2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid: What We Learned Driving the Breakthrough Green Car

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid | Eric Schaal/The Cheat Sheet

In recent years, America’s plug-in hybrid market had several attractive but imperfect options. It shook out this way:

  • Ford Fusion Energi offered the comfort and style of a midsize sedan, but with limited range.
  • Toyota Prius Prime delivered unparalleled fuel economy in a compact-car package.
  • Chevrolet Volt (53 miles) was the leader in all-electric range but also sat in the compact segment.

None hit the sweet spot that bridged electric vehicles and sedans effectively. When the Optima and Sonata PHEVs hit the market, they showcased some improvements but were still lacking. What the market really needed was the comfort of a Fusion and energy use of a Prius Prime with the range of a Volt.

Enter the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid. On paper, it appeared to check all the boxes while staying in the right price range ($33,400). In a week of driving split between the big city, highways, and small towns, we became convinced it’s a genuine breakthrough on the electric vehicle scene.

Here are 10 things we learned about the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid.

1. You can mostly drive electric.

The Clarity PHEV uses gas as a backup plan. | Eric Schaal/The Cheat Sheet

  • 47 EV miles makes it electric-first.

While there is a short-range Clarity EV and also a fuel-cell model, the plug-in hybrid will be the most practical model for the majority of consumers. When you don’t have any charge, you just need to fill up the tank, and its total EPA range is 340 miles.

However, the 47 miles of electric range makes gasoline a backup plan, especially when you drive close to home. You’ll mostly use EV mode with regular charging, and you’ll get 3-4 miles in the battery charging in a regular (120v) wall outlet at home.

With a proper Level 2 (240v) EV charger, it only takes about 2 hours to fill the battery. That puts this Clarity in a class alone with the Volt.

Next: The fuel economy is also elite.

2. Clarity’s fuel economy is stellar.

It was easy to find chargers on a road trip with the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid. | Eric Schaal/The Cheat Sheet

  • We averaged 80.3 mpg over 455 miles. 

While driving through Manhattan and Queens during our first three days with the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid, we charged once and averaged over 100 MPGe. (EPA ratings are 110 MPGe driving electric and 42 mpg in hybrid mode.) Then we hit the road for a 280-mile round trip to and from western Massachusetts.

For highway driving, the car’s system sticks in hybrid mode most of the time, and Clarity made the first 140-mile leg averaging over 50 mpg. During our time outside of the city, we charged for free while shopping at a supermarket in Lee (Massachusetts) and during lunch near the town hall in Hillsdale, New York (pictured above).

Across our seven days and 455 miles with the car, we averaged 80.3 mpg. If you drive mostly in the city and charge at home, you’ll rarely visit a gas station in this car When you do, the 7.0-gallon tank goes light on your wallet.

Next: It’s no lightweight on the highway.

3. Honda gave its plug-in genuine power.

Red Clarity Plug-in Hybrid on the highway

Honda’s new plug-in hybrid is no slouch on the highway. | Honda

  • The Clarity PHEV checks in at a best-in-class 212 horsepower.

You don’t really know how a hybrid will handle until you make that first merge onto the highway. In the case of the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid, we felt a powerful response, courtesy of the 212-horsepower output.

That easily beat Prius Prime (121 horsepower) and Volt (149 horsepower), as well as the three midsize models on the market. With 232 pound-feet of torque at your service, this car is highway-ready.

Next: Feel free to road-trip in the Clarity.

4. Road trips are comfortable in this car.

The Moonlit Forest Pearl Clarity with the rear buildings of Stockbridge’s Red Lion Inn in the background | Eric Schaal/The Cheat Sheet

  • This Clarity excels on road trips.

Because of range constraints, size limitations, and other shortcomings, electric cars often fall flat on road trips. However, Honda made this model ready to travel long distances.

Besides the fuel economy, the Clarity plug-in’s spacious interior, quiet cabin, and comfortable seats make it a no slouch for rides lasting three hours or more. Honda made a point of damping sound, too, and it’s noticeable as you maneuver through various landscapes.

