Another Honda Foray into Electric Drive
Honda is an engineering-driven company and its product lines have generally reflected that. They’re not likely to win design awards or draw accolades for marketing campaigns, but they are loaded with tech goodies and built with a solid engineering input.
Enter the 2017 Honda Clarity Electric. It’s not the first electric car from Honda (that was the limited edition Fit of a few years ago) and far from the first on the market. You could argue it’s still not the first purpose-built EV from Honda since it shares its body with the Clarity Fuel Cell (I know, still an electric car, but with some significant differences we’ll touch on later).
But it is a Honda, well-engineered and packed with everything Honda engineers thought the market would need to embrace an electric Honda. Its motor with 161 horsepower (hp) and 221 pounds-feet (lb-ft) of torque, plenty to move a 4,024-pound midsize sedan. The system, similar to the electric motor in the Fuel Cell Clarity, delivers an excellent 114 mpge (miles per gallon equivalent, showing the efficiency of the motor’s ability to convert electrons to power on the road. However, it only has an 89-mile range out of its 25.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
It appears Honda’s engineers have triumphed over its marketing folks, who clearly should have seen the 200+-mile range Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3 and 100+-mile range second generation Nissan Leaf, BMW i3 and others coming. The EV propulsion technology appears up-to-date, but the range performance clearly is not. It appears that the Honda engineers looked at the figures for the average American commute (about 50 miles), added some extra cushion and figured they were good.
Blast From the Past
The exercise brings to mind Honda’s first hybrid—the 60+ mpg two-passenger Insight (not the later hybrid of the same name). It was a wonderful piece of engineering that delivered fuel economy numbers that have set the mark until the advent of plug-in cars. The market was not impressed. First, it’s extreme aerodynamic shape turned off folks looking for a more conventionally styled car. Second, since it was a two-passenger model it missed the market mainstream, which is four-passenger sedans. Finally, it was a diminutive vehicle launched in a sea of SUVs and large sedans. As a result, it has a short run and only its engineering reputation survives.
The market approach for the 2017 Honda Clarity Electric is better than the Insight—it’s a midsize sedan with four doors and plenty of room for five passengers. The battery steals a little trunk space—14.3 cubic feet is left for prospective owners.
Then there’s the conservative nature of Honda. As with their previous EV and its Clarity Fuel Cell, the 2017 Honda Clarity Electric will only be available for lease, not purchase, unlike most of the electric cars on the market. Does this indicate a tentativeness toward the EV market by Honda? It’s unclear and maybe moot since leasing is the smart way to own an EV in this age of rapidly changing technology.
I was only allowed a short drive in the 2017 Honda Clarity Electric, so the impressions are limited. It had all of the characteristics of a classic Honda—responsive steering and throttle, good road feel and a nicely laid out and highly functional interior. The car has plenty of spunk. The 18-inch wheels fill the wheelwell and give the Clarity Electric a muscular stance.
Inside, the detail feels like the Clarity is aimed at the entry-level luxury market. It features an eight-inch touchscreen display with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay along with the Honda Sensing suite of safety and driver-assist technologies. As the only midsize full electric on the market, the Clarity does have a claim to its own piece of the growing EV segment.
While on-road performance was good, the layout of the car did have some quirks. Ingress and egress from the back seat is a little awkward.
Initially the 2017 Honda Clarity Electric will only be available at select dealers in two states—California and Oregon—both of whom have incentives for EV purchases that leasees would quality for. The initial three-year lease is $269/month with $1,730 down. It allows a generous 20,000 miles a year.
One advantage of the smaller battery pack is faster charging. The Honda can be fully recharged at a 240-volt Level 2 charger in three hours., and hit 80 percent charge at a DC fast-charger in 30 minutes.
Part of the Family
As noted earlier, the 2017 Clarity Electric is the second model with the Clarity name (third if you count the first generation Clarity Fuel Cells—Honda clearly likes to recycle names. The Fuel Cell model was first, introduced earlier this year (also as a lease-only model). The third member of the family will be a plug-in hybrid model.
The PHEV will have a four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine augmenting the electric drive. The combined system will have 181 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque.
The family resemblance will be carried through for all three models. Although Honda claims the EV has distinguishing features from its Fuel Cell system car, without having them side-by-side, I think most folks would be hard-pressed to tell them apart. The Clarity’s dimensions are within inches of Honda’s mainstay Accord, which makes us wonder whether this may be a preview of future Honda midsize sedans.
The final quirk appeared when I looked under the front hood. The compact electric motor looked like lost in a spacious engine bay. It turns out fuel cell technology takes up quite a bit more space than current electric technology, so Honda engineers should start working on a frunk for the Clarity Electric’s next generation.
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