Detailed impressions of living with the Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid over the long term.
The past 12 months have flown by with the 2018 Honda Clarity PHEV, as well as the miles, racking up 28,750 miles since last Dec. I imagine you are all asking the question: how was it? Why should you buy one instead of a Model 3?
My impressions is it's the best car I have owned. I can’t get over how a 4,000 lb family car can get such great gas mileage, have good performance, and feel like a luxury sedan.
***Our thanks go out to InsideEVs commenter and author of this article Viking79 for allowing us to share this post with our readers. Check out the original post here.
We find the car incredibly comfortable. It doesn’t have lumbar support adjustment, but both my wife and I find the seat very comfortable, and we have both driven it many long 14 hour days on the highway.
My wife loves the floating console for resting her knee against, I find it painful. I would rather it not be there, but she likes it. It is worth driving the car to see if it will be a problem for you. Personally, it wouldn’t influence my decision either way.
The car has brisk acceleration if you are willing to start the engine in sport, and even in Econ running EV only it is brisk in town, but a bit slow at speed, you have to be willing to push the gas pedal all the way to the detent (place it lightly stops and you have to push hard to push past it).
Handling is safe and fine for a touring car. The Clarity PHEV has no issues cruising at reasonable speeds all day (80 mph or even more if you want to push it). You aren’t going over 100 mph in the car, but it does very well up to that point, so even if you drive on the faster side, the car is very pleasant.
The engine sounds like a 4 cylinder when it is revving, so if you are used to smooth revving BMW inline 6 you might be disappointed, but overall I don’t find the engine intrusive. It sometimes revs up if it needs to recover battery charge or you are driving hard. When it does, it sounds like a 4 cylinder revved up.
This is a hybrid with a 7 gallon gas tank and an EPA rated electric range from 0-47 miles, meaning the engine can start any time, but in practice I find the engine only starts if you push past detent in Econ mode, accelerate briskly in Normal or Sport modes, or rarely the engine will start if charging has just completed and you are driving downhill. This is the one surprise start condition, otherwise it is pretty much EV only. In very cold weather it will also run the engine, but this is mostly below 0 F (or close to it). It seems to depend on battery temperature and heater demands.
Brakes, Transmission & More
Brakes are excellent, blending in regen before applying friction brakes. They are the smoothest of any car I have driven with blended brakes, hardly even noticeable if it is using mechanical or regen braking. They appear to be a similar system to the Fit EV where it provides artificial feedback when using regen. Skip to the next section if you don’t care about transmission details.
The transmission is an electronic (i.e. not mechanically linked) CVT that uses the gas engine and generator motor (Genset) to drive the wheels by generating electricity to power the main traction motor. Surplus electricity is fed to the battery or if the main motor needs more electricity it comes from the battery. The engine RPM is independent of wheel speed in this mode (CVT).
Alternately, the gas engine can drive the wheels mechanically through a fixed ratio (single speed) gear reduction transmission. This is geared like overdrive in a normal car, so it will only be used higher speeds on the highway under lower loads.
The Honda Clarity PHEV transmission selects the mode that is most efficient, so you don’t need to worry about it. Sometimes you will notice the car driving like a CVT (fixed revs but changing speeds) and others you will notice it more like a normal car. You can identify which mode its in using the energy display either on the center console or on the instrument cluster. If a gear shows between the wheels it is in direct drive mode.
Measuring acceleration with my OBD II scanner and Torque Pro running at least two trials back to back in opposite directions and I was at 9 seconds in Sport Mode (or any mode if floored all the way) and about 13 seconds in Econ mode if I didn’t start the engine (again, if pushed past detent it will accelerate as fast as Sport). This is with no roll-out so it will be slower than published times by magazines that target test towards drag racing that allows roll-out. For reference, my 2015 i3 REx was about 7.6 seconds and the 2012 Volt about 10 seconds, 2010 Mini S Clubman 6spd manual about 8 seconds.
