Road Test: 2018 Toyota C-HR

Road Test: 2018 Toyota C-HR

Offbeat Looks + Fun Driving

Remember Scion? The junior, fun brand in the Toyota family was supposed to be where young people made their connection with Toyota. It was born because, back in 2003, some folks at Toyota believed that the youth of America saw Toyota was too old and stodgy.

2018 Toyota CH-R

Toyota’s quirky subcompact crossover contender

In 2017, Scion is gone. The brand died when it received too little exciting new product, and, more importantly, when Toyota’s leadership figured out that young people were buying Toyotas after all.

You can acquire three former Scions rebadged as Toyotas—the Corolla iM, Mazda-sourced Yaris iA, and 86 sports coupe (formerly FR-S). Now, the car that was originally meant to be the new Scion compact crossover has become the 2018 Toyota C-HR.

Edgy Diamond Design

The design theme is called “Distinctive Diamond,” and indeed there are many edges and surfaces all over the multifaceted body, especially looking at the side profile. Numerous diamond shapes appear inside the car, too, on the dual-zone climate controls, speaker surrounds, and the black headliner. However, the overall effect of the body design is more stimulating to the eye than the more restrained interior.

2018 Toyota CH-R

Diamonds are the CH-R’s “easter eggs”

Standard features include a leather-wrapped steering wheel, electric parking brake (takes up less room), and “Sport Fabric-trimmed” bucket seats with “sport bolsters,” which are adjustable six ways.

This “urban-dwelling crossover” borrows some of the street style of the Nissan Juke, which is itself slated for an update, having spent the last several years shaking up traditional car design. C-HR stands for “Coupe-High Rider.” Make of that what you will.

Two-Tone Style

My sample vehicle sported the two-tone paint you get when you order the R-Code option. The Radiant Green color, mixed with Iceberg (white) on the roof and mirrors, keeps things lively. It’s only available as a two-tone.

My tester was the XLE model. There’s also a Premium version that gets additional safety and styling updates, along with illuminated vanity mirrors and more seat adjustment choices. You enjoy the safety of blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert, two features that are increasingly available standard on modern cars. In the Premium version the front seats are power adjustable and heated, and you get a smart key with push-button start.

The Power & the Infinite Transmission

2018 Toyota CH-R

The storage space is tight, but functional

Whichever model you pick, it’s a 3,300-pound car motivated by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels. It churns out 144 horsepower and 139 pounds-feet of torque through a continuously-variable transmission (CVT). CVTs aren’t designed for sportiness, but this one, called a CVTi-S, lets you select Sport mode and use paddle shifters to pick seven preselected “ratios.” That mitigates some of the oddness of the CVT sound, as it searches for the ideal ratio, but it may lower the efficiency. At least it’s more fun.  

2018 Toyota CH-R

Displays tell the story in the cockpit

EPA numbers are 27 city/31 highway/29 combined. I accumulated 26.3 mpg. Green scores are only a 3 for Smog and a better 6 for Greenhouse Gas.

The 2018 Toyota C-HR receives two Toyota-first features: Driver Distraction Secure Audio and Brake Hold Function. The first limits the menus you can view on the screen while moving, complying with driver distraction guidelines issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Brake Hold keeps the brakes on slightly when the car is still, even if you reduce pressure on the pedal. That keeps you from rolling inadvertently, I guess. A full-electric car can do that already.

The Inside Story

The 2018 Toyota C-HR is not big, but with a rear hatch and 36.4 cubic feet of cargo room with the split rear seats folded, you can do a lot with it.

2018 Toyota CH-R

The CH-R has “youth appeal” with style and tech

The driving experience is what you’d hope for and expect from a smaller, tauter vehicle. I wouldn’t call it memorable, but it is based on the new TNGA C platform. This fresh chassis design combines a low center of gravity with high strength and low weight, so it makes for a better handling car. In fact, Toyota tested this car on the famous Nürburgring Nordschliefe, where companies take their supercars. No information on its score, but it does give the C-HR some bragging rights.

Things like variable electronic power steering can make a difference. It changes the amount of assist depending on your speed, so you can park easily while getting more feedback out on the highway. A new double-wishbone, multi-link rear suspension isn’t the kind of thing you’d necessarily find on such an affordable car.

