The last two cars I’ve owned have been Honda Civics. I had my 5-speed 2008 for 6 years, and last year I purchased a barely-used 6-speed 2013 SI (so much fun to drive!). When my partner had an opportunity to test drive a new 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid, I realized I saw the car from a different perspective than he — and other reviewers — did. I saw the vehicle from the point of view of a female, which I believe changes the Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid critique.
The Plug-In Hybrid Option Is A Real Plus
As a plug-in hybrid, the Honda Clarity offers the security of a gas-powered backup system if the electrical charge isn’t sufficient. Hybrids combine a conventional internal combustion engine with a battery. Yes, it’s definitely preferable to have all-electric transportation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support Paris climate agreement goals, and reduce air pollution. Yet many of us aren’t in the socioeconomic status that can provide us with the combined fully electric drivetrain and range we need for our complex lives (read: someday I, too, will own an all-electric Tesla).
The EPA gives the Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid a 110 MPGe rating, with a combined city/ highway rating of 42 mpg. My experience leaned much to the former, even when we depleted the charge and had to drive home with the internal combustion engine (ICE) after an overnight trip to the big city. We plugged it in when we returned home and were back in the high-MPGe rating again in no time.
Car and Driver says the Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid “wants to be both a zero-emission battery-electric vehicle and a range-anxiety-defeating, gasoline-burning hybrid.” That language implies that the car has some kind of identity crisis. I say that having the gas backup was stress-relieving, and I suspect other women — who are often pulled in different and unexpected directions out of their personal control — would find the hybrid combination to be confidence-inspiring. I know I did.
Comfort of the Honda Plug-In Hybrid Surpasses Previous Generation Hondas
My 2008 Honda Civic EX-L started with the high-end EX trim and added standard leather upholstery and heated front seats to the package. It seemed quite decadent in its day. Fast forward to 2018, and the Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid has features I never imagined back in 2008. (Check out the tech section below.) Moreover, it is quite large, with ample front seat head, leg, and hip room. (Note: Have you ever ridden in the third-row seats of a Tesla Model X? Talk about pinching your hips!) Access to the Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid is through big doors that absolutely fit the advertised 5 passengers — and they can be sturdy people, too!
It isn’t exactly a hatchback, but the trunk is described as “spacious” by US News and World Report. I agree. The leather trimmed seats, smooth ride, and front storage areas under the dash were plusses.
Consumer Reports points to “flaws such as the not-so-terrific seats and frustrating controls [that] gave us pause.” You know, I’ve always needed to study any new car’s manual to figure how to use the seat controls. I really don’t think this knock is warranted. Play! Experiment! Pull, push, release the levers, and see what they do! It’s called problem-solving, and the Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid really wasn’t that difficult to figure out, once I set aside the time to learn how to work different features. [Editor’s note: And as an owner, you just have to learn them once. Then it’s all habits.]
Technology is Here to Stay — Get Over It
When I was in Oman earlier this year to participate in the Global EV Road Trip (EVRT), I drove a 2018 Chevy Bolt on city streets, the highway, and up the side of a mountain pass. I was lucky enough to have a Chevy rep sitting in the passenger’s seat who mentored me in the different devices and how I would use them to achieve the optimal EV driving experience. (There’s nothing like setting up a competition with yourself to see how many MPGe you can recover through regenerative braking. Invigorating!)
So I wasn’t surprised to be a bit baffled at first by the technology features of the Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid. (Note: While I wasn’t permitted to drive this journalist loaner car, I did ride in it a lot over the week my partner had it and played with its tech features.) The Honda Mothership calls them “cutting-edge entertainment, convenience, and safety technologies.” I really liked the 8″ touchscreen and the ability to set my sports talk radio stations, navigate the GPS, find an EV charging station, use voice recognition, and even find my car from my iPhone.
Arstechnica critiques the various technological elements of the Honda Clarity Plug-In. “You can completely ignore all the modes and simply drive, but the bewildering combination is incongruous for a car aimed at allaying trepidation over complex and new powertrains that may or may not require special consideration or knowledge on the part of the driver.” Well, we didn’t experience any “trepidation” as we experimented with sport, EV, and ECON settings, which allowed us to choose among maximizing battery-only, engine, and electric motor in balance, or highway driving.