The Clarity PHEV has very little noise, vibration, or harshness (NVH), other than the engine noise when it revs high. Honda went to great lengths to reduce noise to levels you would expect from full luxury cars. They used multilayer front side windows that eliminate 99% of UV light and greatly reduce noise. These are usually reserved for high-end luxury cars, not even entry level luxury cars do this. They also employ active road noise cancellation using an in-cabin speaker, and other passive devices like the sound attenuators in each wheel and plugs in the frame rails, among other things.
The quality of the interior has held up to almost 30,000 miles of abusive kids. I have seen no wear on the seats or anywhere else. My only complaint is the suede gets lint on it, using a lint roller will help keep it looking nice.
The car is incredibly comfortable for 4 large adults, and holds 5 with relative ease. You can fit 3 across car seats, but having more than 1 car seat will limit the ability to hold 5. We use a special booster harness for my 4 YO when we drive long distance with 5 that opens up more space in the back.
The all-weather mats are a great investment. They do a great job protecting the floor, but aftermarket might have better coverage around the pedals, the main weak point of the factory mats. I have never installed the factory carpet mats, opting instead to use the all-weather mats year round.
This is possibly the worst part about the Clarity PHEV. It is sluggish and not well designed (layout). It is customizable, but I much prefer a good base design that doesn’t need customization. Thankfully, Honda admits that they might not have the best infotainment and provide both Android Auto and Apple Car Play for no extra charge (Hear that BMW?!?).
I will only talk about Android Auto since I don’t have any Apple devices. It works great most of the time, but my new Note 9 phone doesn’t work well with it (My Wife’s S9 works much better). I am unsure if it is something with my phone or the car, but it locks up a lot, not letting me add destinations to a route (like gas stations or food stops) while driving. I work around this by unplugging my phone and entering the info then reconnecting. Update: this appears to be a resolution setting on the phone, forcing a lower resolution can resolve this.
If you use Android Auto for NAV, directions will also display on the instrument cluster behind the steering wheel when you are approaching turns. This is helpful to avoid distractions. Update: the latest version of Android Auto seems to have broken this feature.
The total service costs have been about $250 for 4 oil changes (full synthetic) and tire rotations. The dealer is saying I will need a $600 30,000 mile service soon, but I am going to challenge them on this. The car is not asking for anything special, and still says the next service of A01 is due soon. Which is odd as I just did a service at 25,000 miles. It has only been 3800 miles, which seems much too soon. Granted it has been almost all gas miles due to a couple long trips, but it still seems premature.
The reliability has been “poor” in the sense it has been in for service 3 or 4 times this year (more than any other car I have owned), but good in the sense that it has never left me stranded. It has mostly new car bugs that are being worked through and should be a reliable car once those are fixed. It better be as I am going to have 150,000 miles on it in 6 years.
Problem areas include rattling HVAC fan, issue with HVAC computer (replaced under recall), water valve related to heater, and HV range calculations (fixed twice, first fix was buggy).
Tire life is looking to be about 50,000 miles from the OEM tires, and brake life will be excellent as well. They show almost no wear, they showed about 8 mm on first service and 7 mm on latest service, but measurement error on those is probably 1 mm. I expect they will last 100,000 miles and that is with no effort to reduce braking.
The car gets an almost unbelievable 40 mpg, when driving up to 80 mph!!! I have driven lots of cars that get 40 mpg on the highway, but they are less than 3000 lbs, now 30 years old, and driving 65 mph instead of 80 mph (this car will get 50 mpg or more in that situation). Driving to GA last month I had fill ups of 41 to 46 mpg and that was at a leisurely 70 mph with a fully loaded car. This is calculated by pump fill up (trip reads up to 5 or 10% high). Your situation might vary, worst case highway fuel economy was 33 mpg, but that isn’t typical with what I see.
The gas tank is small with a comfortable 250 mile range (roughly), so on long trips just turn every stop into a gas stop. Instead of stopping at rest areas in between gas ups I stop at another gas station. They are a lot more common than rest areas anyway.
