REVIEW: Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid, “A plug-in without the compromise”

The Clarity PHEV is a fantastic choice for anyone who wants an electric vehicle, but who also needs the flexibility of being able to take long trips when needed.


A plug-in vehicle without compromise?

I bought my 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid in February 2018 (just over five months ago as I write this), and I have already racked up over 10k miles on my odometer. I drive a lot. To jump right in, why did I buy a new car in the first place – and why a Honda Clarity PHEV?

Towards the end of my previous car’s time with me, it leaked ~0.5 L of oil per week. So, clearly, it was pretty much kaput. Thus began my shockingly short search for a new vehicle. I knew that I wanted something that would be fuel efficient and reliable, preferably with some electric range. My dream car is a Tesla Model 3, but given how unreliable my current car had become, I wasn’t exactly able to wait on the long list of people in line for one.

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Despite working in the alt-fuels world, I hadn’t heard of the Honda Clarity until one Fateful Friday (like a Manic Monday, but less catchy). I was planning on making my new car decision within the week that followed my discovery of the Clarity and luckily, a local dealership had a Clarity in stock – they jumped at the chance to let me test drive the car.

First Experience:


From the moment I saw the car, I was intrigued. I’m used to the overtly futuristic look of other mainstream hybrids (I’m looking at you, Prius), and though Honda has definitely made some aesthetically divisive design decisions, the Clarity has a significantly lower shock-factor than the Prius. The most notable design choice is the shrouded rear tires, which help the Clarity slip through the air more effortlessly. Largely, the exterior of the Clarity fits in quite nicely with the design of newer Honda Accords and Civics.

As an interesting note, a couple of reviews I’ve come across online have referred to the Clarity as the ugliest car of the year, which I rather enjoy. This is in pretty stark contrast to all the times I’ve been stopped at my local car chargers by strangers who wanted to know more about EVs and my car in particular, all of them raving about how nice of a car it is. So, “divisive” is probably an appropriate way to describe the design of the Clarity.


Sitting in the car, it feels wonderfully familiar to the “conventional” vehicles I’ve driven all my life (except this time, the car isn’t as old as I am . . . ). The two notable differences inside the vehicle are the paddle selectors on the steering column (used to control the strength of its regenerative braking) and the gear selector – which is a row of push (and pull) buttons in lieu of a lever.

The interior of the car is comfortable and shockingly roomy. The gear selector is suspended on a bridge, which allows for a shelf underneath that houses two USB charging ports (one provides 1.5A and the other provides 1.0A) as well as the standard power socket that most cars have (there is a second power socket behind the center console for rear passengers). This shelf has become a fantastic place for my wallet, phone, and notebook during my daily commute.

The car comes in two trims: Base and Touring. The Touring trim only adds a few features, such as Honda Satellite Navigation (though Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are available in the Base trim as well), full-leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel,  and power seats (with settings memorized based on key fob). Critically, there are no performance differences between the trims – the electric range, fuel economy, safety features, and engine/motor power of the two trims are identical.

First Drive:

I’ll admit that I was slightly perturbed by the process of turning the car on. Hitting the Start button results in the dash and touchscreen lighting up as well as a quiet boot-up sound, which I suspect was added to satisfy the part of my brain that expects to hear the engine turning over. While I have since come to appreciate this sound, all I could hear was a deafening silence when I turned the car on for the first time. Like a 90’s sitcom, I looked over to the salesman in the passenger seat with (what I assume was) a look of naïve stupor on my face and asked him if the car had turned on or not . . . it had, of course.

Having never driven a hybrid or electric vehicle before, I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. Would it be lethargic like I’d expect from stories I’ve heard about hybrids, or would it be zippy like I’d expect from stories I’ve heard about EVs?

To my delight, the car proved to be pretty zippy! While the Clarity won’t push you back in your seat like a Tesla S will, it provides more than ample acceleration if you need it. Its Sport Mode significantly increases the responsiveness of the accelerator and, quite frankly, makes the Clarity an exciting vehicle to drive.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the paddle selectors for the regenerative braking. I found that the process of using them became second-nature very quickly and by the end of my short test drive I was using them without much active thought, which I consider to be a big win.

