First Drive of Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid: Spacious Interior But Awkward Design

By · December 14, 2017

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid

Honda last week gave journalists a first chance to drive the plug-in hybrid version of the Honda Clarity. The reviews were mostly positive, with praise given to the plug-in hybrid’s spacious interior, decent road manners, and quiet powertrain—but a less than enthusiastic response to the Clarity’s aesthetics.

With 47 miles of all-electric range, the Clarity will compete against the 53-mile Chevy Volt. The third vehicle on the short list for any plug-in-hybrid-shopper is the Toyota Prius Prime, which offers only about half the all-electric range—but has been selling in the same numbers as the Volt.

When compared to the Volt and plug-in Prius, the Clarity has a distinct advantage regarding its interior space. “There is humongous room, with seating for five full-size people in two rows,” reported Autoweek. “There’s even headroom in back for full-size adults.” GreenCarReports agreed that the Clarity beats Chevy’s plug-in hybrid for interior comfort: “It's a larger, more comfortable car with a more luxurious interior priced right on top of the Volt.”

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid

Reviewers said that the generous interior space is combined with a very quiet ride. Historically, hybrids and plug-in hybrids have been criticized for a rough transition from electric power to a gasoline engine—sometimes with a noisy and strained small gasoline engine that shudders when the switch occurs.

However, CNET reported, “The 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid operates seamlessly between electric and hybrid operation, such that it’s difficult to tell when the engine is on.” ExtremeTech used the same terms to describe the seamlessness of the powertrain. “Most drivers will be hard-pressed to know when the Clarity is running off the battery versus the gasoline engine.”

Participants in the first drive event, which took place in Northern California’s Napa and Sonoma counties, had qualified praise for the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid’s performance. “Taking the Clarity PHEV out of its element and driving up a winding mountain road, its suspension and steering performed exceedingly well,” reported CNET. “It delivered a smooth, comfortable ride on freeways and suburban streets.”

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid

A Good Ride But Not Sporty

Other reviewers made it clear that the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid is not a sports car and doesn’t handle as well as the new Accord, but that its ability to hold the road was either average or better. went as far as to say, “Honda engineers went through great pains to ensure the Clarity doesn’t roll over and play dead when presented with a few corners.”

Where the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid mostly disappointed reviewers were the lack of adequate knobs for the audio system and its overall aesthetics—requiring compromises for all versions of the Clarity based on a need to accommodate gaseous tanks for the hydrogen variant. Reviewers see the Clarity either as having an awkward exterior or a trunk-lid design as too tall causing rear visibility issues.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid

Nonetheless, the generous interior seating and its 47 miles of all-electric range will make the Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid a real contender. Sales begin in all 50 states on Dec. 1—following the introduction of the all-electric and hydrogen-powered versions of the car to buyers in California and Oregon earlier this year.

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