Pricing starts at $23,460 for the XLE and jumps to $25,310 for the Premium. My XLE tester ran $24,969 with a few options, including the two-tone paint. 

The would-be Scion C-HR is aimed at customers who want to have fun, stand out a bit in traffic, and don’t have lots of money to spend. That means the 2018 Toyota CH-R is playing its role now, regardless of the brand or the badge it wears.

Other Contenders in the Subcompact SUV/Crossover Category:

Road Test: 2017 Mazda CX-3

Road Test: 2017 Kia Soul Exclaim

Road Test: 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

Road Test: 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Road Test: 2017 Jeep Renegade Altitude

Road Test: 2016 Honda HR-V

Road Test: 2016 Fiat 500X

Road Test: 2015 Nissan Juke Nismo

Road Test: 2015 Buick Encore

Road Test: 2015 Chevrolet Trax

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Road Test: 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

Road Test: 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

Today’s Vehicle, With a Big Upside

The 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) is a stylish and useful compact crossover. You can drive it much of the time on battery power and, when necessary, take a long trip using the gasoline engine.

Kia has sold an all-electric Soul for several years. It also offers hybrid and PHEV versions of its Optima midsize sedan, but the Niro is meant to be the brand’s green warrior. A hybrid Niro preceded the plug-in; when I tested one, I recorded 43.8 mpg. An all-electric version just debuted at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit and is due in a year or so, with a reported range of 238 miles. That just happens to be the same as the Chevrolet Bolt EV, which currently is the most affordable way to go 200+ miles between charges. There is no gasoline-only Niro.

2018 Niro Plug-In Hybrid

The right size and shape for a plug-in?

The 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid is blessed with appealing, nicely balanced lines and proportions, without any extreme styling excesses. It wears Kia’s now familiar “tiger mouth” grill with the pinch in the middle. It looks good from every angle.

Inside Class As Well

The interior design is complementary, with cleanly rendered panels that blend smoothly and surprisingly rich-looking textures wearing matte finishes. What might be taken for hard plastic on the door and dash panels is slightly padded, giving the car a more upscale feel. The switchgear feels durable and moves with precision. An asymmetrical center console sweeps down from the dash, implying some sportiness.

Both the inside and outside classiness owe their dignity to former Audi designer Peter Schreyer, who has led Kia and Hyundai design for a decade, transforming both brands’ design language and image.

As a hybrid, the Niro combines a 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with a 60-horsepower electric motor, which in PHEV form is fed by an 8.9-kWh battery. This energy source weighs 258 pounds versus the much smaller and lighter battery in the standard Niro Hybrid, which only gathers electrons by regenerative braking. The engine’s 104 horsepower and 109 pounds-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque mixes with the motor, with its robust 125 lb.-ft. of torque, giving a total of 139 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque combined.

2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

The commuting numbers turned out very nice

A stop-and-go system turns the engine off when the car is stationary, further saving gasoline. The drivetrain flows through a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.

The car is no rocket, with an 8.8-second zero-to-sixty time. When you press the pedal down hard, you’ll hear the sound of downshifting and an engine working hard to contribute its part to moving the 3,450-pound crossover forward. I noticed this mainly on the uphill climb to my house, but it was otherwise not a big deal.

The Mileage Numbers

The 2018 Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid earns 110 MPGe city/99 highway/105 Combined on the EPA’s tests, and a still decent 48 mpg city/44 highway/46 combined on gasoline only. The official battery range is 26 miles, although my test car’s display always read 24 when it was full. That, luckily, was enough for me to commute all week on electricity alone, leading to an exemplary 81.3 mpg for the week. If you rarely go more than 24 miles on a trip, you may find your gas lasts for months. Kia claims an impressive gas + electric range of 560 miles.

EPA Green Scores are 7 for Smog and a perfect 10 for Greenhouse Gas.

Three Flavors

The 2018 Kia Niro PHEV comes in three trims—LX, EX, and EX Premium. My Platinum Graphite tester was an

2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

The Niro interior stays classy

EX Premium with a soothing light gray interior. The price-leader FE model hybrid isn’t sold as a plug-in.

The LX offers a decent sound system, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, a smart key with pushbutton start, and more. The EX adds safety features, including blind spot detection, lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert. You also get “hybrid” cloth and leather seats, heated front seats and outside mirrors, 10-way driver seat adjustment with lumbar support and more. The EX Premium steps it up with leather seat trim, three-level heated and ventilated seats, a larger 8-inch touch screen on the dash and a voice-command navigation system.

