On Monday, I posted a story about the Honda Clarity PHEV that got a slew of comments, most of them focused on trying to figure out just exactly how the hybrid powertrain works in this car. A reader drove one recently and reported the gasoline engine was running during most of his test drive, which could be explained by the battery not being fully charged by the dealer. I promised I would look into this in more detail, so yesterday I went to my local dealer to ask the questions that needed to be asked.
First of all, a hat tip to the reader who left a comment on the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV thread about how to use AutoTrader to locate new cars. The idea works a treat. On Monday night, I was able to determine that my local dealer had three Clarity PHEVs in stock. When I got there this afternoon, one was all shined up and sitting right on the showroom floor, so props to Greico Honda in Johnston, Rhode Island, for not hiding it out back somewhere.
The first thing I learned was that a second car had arrived that afternoon but had not yet been serviced and a third is on a truck somewhere and due at the dealership in a day or so. Sadly, that meant there was no car available for me to drive. And while the salesman I spoke with was polite and helpful, he had not yet been trained about the car and so was unable to answer my questions. But at least he admitted as much and didn’t try to snow me with a bunch of half truths or misrepresentations.
What he did do was show me to a quiet corner and let me look through the owner’s manual. I read the relevant sections and found it gave very few details about the operation of the car other than to say it automatically selects the best combination of battery, motor, and gasoline engine for all driving situations. I was surprised at how little information the company gives owners in that regard. I also found out that anyone can access all Honda owner manuals online. Nice feature, that.
Below is the relevant page. Notice it consists of one short paragraph at the top of the right-hand page. After reading it several times, I found myself unable to determine exactly when to expect the gasoline engine to turn itself on. I am left with the impression that it comes into play more often than the engine in a Chevy Volt does, but can’t say for certain that is correct. I reached out to the publicity person, who forwarded the videos about the Clarity PHEV to me for more information, but I have received no response regarding the specific question.
The manual does make it clear that the car supports Level 2 charging and the car I saw on the floor (pictured above) had a traditional window sticker which made no mention of leasing. The list price was $37,400. The car appears to be almost exactly the same size as the Accord I saw parked next to it. In particular, the rear roof line and the little triangular window behind the rear door are identical. The Clarity has a different grille and tail lights but both cars had exactly the same 19″ wheels. The Clarity has the rather odd squared off rear wheel opening that has been a hallmark of Honda’s most eco-friendly offerings beginning with the original Insight.
Inside, the Clarity feels big and comfortable, especially compared to the Chevy Volt, which feels small inside to me. Rear-seat legroom and headroom is on a par with most full size cars and much more generous than the last Mercedes C-Class sedan I rode in.
I am left with no definitive answer to how exactly the Clarity PHEV powertrain works in normal driving. There are three driver-selectable modes — EV, HV, and HV Charge. Like many plug-in hybrids, the HV Charge setting uses the gas engine now so that you can conserve battery power for later. One thing I did notice flipping through the manual is that the car will not operate — at all — if the battery temperature falls below -22º F and that plugging in the car will not help the situation. All you can do is make sure the battery does not get that cold. Important to know in the winter of 2018 when record-low temps have been recorded all across the country.
If anyone from Honda would like to contact us and offer more information about the operation of the Clarity PHEV, that would be much appreciated. A test drive for a few days or a week would be even better. Until that happens, cozy up with the online owner’s manual. If any readers get a chance to drive one of these cars and wants to share new information with us, please feel free to use the comments section or contact us directly via email.
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