Again, a little bit of manual reading goes a long way. We didn’t need any “special knowledge” other than a bit of a primer into which setting would best suit our particular driving needs that day. I also think women like having options to extend battery life or to just get where we’re going when life calls.
One-Pedal Driving Capability Could Be a Better Choice, Admittedly
Autoblog was generally positive in its review — giving a thumbs-up to its luxuriousness, spaciousness, trunk space, and front center console — but it did offer the following negative comment about the Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid. “If there is one dynamic beef with this plug-in hybrid, it’s the lack of one-pedal driving capability, or, rather, a heavy regenerative braking setting. Pulling the ‘shift’ paddles activates more aggressive regenerative braking for use on grades, but it immediately shuts off when you apply the throttle. One-pedal driving is one of the best attributes of electrified cars, and it seems like an oversight for the Clarity.”
“One-pedal driving” means that the accelerator/ right-hand pedal (not referred to as the gas pedal anymore) also slows the car. And that is a much higher degree of deceleration than in a conventional car. With one-pedal driving, you really only hit the brakes for emergency situations. Wired explains that one-pedal driving generates the maximum benefit out of driving an electric car, as the accelerator controls both the speeding up and slowing down. Think of it this way: press the pedal, the car goes. Lift your foot, the car slows down significantly. It doesn’t coast like a conventional car.
Why is this important? When EVs slow down, the electric motor runs as a generator, recovering some of that previously wasted energy to top up the battery. It’s called regeneration, which means some EVs can be powerful enough to slow the car most of the way to zero. This feature would be nice in the Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid, I grant you. I think other women would like its efficiency and control, too.
My editor notes, “One-pedal driving is extremely hard to enable in a plug-in hybrid. This is one of the benefits of fully electric cars over plug-in hybrids.” Got it. It’s one of the downsides of the Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid, but, right now, the all-electric version is only available in California. [Editor’s note: Indeed. And in very limited quantities there.]
Best Car to Buy? Hmm…
Of all the reasons that I feel that the Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid would be good to purchase, I think the most persuasive argument is that it will introduce an entire new generation of car owners to electric vehicles. After all, Hondas continue to be very popular, as they’re affordable, reliable, and easily last over 100,00 miles. Familiarity with the Honda brand will ease many women’s transition into EVs through the Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid. Later, when battery technology becomes more refined, production capacity increases, and typical ranges are equivalent to today’s gas cars, that first generation of hybrid owners will make the switch to all-electric transportation that much more readily.
Green Car Reports revealed, “When we gave the Volt our Green Car Reports 2016 Best Car To Buy award, we said it was so good we’d consider buying one ourselves. There’s a good chance we’d now transfer that nod of approval from the Volt to the Clarity Plug-In, despite 5 fewer rated electric miles.” The combination of state-of-the-art safety features in the Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid alone make it a good purchase. It has a lane keeping and road surface departure warning system, emergency forward braking, three different views from the backup camera, adaptive cruise control, and a camera mounted in the right door mirror. Each of these adds a dimension of comfort and security to a driver’s experience, but, together, they make the car at the top of the current models from which to choose — electric or not.
Plug-in hybrid vehicles represent a good addition to battery electric cars in order to help meet the goal of reducing greenhouse gases. The Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid is an excellent new item in the Honda catalog, ushering in an era of electric transportation to the Honda faithful. Women in particular are good candidates to own this vehicle.
As the Sierra Club notes, “Female leaders are pushing for our collective equitable, swift transition to EVs — from their seats as policy-makers, from the desks of our organizations, from the apps of the small businesses we run, and even from our race cars.” Many women are already driving EVs and advancing transportation justice to bring zero emission vehicles into our repertoire of personal measures to help reduce GHG emissions. EVs are cleaner and more popular than ever, and women may soon be the ones leading the way to pervasive adoption of EVs in the US and abroad.
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