With an 8.9-kWh battery, you can easily fill the battery at a Level 2 240-volt charger in a couple of hours from empty, or fill it overnight at home on 120-volt household current. When I charged at work after my 18-mile commute, I received a bill for less than a dollar! The charge door includes a small light—a thoughtful touch.

You can use the console button to set the car to EV or HEV mode. In the default EV mode, the Niro uses pure electricity until its big battery is depleted, and then runs as a hybrid. In HEV mode, you can select hybrid driving right away and retain the power for later. That’s great for cruising on the freeway in hybrid mode and preserving the electric power for local driving when you reach your destination. I did notice the engine kick in sometimes in the morning when I started up, even when I thought was EV mode.

The Long & the Short of It

At just 171.5 inches long on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, the car is tidy for nipping around town, but can carry 54.5 cubic feet of gear when you flip down the rear seats.

2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

A small badge and a big plug separate this from the straight hybrid

Pricing starts at $28,840 for the LX and moves up to $32,440 for the EX and $35,440 for the EX Premium. All prices include shipping. My car’s only option was $135 worth of carpeted floor mats.

As a crossover, the 2018 Kia Niro PHEV is sitting pretty, right in the middle of today’s most rapidly growing vehicle segment. I found it just right for family and musical instrument hauling.

The Niro PHEV just won Green Car Journal’s Green SUV of the Year Award, so I expect to see lots of them on the road soon. Plug-in hybrids provide local electric-only clean driving with zero range anxiety when you range farther afield. Until EV batteries are all high-range and quick charge, and the charging network is built out more, it’s the ideal choice for many people.

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News: Harley-Davidson Electric Motorcycle Coming in 2019

News: Harley-Davidson Electric Motorcycle Coming in 2019

Making a Future Move

Harley-Davidson, purveyor of classic American two-wheel rides, is planning to introduce an electric motorcycle in the next 18 months. Amidst declining sales and an aging-out of its core customer base, the company told the Milwaukee Business Journal it is looking to the future as it closes a Kansas City, MO, plant and consolidates production in York, PA.

Zero Motorcycles

Harley-Davidson will be up against established electric bike makers like Zero Motorcycles

The new model would likely be based on the LiveWire concept that debuted in 2014. Its motor put out about 74 horsepower and 56 pounds-feet of torque, good for a 0-60 time of about four seconds. Electric motors are good at providing instant torque, without gear changes.

The LiveWire’s 50-mile range would likely be an issue. However, with today’s more advanced battery technology, a range of around 100 miles could help sell the new product to environmentally conscious motorcycle enthusiasts. An electric motorcycle would be best-suited for commuting and local travel, rather than cross-country touring. We’ll have to see if the new bike comes with DC fast-charging capability, which would make it easier to take off on longer trips.

Harley-Davidson,LiveWire,electric motorcycle,electric bike

Harley makes an electric move

So much of the riding experience of a motorcycle is the sound and feel of the engine, meaning the new buyer would likely not be from the traditional pool of enthusiasts. Brands such as Zero Motorcycles already offer electric two-wheelers, but H-D is large enough to make an impact in the marketplace with its established dealer network.

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Road Test: 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Incrementally Greener

The 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid adds two electric motors to the upgraded 3.5-liter V6 engine to make a powerful, roomy and slightly cleaner version of Toyota’s family crossover.

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Better fuel economy and now more affordable

For 2017, you can drive home more affordable LE and XLE versions, matching more closely with the gasoline-only lineup. Formerly the Highlander Hybrid was available only in a premium form with the Limited and Platinum models.

The Highlander is one of eight hybrids Toyota sells, cementing its reputation as the hybrid car company. The Prius family makes up half of Toyota’s hybrid stable, but there are two hybrid crossovers, including the smaller RAV4 Hybrid.

One New Engine, Two New Motors

The 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid blends a new, more powerful 3.5-liter V6 engine with a set of electric motors, positioned in the front and rear axles. That placement lets them do different jobs. The larger motor in front, with 167 horsepower (hp) and 247 pounds-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque, shares front axle driving chores with the engine. The smaller rear motor, with 68 hp and 103 lb.-ft. of torque, helps drive the rear wheels as part of the standard Electric On-

The 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid adds two electric motors to the upgraded 3.5-liter V6 engine to make a powerful, roomy and slightly cleaner version of Toyota’s family crossover.

