Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid: Is It a New “Eco” Accord?


Honda has taken more kicks at the electrified car can than just about any other automaker. But their efforts have failed to find sales success. The Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid is the automaker’s latest attempt deliver maximum economy to most customers.

Honda Clarity Styling

There are two ways to go about hybrid car styling, and over the years Honda has tried both. They’ve built eco-focused models like the two generations of Honda Insight and the Honda CRZ. Those cars couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than the fuel sippers they are. Honda has also tried conventional styling, putting hybrid powertrains in two generations of Honda Civic and Honda Accord gave mainstream buyers the opportunity to up their green driving level. None of these models rocketed up the sales charts.

The Honda Clarity somehow bridges the gap between the two styles. Look closely at the detailing, and it is headed further down the Toyota Prius path of the conspicuous un-consumer. The covered rear arches are the biggest indicator of that, but the turbine-style wheels and rear wheel vents all scream hybrid. Even the long-roof shape that looks like it should be a hatchback but isn’t shouts, “Hybrid.”

But the overall look is much more mainstream. No fancy hybrid grille. No bug-eye head and taillights. This car looks like it could be the new Accord as much as the new Accord does. Maybe even more so. This car tells people it’s a hybrid, which is important to some hybrid drivers, but it doesn’t hit you in the face with it, and that’s important to regular drivers.

The Tech

The Honda Clarity rides on a purpose-built platform for green cars. It’s also available as a hydrogen fuel-cell powered car or a fully electric vehicle. The Honda Clarity Fuel Cell manages an impressive 366-mile range on hydrogen and the Honda Clarity EV has an electric range of 89 miles. Those cars are currently only available in California and Oregon.

The Clarity Plug-in Hybrid uses a new parallel hybrid system that pairs a 1.5-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder gas engine with a pair of electric motors. It’s completely different from Honda’s older IMA system where a motor was sandwiched between the engine and transmission.

In the Honda Clarity, the electric motor does all of the propulsion work virtually all of the time. The gas engine powers a second electric motor, which functions as a generator and keeps the battery charged up. At full throttle, the gas engine is still only used to generate electricity, which is sent directly to the main motor.

In certain situations, namely low throttle highway cruising, the gas engine will be asked to power the wheels directly because it’s more efficient. It operates without a transmission and drives the wheels directly through a clutch. The system puts out a maximum of 212 horsepower and 232 lb-ft of torque.

The Honda Clarity has Econ, Sport, HV and HV Charge modes. The first two change the responsiveness of the throttle as well as the click point where the gas engine engages. The Clarity’s throttle pedal has a noticeable spot in its travel. Push past that stop and the gas engine will come on. It’s a neat way to help you drive in EV mode more of the time, but still allow max power when you need it. Paddles on the steering wheel let you adjust the level of regenerative braking. They’re ideal for coasting up to stop lights and intersections while recovering as much energy as possible.

HV and HV Charge modes control the battery. HV uses the gas engine to maintain the state of battery charge. Use it if you’re taking a highway drive before arriving downtown. HV Charge runs the gas engine at a higher power level to recharge the battery. Honda says that about an hour of high-speed driving in that mode will top it off.

Inside and On the Road

Inside, the Honda Clarity looks more like the Civic than it does the Accord, although it’s closer in size to the Accord. The Clarity is an expensive car thanks to the large battery and hybrid parts, so Honda has done some work to make the interior justify that price.

It has more sound isolation materials, as well as revised windows to help make it quieter inside. The interior is trimmed with open-pore wood that, while fake, adds some class to the dash. The dash and doors are also trimmed with a faux suede on Touring trim cars that adds warmth to the interior.

On the road, this car is as fun to drive as you would expect from a Honda. The suspension is firm but never harsh, with bumps and dips being very well controlled. It feels like an Accord with an extra thousand pounds of passengers and cargo. Which essentially, it is. It’s nearly the same size on the outside as the Accord, but it feels smaller on the road.


You have a better view of the corners of the car, which makes it easier to park and maneuver. The extra bit of rear glass on the trunk lid helps that visibility as well. That window, along with the peephole into the trunk between the rear seats seems like a gimmick. But it’s really quite handy when you’re backing up in a parking lot.

The Verdict

As a plug-in hybrid, the Honda Clarity does better on the plug-in side. The car gets a 47-mile all-electric range from a 17 kWh lithium-ion battery, nearly double the range of the competition. Once that’s depleted though, the Clarity isn’t as effective at being a hybrid as some of its non-plug competition. This is a large car, so don’t expect Prius-beating mileage on gas-power.

Using gas for power, the Clarity scores 42 mpg on the EPA combined cycle. That’s because the gas engine operates almost all of the time when the battery runs down. Even coasting down mild hills keeps the engine running. The mpg meter pegs at around 42 and stays there, regardless of speed.

But that’s missing the point of the Honda Clarity. This is a car that’s meant to drive most people to and from work on silent and clean electricity. Then have the ability to take a longer road trip on the weekend. Plug it in overnight and this car excels.

The Clarity feels like a car that just happens to have a fancy powertrain, not a fancy powertrain with a car wrapped around it. Swap the badges and this could easily be the new Accord. And that’s about the greatest compliment you can give vehicle with alternative technology.