2018 Honda clarity plug-in hybrid fantastic in every way except one – the car guide

I just don’t understand how a company like Honda, which builds some of the most popular models on the market year after year, can green-light an exterior design such as the 2018 Honda Clarity’s. To be fair, the automaker takes few styling risks, and the relative blandness of their products results in cars and trucks that aren’t an eyesore ten years down the road.

In the U.S., there are three variants of the Clarity—fully electric, hydrogen fuel cell and PHEV—but only the latter is offered in Canada for now. When the hydrogen refuelling network grows, maybe the automaker will change its mind about the fuel cell version. The fully electric Clarity has a driving range of only about 142 kilometres, which is clearly insufficient in today’s market.

That leaves us the PHEV which is the best of the three anyway. It’s powered by an electric drive motor that develops 181 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque, connected to the front wheels via a single-speed transmission. Acting as an on-board generator, or as assistance to the main electric mill in certain driving conditions, is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine, which cranks out 103 hp and 99 lb.-ft. and is connected to an electric generator motor. Combined output is rated at 212 hp.

The Volt is more of a four-door coupe, with compact-sized dimensions and just enough room for four adults. There’s a middle seat in back, but it’s way too small for comfort and there’s no legroom for someone who would actually try to sit there. The Clarity is longer, wider and roomier, and its trunk is bigger too—439 litres compared to 301 for the Chevy.

There is one thing that bothers us big time, and that’s the company’s Display Audio infotainment system, which lacks a physical volume knob and whose touchscreen isn’t all that reactive to finger poking. In addition, many on-screen button zones are too small or too slim, which is distracting while driving. We’re also not too impressed with the strip of odd-shaped transmission buttons that replaces a conventional shift lever. The overall operation isn’t very intuitive, but since humans are generally uncomfortable with change—or maybe it’s just us—we’ll just say that it takes some getting used to.

The Clarity is ultra quiet, not only because of its electric powertrain. The cabin seems to have been well isolated, an important factor in an EV in which we’d usually hear more road noise. When the four-cylinder lump comes to life, it makes its presence felt at higher rpms, but is generally smooth, and there is no noticeable driveline harshness. Simply put, this Honda is hushed and refined.

On a full charge, the 2018 Honda Clarity PHEV delivers a driving range of up to 77 km, according to Natural Resources Canada. During our winter test with the heated seats and climate control system on full blast, the best we could achieve was about 55 km. In comparison, the Chevrolet Volt’s maximum range is set at 85 km. In both cases, the combined city/highway average once the gasoline engine kicks in is 5.6 L/100 km, so the Clarity and the Volt are pretty close in terms of energy consumption. The Honda can be fully charged in 2.5 hours on 240-volt current, while the Chevrolet takes 4.5—although the 2019 Volt Premier gets a quicker charger that cuts that time in half.