We bought this vehicle to replace a 2012 Nissan Quest that averaged about 19 mpg, or a little over 1500 gallons of gas to drive the same miles as the Clarity. So far in the Clarity we have used just over 300 gallons of gas and about 5 MWh of electricity, or about 1200 gallons less of gas than the van.
Looking at CO2 produced from the electricity generation, burning the 1200 gallons would generate at least 10 metric tons of CO2 (vs less than 4 for the electricity).
I use the adaptive cruise with lane keep assist (ACC + LKAS) whenever I drive on the highway. If driving with the engine on (longer distance) be sure to use Sport mode. The car will resume and hold cruising speed much more reliably. In Econ the speed will fluctuate and it is dangerously slow resuming cruising speed if it slows down at all.
The adaptive cruise does an excellent job in any situation in light traffic except for rain. I would advise turning it off in rain, it is the only time I have had the car fail to slow for a vehicle in front of me. I don’t drive in heavy traffic situations frequently, but remember the car might not stop in time if traffic is stopped ahead of you that is not being tracked by the system. If a car being tracked suddenly slows, the car should see that and slow with it. The car will appear inside the grey outline in the ACC area if it is being tracked.
LKAS is a useful assistant, but you still need to always have your hands on the wheel. I find it reduces fatigue in well painted areas where I am driving long distance. It works better if you are providing torque in same direction, it doesn’t provide enough torque to turn the car by itself in many situations. Again, it is designed to assist, not steer for you.
Be sure to run through fuel every year and run the engine at least once a month until it gets hot (ideally 15 or 20 minutes). You bought a PHEV, don’t be afraid to burn gas occasionally. It is worse for the engine not to run it regularly as oil runs off the metal exposing it to corrosion.
The keys provided with the car have unique profiles stored in the computer. If you open the door with one it will change the settings of the car based on the key used. So you need to change all the settings for each key individually. If you don’t, you will be incredibly confused why the car isn’t behaving as you expect. If you have the US Touring model your seat will adjust to the memory associated with the key when you open the door.
Features Not Used
I generally don’t use the regen paddles and almost always drive in Econ mode to reduce chances I will start the engine accidentally (It is easy to start in Sport mode). To make the car more fun to drive in Econ push the pedal most of the way to the detent and it will take off quickly.
After driving my i3 most of the time I find the regen paddles inadequate, but the Clarity PHEV blends regen so well with the brake peddle, there is no real need to use the regen to save the brakes, the car will do it automatically. However, if driving in sport I use the paddles to adjust speed for turns and such where I need only a little regen braking.
Built-in NAV is nice, but we rarely use it, opting for Android Auto instead. However, if you are one of the few people without a smartphone, the built-in NAV is a Garmin developed solution that adds some EV charging points of interest, and is a great overall NAV system. I like that it includes speed limits (based on the map data) and is very easy to see directions and map is easy to understand.
We disabled the right turn camera. It is a gimmick, but can still be manually engaged in the few cases we want it by pressing the button on the end of the turn signal stalk.
I wish the car had cross traffic alert and lane change warnings. Sometimes backing into a busy street is a safety concern that the camera might not show a warning soon enough, and lane change warnings to prevent changing lanes into a car in the blind spot, especially on the left.
This Clarity PHEV will save emissions. Dramatically. It is a plug in hybrid with minimal compromise in interior space. The performance is good in all respects. Nothing else like it on the market. It is $15,000 less than a Model 3, which is what makes it such a great buy.
The reality is many of us have to drive on the highway long distances, and gas is still the most convenient way of doing that. Buying a Clarity PHEV instead of an all gas car is a huge savings, and even though you are burning gas on the highway, it is incredibly little amount of gas vs most mid-sized gas sedans.
Do I want a Model 3 Long Range (standard range doesn’t charge quick enough for me for long travel)? Yes, but could I have convinced my wife to buy one instead of the Clarity PHEV? Not likely, too much more expensive and wasn’t confident in long distance driving yet. The Model 3 could have saved an additional 300 gallons worth of gas vs the 1200 I saved moving to the Clarity from the van.
When it comes time to replace the Clarity it will likely be with a BEV, but until then these PHEVs make great stepping stones.