Honda adds some clarity to their lineup of hybrid cars
Words by: Adam Allen
What have we here?
Those paying attention to Honda’s innovative fuel strategy plan might think they are looking at the FCX Clarity powered by hydrogen fuel. Or maybe it’s the one that is strictly motivated by electricity. This isn’t either of those. Here in Canada, only those in British Columbia can enjoy any semblance of a hydrogen fuel infrastructure, and even in that province there’s but a handful of stations that can deliver the goods. The EV only model will have a tough time gaining sales traction in locations that aren’t heavily urbanized. What you’re looking at its Honda’s Clarity plug in hybrid, and it is this configuration that’s expected to grab the lion’s share of sales and will make the most sense for the majority of shoppers. It’s also the one Clarity model that will demand relatively little from its owner, whether they are familiar with plug ins or not- no need to worry about finding hydrogen go-go juice or diligently making sure the batteries are reasonably charged; not with an internal combustion engine along for the ride.
The plug in hybrid concept is fairly new- research shows it’s a foreign concept to most, even now- so how does it all work?
When you take delivery of your brand spanking new Clarity, it’ll come with a full tank (less than 30 litres, mind) of gasoline and a full charge of the battery pack which resides underneath the floor. With careful usage, that setup will carry you far without firing up the gas engine. Once the battery is depleted, you may plug your Clarity into the wall wither by the usual 120V setup available in every home (slower) or by a custom 240V setup (much faster.) Either way, if you’re diligent about recharging on the plug you may never need help of the conventional engine in your travels, at least not for a while, which is the point of this Clarity anyhow. There will always be those who suffer from acute range anxiety no matter what factors are in play, and for them there is a HV button which will charge the batteries once underway so that if you never plug your Clarity in, you can still make it from point A to point B. Only the most careless motorists will be stranded by the Clarity, and if that happens, well, you deserve it.
It does, and it doesn’t share any design cues from other plug ins whatsoever. Check the semi covered rear wheel openings, and all the subtle aero bits and vents- this is clearly a car designed to maximize the energy potential of every precious drop of gasoline and slip through the air as effortlessly as possible. At first blush, we dismissed it as kind of dorky, what with its wind cheating subtleties and massive front and rear overhangs- it reminded us of what a graphic novelist from the 1970’s might have come up with if you’d ask them to draw a car from the far off year of 2018. Yet, after a week with the Clarity, we began to appreciate the styling direction which undeniably serves a purpose- making the car as efficient and slippery to oncoming air as possible. There are no cars in the industry currently that are analogous to the Clarity’s design, and the march towards uniqueness has its rewards- you’ll never confuse this car for anything else, and it’s styling- whether you are a fan, or not- certainly serves its purpose in making the Clarity a fuel miser.
Tell us about the cockpit. Does it feature some sort of futuristic retina scanning technology to get underway?
Enter the Clarity’s cockpit, and nothing game changing or futuristically unfamiliar greets you- we decided that is an asset to be able to figure out your away around after a short while. Anyone who has spent time in a contemporary Honda product will feel instantly at home, right down the disappointing and laggy infotainment system which does not feature such basic hardware as a volume knob. Materials and build quality looked to have been thoughtfully selected and assembled, but there is a swath of suede like trim that runs across the entire dash that we bet will begin to look grimy and soiled around the time of your first oil change. The interior’s main pillars of virtues began to crystalize to us over the course of our time with Clarity, and they are luxurious comfort and quiet. The seats and their position have a kind of elastic waistband feeling of cozy to them, and when you’re zipping around town solely on the power of electrons, the lack of engine noise and the unique exterior aesthetics deliver a hushed driving experience that is downright soothing and never gets old.
What’s it like to drive?
There’s a Sport button which does inject the Clarity with a noticeable jolt of caffeine, but we felt guilty using it because it depletes the battery that much faster and even when activated, you would never call the Clarity light on its feet or tossable- 1,843 kilos register on the scale for the curb weight, and that ain’t svelte ladies and gentleman. This isn’t a car that you will rush across points on a map, instead taking your time while concentrating on maximizing the battery’s charge. When driven in this context, and at maximum 8/10ths the Clarity shows it still has Honda DNA, even managing to feel precise and…dare we say it…fun? You find that you focus less on having fun maximizing its dynamic attributes, but rather making a game of how efficient your driving can and should be. Before you know it, you’ll be planning your inputs well in advance and tugging often on the paddle shifters that don’t shift though gear ratios but instead call up varying levels of energy regeneration. While we wish this could provide for one pedal driving like you find in a Tesla, you will still need to summon the soggy but effective brake pedal when you need to bring the proceedings to a halt. The best part of the driving experience must be the ride quality. It’s marshmallow cushy but never nautical, and it soaks up the tired and neglected tarmac you find in the urban jungle with aplomb.
What might go wrong?
The Clarity’s most glaring issue reveals itself when you give in to laziness and don’t follow a strict schedule of plugging it each night and wherever possible in your travels. When the batteries go dry as they did for the first time while on the highway when under our care, you find yourself gliding along in serene silence until the calm is shattered by the internal combustion going from a slumber to what sounds like approaching redline instantaneously. While you can feel at work, it’s a Honda so it is smooth, but the sound it makes is more like one the brand’s power tools- a leaf blower is what came to our minds. The other problem the Clarity will face will come from just across the dealer’s showroom in the form of the Accord Hybrid. Sure, the Clarity is a well sorted car but the Accord uses virtually the same propulsion strategy, is equally as efficient, roomier inside and cheaper.
Should I buy a Clarity?
For some folks who want something efficient from Honda, putting the Clarity up against its own capable Accord stablemate will cost it some customers. For those who go all in drinking the hybrid Kool Aid and want something that will show the world how seriously they take efficiency and environmental stewardship- you know, the types of people who will cross shop the borderline hideous Toyota Prius Prime- the Clarity will have an obvious sense of appeal.
2010 Honda Clarity Touring- Specifications
- Price as tested: $45,000 (est.)
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger Sedan
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive
- Engine: 1.5 litre inline-four, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 103 @ 5,500 rpm
- Torque (lbs.-ft.): [email protected] 5,000 rpm
- Electric Motor Horsepower: 181 @5,000-6,000
- Electric Motor Torque: 232 lbs/ft. @ 0-2,000 rpm
- Combined System Horsepower: 212 @ 6,200
- Curb weight: 1,843 kg (4,063 lbs.)
- Observed Fuel consumption: 5.7L/100km (41 mpg)