A familiar grill leads off the Highlander Hybrid

Demand all-wheel-drive system. This is a different process from the all-wheel-drive system in gasoline-only Highlanders.

The goal of a hybrid vehicle is to use electric motors so you can run the gasoline engine less, reducing fuel consumption. The 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid ends up being more powerful than the gasoline version, since it uses the same engine, but adds the electric motors. Total system horsepower is 306, through the odd math you get when combining output from engines and motors.

My Celestial Silver Metallic XLE test car earns fuel economy EPA ratings of 29 mpg city/27 highway/28 combined. Compare that with 20 mpg city and 27 highway for the gasoline version, and you can see that the improvement happens in town. A Start and Stop function turns the engine off when stopped, which helps reduce consumption.  

I averaged 25.0 miles per gallon over a week of mixed driving—a bit below the EPA’s estimates. The EPA Green figures, 8 for Smog and 6 for Greenhouse Gas, are better than average.

A Big, Comfortable Machine

The Highlander, now well into its third generation, provides a comfortable ride for a family of up to eight in the lower models, and seven in the higher models, which swap the middle bench for two comfy captain’s chairs. The 4,464-pound crossover excels at mass transit, with easy-to-slide second-row seats for convenient third-row access.

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Even full of passengers, the Highlander Hybrid still has luggage room

The second and third row seats fold down to open up a big, long load floor. Even with the third row up, you still have 13.8 cubic feet of space behind it. Drop the 60/40 split second row and you’ve got a commodious 42.3 cubic feet.

The body is a little bit updated front and rear for 2017, but Highlander design remains standard Toyota truck fare, with a large, double-stack grill and slim, pulled-back headlamp pods up front. Bold cutouts along the lower doors and fender accents convey the right “macho” feel while still making the Highlander look right at the Opera.

Inside, this SUV has some chunky truck aesthetics, with its dash shelf under sections of black and silver that flow into different masses. The traditional two-gauge instrument panel is flanked by a large rectangular air vent on the left, and on the right the 4.2-inch info screen sits between two tall vents. Below lives a set of traditional climate controls. 

Mobile Broadcasting

My tester had a drop-down glasses holder in the ceiling that doubled as a wide-angle mirror for checking out the second- and third-row seat activity. The Driver Easy Speak feature uses a microphone up front to broadcast parental instruction to the rear speakers. This is the first I’ve ever heard of such a thing. There are five USB ports, assuming everybody need a charge or a connection. 

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The badge can now be found on Eight Toyotas

The Highlander starts with a well-equipped LE base model and adds some worthwhile upgrades to each level. On the outside, selected LE highlights include LED taillights and stoplights, heated power outside mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels and privacy glass. The XLE adds more stuff, including blind-spot warning indicators to the mirrors, a power moonroof, a wheel upgrade, roof rails and a handy rear hatch window.

The upper models bump the wheel size to 19 inches and add projector-beam headlamps and puddle lamps on the Limited and a panoramic moonroof and rain-sensing wipers on the Platinum.

Inside, the XLE upgrades from the LE with three-zone automatic climate control, an overhead console, second-row window shades, leather seats and steering wheel, and more. The Limited adds a backup camera, ventilation for the front seats, and auto up and down on the power windows. The Platinum brings in a Bird’s Eye View camera, and even more configurable power seats and steering wheel controls. The complete list is much too long to display here.

Prices and Bottom Lines

Prices start at $37,210 for the LE model. My XLE base-priced at $42,270. The Limited checks in at $45,700, with the Limited Platinum topping out at $48,820. All prices include the $940 destination charge. My car had an optional Rear Seat BluRay DVD entertainment system ($1,810), so it listed for $44,080.

The Highlander fills a popular spot in the Toyota lineup. The Hybrid powertrain increases fuel economy numbers for this commodious family hauler to figures that used to be expected from compact sedans.

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Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Road Test: 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid

Road Test: 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid

Best of Both Worlds

The new 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid combines 47 miles of pure electric motoring with an efficient gasoline engine for a 340-mile range, letting you have your EV and drive it (anywhere). It’s affordable, too.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

There’s a lot to like with the Honda Clarity PHEV

The midsized Clarity is essentially the same size and shape as the ubiquitous and newly redesigned Accord (although it weighs just over two tons). It’s one of the roomiest hybrid sedans, positioning it favorably against competitors such as the more compact Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius Prime.