One of the qualities I care most about in a vehicle is visibility while driving, and this is a place where the Clarity excels (maybe that’s where the name comes from . . . ). While the rear window isn’t very big, the Clarity has a window through the trunk that adds a very valuable visibility patch.

The last major thing I noticed during my first test drive is the steering wheel itself. It may sound silly, but the steering wheel just feels solid. It has very little play in it and I find that it provides a really comforting feeling of confidence while driving that is hard to explain. It adds a sense of intentionality to any input when driving that I adore.

Performance Stats:

  • Engine: 1.5L In-Line Four-Cylinder
  • Valve-Train: 16 Valve DOHC VTEC
  • Horsepower: 212 HP combined between Electric Motor and Engine
  • Transmission: Continuously-Variable
  • Fuel Economy (city/highway/combined): 44/40/42
  • Electric Range: 47 miles
  • Electric MPGe: 110
  • Battery Size: 17kWh
  • Fuel Tank Size: 7 gallons
  • Charging Capability: Level 1 and Level 2 (32A; 6.6kW)

Price and Tax Credits:

  • Base Trim (starting at): $33,400
  • Touring Trim (starting at): $36,600
  • Federal Tax Credit*: $7,500
  • State Tax Credit: varies by state**
*At the time of writing, the Federal Electric Vehicle Tax Credit is $7,500 for the Honda Clarity PHEV. This amount is dependent upon battery size. The tax credit is non-refundable and doesn’t roll over to subsequent years. For more up-to-date and complete info, see:
**For more information about state-specific tax credits, see:
2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

Real World Experience:

How do these stats stack up with reality?

Short answer: shockingly well, actually! In the 10k miles I’ve put on my car, I’ve averaged ~55 miles on every full charge of my car and nearly 50 mpg when driving in hybrid mode (something like 18% better than the stated values). It’s worth noting that most of my hybrid-mode driving is highway driving with only a little smattering of city driving – I manage to drive in electric mode upwards of 90% of the time. Of course, these differences are certainly, in part, due to my tendency to be a mild-mannered driver (apart from the occasional passive-aggressive mutterings under my breath about the inability of Baton Rouge citizens to merge properly).

As far as horsepower is concerned, I admit to lacking the ability to intuit horsepower by feel, but the car certainly seems to have the get-up-and-go that I ask of it when merging. Despite weighing in at just over 4000 lbs, the Clarity still manages to deliver a 0-60 time of around 7.5s, which is pretty solid for a hybrid with such a beefy battery.

As anyone who has driven an electric car will tell you: they’re exciting. Regardless of the 0-60 time, the instant torque and responsiveness of any electric vehicle is simply delightful. In the Clarity, this fact is compounded with a decent 0-60 coupled with a very sensitive accelerator when the car is in Sport Mode that makes driving almost dangerously fun. If the accelerator is pushed far enough, the car seamlessly kicks the gasoline engine on to provide the requested power, which is really easy to do in Sport Mode – a fact that leads me to keep the car in Eco Mode. The Clarity’s no McLaren (I had a little chuckle to myself when I parked next to a McLaren yesterday and noted the fact that the two cars could not be more different from each other), but it still manages to elicit joy in my daily commute.

Interesting Notes:

  • Remote Climate Control is a wonderful feature to have here in the oven that is Louisiana.
  • Keyless Entry is lovely.
  • The engine bay is significantly more roomy and accessible than most other hybrids I’ve seen, which is a huge boon for someone who likes to do his own car work and maintenance.
  • As many other reviewers/owners have mentioned, this car practically begs to be driven as an EV (it even has the tailpipe tucked away out of sight), despite managing to be rather adept at eking out a high degree of efficiency from burning gasoline.
  • The Clarity is so quiet that I hear other vehicles creeping up on me when driving, which quite literally adds a new dimension to my road awareness.
  • It’s nearly impossible to hear or notice the gasoline engine kicking on, except for when driving at low speeds.
  • The Clarity also makes an artificial exterior noise to alert pedestrians of its presence when driving at low speeds.
  • While it’s not a Clarity exclusive, the reverse camera is such a wonderful feature that I feel obligated to mention it. I’m almost surprised that reverse cameras haven’t become required by law at this point.
  • The auto-dimming rear view mirror is wonderful.
  • While some people prefer blind-spot monitoring, I think the addition of “Lane-Watch” (a camera on the passenger-side mirror that provides a wide-angle view of the passenger-side blind spot) is a fantastic feature.
  • The car has a brake-hold system that can be toggled to keep the car stopped without your foot on the brakes – even on a hill.
  • The Clarity has an Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) that will maintain a set distance from the car in front while cruising (traditional Cruise Control can be toggled easily, if desired). I was really shocked at how well it maintains distance, and the ACC will keep distance at speeds below 25 mph, as well (this feature is referred to as Low-Speed Follow).
  • The car has a Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS) as well that attempts to keep the car centered in its lane. While LKAS works reasonably well in highway conditions, it tends to get confused by merge lanes and off/on ramps. Generally, it’s a nice system, but it’s important to learn when it doesn’t work properly.
  • The Clarity had some software problems upon release with estimating hybrid-mode range. It would drastically over-estimate hybrid range if a significant amount of electric driving was done (it essentially averaged the fuel economy between gas fill-ups, but included electric driving in the calculation). This was recently fixed in a software update, and now the range estimates are wonderfully accurate.
  • The Clarity doesn’t provide Wh/mi data like some other EVs, which is pretty disappointing. It also doesn’t tell you the state-of-charge of the battery in kWh, another small disappointment. As someone who tracks fuel economy religiously, I find this to be a constant, mild annoyance.


All in all, I think the Clarity PHEV is a fantastic choice for anyone who wants an electric vehicle, but who also needs the flexibility of being able to take long trips when needed. The 47-mile electric range (which, in the realm of PHEVs, is second only to the 2018 Volt’s 53-mile range) is enough to cover most, if not all of the average daily commute. This, coupled with its higher-than-average fuel economy (42 mpg combined) makes it a compelling choice for anyone with efficiency in mind – and it does all this while still being an incredibly roomy and comfortable vehicle to be in for long-distance travel! At the end of the day, I love my Clarity PHEV and feel that it truly is a plug-in vehicle without the compromise.

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Louisiana Clean Fuels (LCF) was established in 1997 as an affiliate of the U.S. DOE Clean Cities program and received designation in 2000. Formerly the Greater Baton Rouge Clean Cities Coalition, LCF operates as an independent non-profit supported through its partnership with the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and its stakeholders.
review-honda-clarity-plug-in-hybrid-a-plug-in-without-the-compromiseThe Clarity PHEV is a fantastic choice for anyone who wants an electric vehicle, but who also needs the flexibility of being able to take long trips when needed. The 47-mile electric range is enough to cover most, if not all of the average daily commute, and its higher-than-average fuel economy makes it a compelling choice for anyone with efficiency in mind. It does all this while still being an incredibly roomy and comfortable vehicle to be in for long-distance travel.


  1. I enjoyed the review. It provided a lot of useful and valuable information. One typo to correct: The word “elicit” is incorrectly spelled as “illicit.” I know you don’t want to have an illicit review. 🙂

  2. Probably not correct to describe the transmission as being continuously variable. My understanding is that is a single-speed transmission.

    • Hey Henry! So yes, in electric-drive mode, the transmission locks and acts as a single-speed. But it does have an electronically controlled, continuously variable transmission (E-CVT).

      There are a couple of reasons for this, but a big one is that the Clarity can drive in 100% ICE mode at high loads (70+ mph, uphill, etc.). In this mode, the engine couples directly to the wheels via the E-CVT like many other Honda vehicles (and other makes, of course). I hope this clears things up a bit! Let me know if you have any more questions.


      • So, I’ve done some more reading about the Clarity’s transmission, and it looks like it’s a bit more complicated than I stated above. I intend to edit the article when I have a more firm grasp on exactly how it works.