Next: It got the sort of compliments that are rare in EVs.

5. It turns heads (in a good way).

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid | Eric Schaal/The Cheat Sheet

  • Unlike some hybrids and EVs, Clarity has style.

Driving around in EVs and hybrids, we’ve gotten our share of feedback. In short, you don’t hear many style compliments from people in the typical electric model. (Tesla, of course, is excluded from this list.)

That wasn’t the case in the Clarity plug-in.  In our Touring ($36,600) model, we got the thumbs-up from teenagers in Manhattan, approval from one middle-aged Mercedes owner, and a compliment from a delivery guy on the job.

Whether you go with Moonlit Forest Pearl green or another color, Clarity features the new Honda styling we’ve grown to appreciate.

Next: It doesn’t have the space and utility issues of other plug-ins.

6. You get space for passengers and luggage alike.

The Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid trunk | Honda

  • In space and utility, this plug-in is another typical midsize sedan.

We’ve dealt with limited trunk and passenger space in other plug-ins, but that’s not a problem with the Clarity PHEV. It has a real trunk with 15 cubic feet of cargo space, which we used for a cooler, suitcases, and other assorted goods on our road trip.

Meanwhile, the 101 cubic feet of passenger space nearly matches Fusion Energi, Optima, and other similar models. In short, consider Clairty a midsize sedan without the usual size limitations.

Next: Safety tech comes standard.

7. You don’t have to add safety features.

Lane assist and emergency braking are included. | Eric Schaal/The Cheat Sheet

  • Honda’s Safety Sense comes standard.

The Honda Safety Sense package comes included in base and Touring editions. It includes collision-mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, lane assist, and road departure mitigation.

In terms of daily driving, we only noticed the lane-assist function when it made the steering wheel vibrate. Another time, we got an alert that the car was about to brake as we neared the car in front of us.

Next: Go ahead and claim the full tax credits.

8. It qualifies for the $7,500 tax credit.

Clarity’s LED lights come standard in both editions. | Eric Schaal/The Cheat Sheet

  • It’ll knock the price down below $30K if your accountant gives you the green light.

Even though it’s a plug-in hybrid, the size of this Clarity’s battery allows it to qualify for the full ($7,500) tax credit. In addition, many states will knock the price down further with further rebates or credits.

So it’s definitely worth a check with your accountant to see if you can claim them. Whether you go with the base or Touring editions, you’ll end up spending less than $30,000 for this Clarity.

Next: There are a few cons.

9. You might balk at Clarity PHEV’s total range or some tech features.

A look at the Clarity’s infotainment home screen | Honda

  • 340 miles is a little short.

In our week with the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid, we didn’t fall in love with the infotainment setup. It felt like there were screens we had to pass through that were unnecessary to get to EV data and trip mpg. Also, climate control sent us on a few roundabout trips to handle basic functions (e.g., turning off the air conditioner).

Though it didn’t bother us, others might balk at the overall range (340 miles) with a full charge and tank of gas. (For reference, Accord Sport models only offer a bit more at 385 miles.) Honda chose to give the Clarity plug-in a smaller gas tank than Prius Prime and other models, and we think it makes sense.

Next: It won 2018 Green Car of the Year for a reason.

10. It’s the best value for a midsize plug-in hybrid.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid | Eric Schaal/The Cheat Sheet

  • No other car can match this model’s interior quality, space, and performance at the price point.

It’s clear why Honda Clarity won the 2018 Green Car of the Year Award. It delivers the range, economy, space and performance at a price that can’t be beat on the U.S. market.

While we’ve heard criticism of Clarity’s handling, we had no complaints on the winding country roads and highway runs we made in our week behind the wheel. This car is the overall package the market has needed for years.

Disclosure: Honda provided The Cheat Sheet with a 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid, insurance, and a full tank of gas so we could bring this first-person report to our readers.

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