The Clarity PHEV pairs an efficient 1.5-liter gasoline engine with an electric motor, which uses a 17-kWh battery. The engine produces 103 horsepower (hp) and 99 pounds-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque, while the motor contributes 181 hp and 232 lb.-ft. of torque, for a total system horsepower of 212.

The Real World of Electric Miles

With a real 47 electric miles available, you can drive on electricity nearly all of the time, but if you stretch out your trip, the engine kicks in when your battery’s empty, or will join the motor anytime if you need an extra boost for quick acceleration.

This was borne out in real life. During my test week, I commuted to and from work and used the Clarity PHEV for all my domestic errands without consuming a drop of gas. However, when I drove 130 miles round trip to visit relatives over the holidays, the battery emptied about two thirds of the way to my destination and I just kept going as a hybrid, switching back and forth between gas and electrons, and generating energy every time I cruised downhill or applied the brakes.

Clean Inside, Too

The cleanly designed instrument panel of this all-new Honda displays a maximum-efficiency of 199.9 mpg when you’re driving in all-electric mode. As soon as the engine starts contributing to

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

Honda Clean Here

forward motion, that number begins to drop. By the time I got home from my 130-mile trip, it had diminished to below 100 mpg (still amazing for a hybrid). As I drove back and forth to work the following few days, the average crept back up again, until it achieved a remarkable 160.8 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) when I turned in the test car. It’s hard to argue with the wonderfulness of that.

One day, with combined errands, I was down to one mile of battery left, and watched the display hit 0. Then, the engine came on, just before I reached home. A 47-mile EV range is about perfect, but here, a 48-mile one would have done the job petrol-free.

According to EPA tests, a standard gasoline-powered sedan emits about 400 grams of CO2 per mile. The 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid, per www.fueleconomy.gov, puts out just 57. Other important numbers are 110 MPGe—the way EV energy use is measured with gasoline equivalent—and on gasoline alone, a still respectable 44 City, 40 Highway, and 42 Combined mpg. The green EPA scores are a perfect 10 for Greenhouse Gas; the Smog score wasn’t available yet, but is likely to be a 9 or a 10 as well.

Drive Choices

You can drive your Clarity every day without thinking about which fuel you’re using, but you can also take things into your own hands with three different driving modes, set with buttons on the center console.

  • The EV mode disconnects the engine entirely, making the Clarity a pure EV (as long as there’s juice in the battery).
  • Hybrid Mode means both halves of the powertrain run as needed based on driving and battery conditions. The gasoline engine is coupled and, along with the generator motor, either helps drive the car or charges the battery.
  • Engine Drive mode hooks up the engine directly to the drivetrain fulltime, and is useful for cruising at medium to high speeds.
2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

The usual helpful gauges

Then, there are three operating modes—Normal, Econ, and Sport, which allow you to configure your car for your personal priorities. Sport provides more responsive acceleration. Econ focuses on pure electric driving, and when the engine does come on, reduces throttle response to use less gas. Normal uses what Honda’s engineering team thinks is the best overall driving experience.

There’s another choice too—HV mode. Normally, the Clarity runs as a pure EV until the battery is depleted, except when a strong accelerator push turns on the engine for a quick burst of power. With a quick tap of the HV mode button, the car starts out as a hybrid and saves the electricity for later. This is ideal, for example, if you want to use engine power on 80 mph runs down Interstate 5 and then switch to pure EV driving around town when you arrive in Los Angeles.

In case you want to use the HV mode but your battery has a low charge, hold down the button longer, and the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid will accumulate battery charge up to about 58 percent without using the electricity, after which it switches back to the normal HV mode, saving that charge until you need it.

New Tech Twists

Despite showing D, N, and R on the center console controls and instrument panel display, the Clarity PHEV doesn’t use a conventional transmission at all, saving weight and complexity. The controls and display do help you to select which way you’re going to move when you tap the accelerator.