        Basically, it looks like the Clarity uses a second electric motor as if it were a transmission. So the engine can output a variable amount of power to an electric motor, which operates at a single gear ratio (which is what electric motors are good at – producing consistent torque and power at a wide range of RPMs). This is essentially the same thing as a mechanical CVT, but cleverly utilizing one of the fundamental features of electric motors. Whether this counts as a transmission seems to be a point of contention, and I’ve seen quite a few arguments about it. It seems to mostly be a problem of semantics.

        When the engine is directly coupled to the wheels (in direct-drive mode, at high speeds or high loads), it is a single gear ratio.

        I’ll do a bit more research and update my review soon, I want to really understand it before trying to explain it in the main article. I’m glad you called me out on this, it’s led me down a fascinating line of research! Thank you!

    • If you’re having that problem, call your dealership and let them know. They should have that software update available.

      I’ve been to my dealership twice for software updates, and it took a couple of hours each time. I was told that they have to run their own diagnostics on your vehicle before they update any software (probably a liability thing), so that diagnostics can take some time. Once they fixed that software problem, my hybrid range estimate is absolutely spot-on.

      Additionally, there’s another bug that has cropped up for people recently where a bunch of warning lights will appear on your dash when you start the Clarity (the car still operates just fine, though). There’s an update to fix this problem, too. I would recommend that you join the Facebook group “Honda Clarity PHEV Owners Group.” The people there are incredibly engaging and knowledgeable about the car, so there are answers for all these questions and more on the site. I’m also more than happy to answer any other questions you may have (I’m on that group as well, feel free to look me up).

      Out of curiosity, how do you feel about the review, as an owner yourself? Any disagreements? How long have you had your Clarity?

  3. I’m really glad i found this review as I am considering purchasing the Honda Clarity within the year – Tax credit 🙂 However, I am unsure about the mileage covered in one charge. My understanding, from your review, is that the card goes about 47 miles on a charge. I want to assume this is the average. I drive 90 miles a day and 47mile/charge is certainly not sufficient. Please clarify?

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the review! I hope it’s been helpful.

      In 100% electric mode, the car can only go around 47 miles on a charge. This range is affected by loads of factors, such as outside temperature, driving habits, A/C usage, and so on (same as for a gas car, but more noticeable). During the Summer, I usually get upwards of 55 miles in pure electric mode on a single charge. Now that it’s getting colder, I’m getting closer to 45 miles of range in electric mode.

      All that being said, there’s always the gas engine as backup if you run out of battery. The engine will seamlessly kick on when the battery gets low, so there’s no fear of getting stranded (assuming you have gas, of course).

      Now, if you want to drive 100% electric on your commute, there may be charging stations near your work that you can use. I’d suggest searching on for chargers near your work that you may be able to use. It takes about 2.5 hours to charge at a standard Level 2 charger, and 12 hours to charge on a Level 1 charger.

      I’d also recommend joining the Honda Clarity PHEV Owners Group on Facebook and checking through the information there. The group is incredibly active and helpful (I’m active on it, myself), and we welcome non-owners who are interested in the car.

      I hope some of this helps, and I’d be happy to answer any more questions!

  4. Nice review. You forgot one great feature that is standard in both the base and touring models: Honda Collision Mitigation Braking System.

  5. Hummm. Not sure I am in the positive camp. I have leased a clarity for the last year. Currently have 11k miles. My likes: very roomy, good sized trunk, range on electric only is great.
    Dislikes: it IS the ugliest car I have ever owned. There is an app for the car. The app asks you to name the car. Ugly was already taken. Ugly 1 through ten were taken. Fugly was taken…sigh. the front seats have zero lumber support. Painful on longer drives. When the engine kicks in it SCREAMS. The car is surprisingly load from wind, tire and engine on the freeway. No blind spot monitoring instead honda provides a useless camera. Driving/steering feel is completely absent. Granted this is not a sports car but it is by far the most boring car I have driven.
    To surmise, I love the fuel savings but cant wait for the lease to end.


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