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Honda Clarity Lineup
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Honda Clarity PHEV Details, Feedback, & Initial Review From New Owner

A CleanTechnica reader has purchased one of the first Honda Clarity PHEVs in America and shared his impressions with us. There are a lot of questions about this car. Here are some answers.

Our recent stories about the Honda Clarity PHEV have generated a lot of interest and tons of questions. Recently, I got an email from Aaron, a reader who lives in Ohio and has purchased one of the first Clarity PHEVs sold in the US. With his permission, I would like to share his email with you. If you have further questions, Aaron is our go-to guy for information about this car and will do his best to provide answers.


Honda Clarity Lineup

“I’ve had my Clarity Touring for about a month now. I’m in Northern Ohio, so we have seen some pretty cold temps. I’ve done about 95% of my driving in ‘Eco’ mode. The modes are actually a little confusing though and there’s more than the three most people know about. There’s a normal mode — where no buttons are selected, HV mode — Hybrid Vehicle where it maintains charge, Eco mode — where it relies on battery as much as possible, and Sport mode  — where it runs the gas engine and battery to get as much power as possible.

“If you hold the HV button down for a few seconds it enters recharge mode — where it will slowly recharge the battery up to 50-something percent. Additionally, you can engage Eco mode on top of HV mode or, I think, even Sport mode. I haven’t played enough to know what this actually means, but I think it just runs the climate control in a more energy-friendly way. As far as when it is pulling in the clutch to the CVT and directly driving the wheels versus when it is using the gas engine as a generator, I honestly have no idea and can’t tell.

“The gas engine is a bit on the loud side when it revs, which it does like to do sometimes, but otherwise it is a super quiet car. As far as the lack of a ‘battery only’ mode, except when it is really cold (more on that later), if you are in Eco, the battery has a reasonable charge left (more than about 2 bars on the gauge), and you don’t push the accelerator past the detent, I don’t think I’ve ever had it kick on the gas engine.

“As I mentioned, there is an exception in the cold. I believe the user manual says the gas engine will run if it is below 12 degrees. We have had lots of good weather to test that. Here are my notes:

1) This threshold seems to be closer to 6 or 8 degrees rather than 12.

2) This seems to be determined by coolant temp rather than air temp. I have an attached, but unheated, garage. So on a 5 degree morning, my car might register 25 degrees on the air-temp thermometer when I leave for work and by the time I get to work (10-15 min) the thermometer might read 5 degrees, but the gas engine won’t actually turn on.

2a) When I come home from work and it has been sitting outside all day in 5 degree weather, the gas engine will start as soon as I put the car in gear.

2b) I have noticed that if I am on the highway and it is cold like this and put it into HV mode, the car is gentle on the gas engine for the first few minutes (I assume to warm it up) before it really let’s it rev.

2c) Even in these very cold temps, I have found if you turn off the Climate Control and just use the seat heater it seems to not need the gas engine running. (not advisable for passenger comfort.)

2d) I have a Touring model which comes with climate preconditioning. While I haven’t tried this with a ‘dead’ battery, it doesn’t seem to EVER start the engine when you just precondition, it doesn’t matter how cold it is.

“On the subject of preconditioning. One of my complaints is it will let you precondition when you are parked and not connected to a charger, or if you are connected to a Level 2 240-volt charger, but if you are on a 120 volt Level 1 charger, preconditioning isn’t available. This doesn’t sound like a big deal but if I am at a friend’s house for the day and plug into a standard outlet to charge, I have to go outside (remember, we are talking 5 degrees here) and physically unplug the car, then go back inside to wait for it to precondition.

“I understand there isn’t enough current from a Level 1 charger to maintain the battery charge while preconditioning but, if I can do it when I am not connected to ANY charger, why can’t I do it when I am connected to a small charger and just run down the battery? I have a degree in Electrical Engineering and see no reason why this isn’t possible.

“Other complaints:

1) No one at Honda (dealership, corporate, etc) can tell me what bolt pattern, offset, etc the rims are so I can get a set of snow tires and rims. I found the size for the accessory rims Honda sells, but I want to verify it’s the same as the standard rims.

2) There’s a lack of storage for small items like change, or a Chap Stick.

3) The infotainment system is really slow. If you change screens, you have to wait a second or two for it to load. I had a 32 GB flash drive of MP3’s plugged in and was listening to them. When I turned on the right turn signal  — and it activated the blind-spot camera on the center screen — it actually made the MP3 start skipping, presumably due to lack of processing power.

“Other than that, I’m pretty happy with the car. It accelerates really nicely and has a very smooth, quiet ride. It feels like you are riding in a big ol’ Lincoln Town Car or something. When it wasn’t so cold (in the 20s and 30s), the built-in MPG calculator on the car was estimating about 90 MPG. Now that the gas engine is running more, it has dropped to about 70 MPG. Driving it back from the dealership (about an hour on the interstate) the battery was totally dead (they didn’t give it to me charged) and I averaged somewhere in the low-to-mid 50’s MPG solely on gasoline.

“These are just my observations and experiences, I can’t promise they are 100% accurate, but hopefully it helps a little bit for a car where there is very little info. Let me know if you have specific questions and I’ll do my best to answer them!”


A few hours later, Aaron sent me another email with more information on cold weather operation. There are actually differences between US and Canadian models, apparently.

“To clarify, based on my research, you are correct that the car will not start in -20 degree weather. I believe that is based on battery temp and not air temp though. (Thankfully, I haven’t had the opportunity to test it yet in those conditions.) With a US model, your only option seems to be to push it somewhere warmer or wait for it to warm up. In Canada, they get a battery heater to help in this type of situation. I’m not sure exactly the details on how it works but I know it isn’t available in the US.

“On a related note, if the battery is cold — as when I have been doing interstate driving in HV mode on a cold day — and then I try to regen heavily using the paddle mounted behind the steering wheel, it actually won’t let me. It limits me to 2 of the 4 bars of possible regen. Once I drive a few miles in electric mode (and presumably the battery warms up due to discharging) full regen ability is regained.”

Honda Clarity Lineup

My Impressions

First, a big thank you to Aaron for taking the time to share his insights with us. Second, now I understand better why Car and Driver wrote, “the Clarity seems like a product designed by engineers for engineers.” Aaron is an engineer and he finds the multiple modes programmed into the vehicle daunting to understand. Most people want to just get in and go. If electric cars are to go mainstream, they have to behave like mainstream cars.

Lastly, I am not at all surprised the local Honda dealer staff did not bother to charge the battery before they delivered the car to him. They probably didn’t know the car had a battery or that it needed charging. That little misstep may not seem like a big deal, but it speaks volumes about how woefully unprepared most dealers are for the electric car revolution.

 
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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?

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