Charging up is a snap. If you have access to a Level 2 (240-volt) charger, you can fill the battery from empty in just 2.5 hours. If you’re using Level 1 (120-volt) household current, it’ll take longer, but can easily be done overnight. I tried both. If you’re diligent, you can live in EV mode practically all the time. On the opposite end, if you drive the Clarity without charging at all, you’re still piloting a 40+ mpg hybrid.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

Style is part of the Clarity package

The 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid is an all-new, fresh design. The styling itself is futuristic and, to my eye, a bit overdone, although I did get used to looking at it. My tester came in Moonlit Forest Pearl, an exclusive color to the PHEV version of the Clarity. It looks black until sunlight hits it, when you see it’s really an elegant very dark green. It helps to mitigate some of the odd body shapes.

There are two trims—the well-equipped standard model and the Touring, which adds navigation, leather-trimmed seats and steering wheel, and power seat adjustments—eight-way for the driver and four-way for the passenger, with two-way driver memory.

All cars feature handsome 18-inch alloy wheels; LED lights all around, a sweet-sounding eight-speaker, 180-watt audio system, Bluetooth, rearview camera, dual automatic climate control and more. The upgraded tan suede dash panels on my Touring test car provided a real sense of luxury.

Interior Touches

The interior of the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid feels big and wide, with a chiseled, sweeping dashboard running from door-to-door in this 73.9-inch wide car. You can fit three people comfortably in the rear seat. The trunk measures a generous 15.5 cubic feet because the batteries are relatively small and are under the car, not taking up cargo space.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

A functional trunk

The interior boasts a Volvo-inspired flying bridge console, with room below for a purse or a small parcel. The doors and dash are all nicely padded and the materials are fairly upscale and nicely coordinated. The only sour note for me was the grained plastic fake wood, which stood out as inauthentic amidst the otherwise posh accommodations. The doors slam with a satisfying “thunk.”

The instrument panel exhibits the clean look you expect from Honda. A silvery trim shape surrounds the gauges and is oddly asymmetrical to allow the “transmission” and EV information to display.

In town and on the highway, this Clarity rides whisper quiet. Honda engineers spent considerable time in the wind tunnel tweaking the aerodynamics, keeping airflow from being disturbed as it passes over the car. For example, the rakish cut of the partially covered rear wheel wells is meant to keep the air flowing smoothly over the rear wheels. Even the taillamps are aerodynamically tuned. Acoustic laminated windshield and front door glass help muffle outside noise as well.

Invisible Engineering

So many invisible engineering choices collectively make a difference. The Clarity uses an array of advanced materials in construction to make it about 15 percent lighter than a conventional midsize sedan. These include greater use of aluminum and plastic, and about 40 percent of the car is built from ultra-high-strength steel. You can’t see it, but it’s helping make the Clarity more efficient.

There’s a little startup sound when you press the Start button. Apple CarPlay popped up when prompted on the eight-inch center screen, although it did go on hiatus one of my test days. My wife thought the center display, which floats over the suede panel, to be intrusive, but car designers today seem to like the “here’s your tablet” look.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid

The Clarity PHEV has flair everywhere

The instrument panel features the usual Charge/Power gauge front and center, so you can monitor your driving behavior. A center panel display shows where the energy is coming from and when the battery is charging, if you’re curious.

I noticed that the steering wheel would sometimes pulse in my hands. I discovered it was a form of lane departure warning, letting me know I was near a line. Otherwise, the electric power steering felt smooth and neutral.

The Price Point

Pricing starts at $34,290 for the standard trim and $37,490 for the Touring. Both prices include an $890 destination and handling charge. Those numbers are competitive, especially considering the spaciousness the car provides.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

Honda plugs in once again

The Clarity currently offers three versions: Pure EV, Hydrogen Fuel Cell, and this new PHEV. The PHEV is likely to be the volume seller, as it’s practical for anyone who wants a highly efficient sedan, while the other two models appeal mostly to true believers. The EV model ekes out a disappointing 89 miles of range, while the Fuel Cell version is hampered by both a very limited fuel station infrastructure and fuel that is expensive compared to gasoline or electricity.

The Clarity trio just won Green Car Journal’s 2018 Green Car of the Year award, in recognition of offering three clean ways to go in one package.

Although pure electric vehicles will likely become the norm for most driving in the future, for now, plug-in hybrids like the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid, with a decent electric-only range, offer a pain-free way to drive an EV most of the time and eliminate any excuse for not getting a green vehicle.

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Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.