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After years as Honda's hydrogen-powered nameplate, the Clarity has now grown into a three-car range of alternative fuel vehicles. There's the hydrogen model, which works only for a small portion of people in California, the fully electric model with a modest range, and this, the Clarity Plug-in.
The Clarity Plug-in has 47 miles of range to tackle your daily commuting without burning a drop of gas but, thanks to its conventional gas motor, it's also a competent highway cruiser that can handle longer trips.
I discovered this during a week with the Clarity, where it proved to be the most approachable and practical electrified car on the market.
There's an inherent upside to the plug-in electric life: you get the ability to operate an alternative-fuel vehicle without range anxiety. When your 47 miles are up and the battery is flat, you can still cruise for hundreds of miles without having to stop. And since it then functions similarly to a conventional hybrid, you'll still be getting fuel economy in the 40-50 mpg range.
Additionally, the Clarity Plug-in remains whisper quiet while driving in electric mode. This, combined with solid torque off the line from the electric motor, makes the Clarity a pleasant way to cruise around town. The heftiness of the battery pack also helps the Clarity to feel more substantial than the similarly-sized Accord, though you give up a bit of the flickability I love in Hondas.
On the highway, the hefty curb weight and well-damped suspension contribute to a buttoned-down ride that impressed over hours spent trekking from New York to Washington and back up to Albany.
Honda Sensing, a suite of high-quality driver safety aids like radar cruise control and lane keeping assist, helped to reduce driver strain from hours on the road. It's standard on both the $34,295 base and the $37,495 Touring that we tested.
These trips also gave me plenty of time to get acquainted with the Clarity's cabin, which is surprisingly ample. With efficiency and affordability in mind, most automakers have targeted their green offerings at the compact segment. Cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, for instance, both sit a class below the Clarity in terms of size. Those plug-ins that are midsize, like the Fusion Energi, stuff their batteries in places that eat into trunk or passenger space.
The Clarity is the only mainstream electrified vehicle that has the space and size of a midsize sedan. That's important, as typical offerings have been priced in the same range but offered significantly less practicality.
Factor in the $7,500 tax credit you get from the feds for buying a Clarity, and the price dips to a reasonably $29,995 for a Touring model loaded with active safety features, CarPlay, leather seats, and LED headlights. That's punching in the same weight class of traditional family sedans like the Accord and Camry, which means you don't have to give up much in the way of practicality or money.
If you're waiting for the big catch, well, you won't find much here. The biggest con is the styling, which we would generously describe as "inoffensive" but more realistically call "sloppy." The wheel spats, which are seemingly there to make the Clarity look futuristic, are particularly offensive.
But if you've read this far, I assume you've already seen the pictures and judged for yourself. So on to the small things. First, the volume knob. Rather, the lack of a volume knob. The Clarity dates from the brief period in Honda-land where the company thought people could go without one, but recent course reversals for the Civic and CR-V show that the company will be phasing them back in. That policy just hasn't made its way to the Clarity.
In fact, the cabin tech as a whole is a generation behind what Honda is putting in the Accord. The old infotainment system is here, though you can avoid using it by making liberal use of CarPlay.
The Clarify features Honda LaneWatch instead of a traditional blind-spot monitoring system. It feeds a live stream from a passenger-side-mirror-mounted camera into the headunit whenever you engage the blinker, giving you a view of your blind spot. It sounds neat, but not being able to see your navigation system when you're preparing for a turn seems counter-intuitive. Plus, you're out of luck on the port side. No camera there, just a convex mirror as if to suggest that a camera isn't necessary anyway. The lack of rear-facing radars for the blind-spot monitoring system also means that the Clarity lacks rear cross-traffic alert.
Lastly, those seeking the traditional fun-to-drive Honda sedan may be better off in an Accord. The Clarity is still well-controlled and nice to drive, but 212 horsepower and 4,052 pounds isn't a combination that screams speed. Especially without a traditional transmission to power through the gears, the Clarity doesn't do much to excite you.
The $34,295 base model comes with everything you need. You can jump to the Touring, but it's an extra three grand for leather power seats, a leather-trimmed wheel, and a navigation system that was outdated two years ago. Factor in the tax credit, and the real cost is $26,795.
It's impossible to argue against the value proposition of the Clarity Plug-in. A family sedan that can fit four adults and their cargo, with all the features you want, for $27,000 is already a steal. But the Clarity also lets you commute all week without burning a drop of gas since it can recharge overnight from a standard 110V outlet.
That, truly, is the beauty of the Clarity.
If you want to commute without burning gas but still need to survive an occasional road trip with friends or family, the Clarity Plug-in is the one-car solution. It might not be the prettiest or have the best cabin tech, but it's easily one of the most convenient and practical electrified cars.
Driving Experience: 4
Price as tested: $37,495