comprehensive infotainment suite comes standard on both trim levels of the Clarity. From the eight-inch touchscreen interface, users can operate the Bluetooth functions, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SiriusXM, and HD Radio, all of which is channeled through the eight-speaker sound system. Unfortunately, no other method of operating the systems is offered, such as manual dials or a touchpad - not even for the volume - so users will have to get used to the finicky touchscreen. The Touring trim doesn't do much to improve upon the standard system, adding only navigation with voice controls. Two USB ports are available to charge devices, alongside the normal power outlets.
While the Clarity Plug-In has not been subject to any overarching recalls, there have been a number of complaints lodged about the vehicle. Among these, the most common is the report that the engine revs loudly while not actually producing much power. While not technically a glitch, many users also bemoan the lack of physical controls on the infotainment suite. Honda offers pretty basic warranty plans on the PHEV, with the limited warranty covering 36,000 miles/36 months, while the powertrain is covered for 60,000 miles/60 months. There is a 100,000-mile/96-month hybrid component warranty, too.
Surprisingly, neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has reviewed the Honda Clarity PHEV for crash-test safety. This could be attributed to the relatively low volume of sales of hybrid vehicles. Each model does come with the full Honda Sensing suite of safety functions, though.
Every Clarity comes with the standard mechanical safety features you'd expect to find on a modern car - ABS, EBD, stability and traction control, and seven airbags: dual front, driver knee, front side, and side curtain. Honda Sensing also comes equipped to even the most basic trim, comprising forward collision avoidance, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, and road departure mitigation.
Since its all-electric sibling was discontinued in 2019, the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid has lost a little of its shine. Compared to other midsize hybrids on the market, many of its more glaring failings show through. But it's not all bad, that's for sure.
The Clarity has a pretty impressive combined range of 340 miles, as well as a respectable electric-only range of 47 miles, making it ideal for quick jaunts into town between recharge cycles. Need to pop down to the grocer? No problem. You can do so without using a single ounce of gasoline, and the 15.5-cubic-foot trunk certainly lends itself to running some standard errands around town where many hybrids almost completely sacrifice their trunk to accommodate their batteries.
Unfortunately, the Honda Clarity is not the only hybrid car on the market to boast these strengths, and its shortcomings are almost as prolific. The hefty PHEV handles a bit clumsily on the road compared to more refined rivals like the Toyota Camry Hybrid or its sibling, the Honda Insight. Add middling ride quality and a rather noisy drivetrain, at least when pushed to perform at highway speeds, and the Clarity loses some of its appeal. Still, it's a very affordable option in the midsize segment, and it comes with a full suite of safety features, even if the infotainment system leaves much to be desired.
Feel free to book a test drive, but we suggest keeping your options open for now.
While the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell is only widely available in California, sale of the PHEV variant is not restricted. Reasonably priced for the segment, the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid goes on sale for as little as $33,400, while the upper-tier Touring model asks for an extra $3,200. These prices don't include tax, registration, licensing, or Honda's $955 destination fee. However, both trims are eligible for federal tax credits, which can cut as much as $7,500 off the price of the Honda Clarity. Certain states may add other incentives, too, so be sure to check what you may qualify for.
The Plug-in Hybrid variant of the Clarity is available in two trim levels: the base Plug-in Hybrid and the Touring model. Both get the standard 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that develops 103 hp and 99 lb-ft paired with an electric motor that increases combined outputs to 212 hp and 232 lb-ft. Gear shifts are simulated by a CVT, which directs power outputs to the front wheels only.
Both models ride on 18-inch alloys and boast full LED exterior lighting - head-, tail-, and daytime running lights. Standard features include cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry and ignition, a pair of 12-volt power outlets, and heated front seats. The infotainment comprises an eight-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SiriusXM, HD Radio, and an eight-speaker sound system.
Honda Sensing is also part of the standard specs, comprising forward collision avoidance, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and road departure mitigation. But, where the base trim gets cloth upholstery, the Touring gets perforated leather. Other upgrades reserved for the upper trim include an eight-way power driver's seat with memory, remote climate preconditioning, and navigation with voice recognition.
There are no comprehensive packages available to customize the 2020 Honda Clarity PHEV. The interior can only be upgraded by stepping up to the Touring trim, but the features list can be improved upon slightly with the available accessories. These include rear park sensors ($514), illuminated door sills ($290), and a first aid kit ($430). The remaining options are all cosmetic, such as body side molding ($217), 18-inch accessory alloy wheels ($1,800), and a decklid spoiler ($299). The only real 'packages' offered are three protection packages, which add a splash guard, set, floor mats, a trunk tray, and/or wheel locks, at a range of prices between $300 and $399.
Those looking at the hybrid segment certainly place emphasis on value for money. For that reason, you needn't look further than the base-level Plug-in Hybrid. Yes, the Touring gives you plusher leather-appointed power front seats, but these are luxuries, not necessities. The base model still gets the full Honda Sensing suite of safety functions, as well as a comprehensive infotainment suite that only lacks navigation. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can easily remedy this shortcoming. While there are no true feature packages available, we do recommend looking at the rear park sensor add-on.
The Honda Insight falls into the compact sedan segment, so it gets a pretty affordable starting price tag of $22,930, more than $10k cheaper than the Clarity. It gets the same 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine, but a slightly weaker twin electric motor setup that develops 151 hp combined. But it still manages to perform almost as well as the stronger Clarity. The Insight also gets more interior legroom and an almost comparable 15.1-cubic-foot trunk. What does set it a bit behind the more premium Clarity is its more budget interior and lack of features, such as smartphone integration on the base trim. Honda Sensing still comes standard, though. But at the end of the day, the Insight is not a PHEV, so it can't offer the pure-electric driving mode of the Clarity, even if its 55/49/52 mpg maximum mileage figures are very attractive. The Insight certainly looks like the better deal, but if you have your heart set on a plug-in, then, clearly, the Clarity will be your choice.
A bit more affordably priced than its plug-in sibling, the Honda Accord Hybrid ranges from $25,620 to $35,290 if you look at its more premium trim levels. It may not offer the all-electric option of the Clarity, but it still delivers impressive mileage figures of 48/47/48 mpg courtesy of its 212-hp combined hybrid powertrain. Quite a bit lighter than the Clarity, though, the Accord handles much better, giving it an almost sporty appeal. Add to this an extremely spacious cabin that can easily accommodate five passengers and an impressive cargo capacity of 16.7 cubic feet, and the Accord certainly looks like the better daily driver. If you want your Accord to feel as good inside as the Clarity, though, you will have to look at the pricier trims, but these come with Wi-Fi capabilities and wireless charging, too. If you are willing to forego the ability to drive purely on electric power, and the cost-savings connected thereto, then the Honda Accord is the better investment.
Check out some informative Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid video reviews below.