Green and greener. The 2020 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid is actually the least efficient of the three Clarity models. The Clarity Electric and Clarity Fuel Cell, which are both covered separately, are among the more progressive vehicles on the market.
Luckily, the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid is both the most available and the cheapest in the lineup. While the other models are only sold in California and Oregon, the Plug-In Hybrid gets a wider release and starts under $35,000.
The price doesn’t make the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid less sophisticated. A 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine joins an electric motor, all sending power to the front wheels. Electric torque drives the wheels under most circumstances, but the engine can take over on the highway for better efficiency.
None of which is to say that the Plug-In Hybrid isn’t efficient. The EPA estimates that the car will do 42 miles per gallon combined, and that’s after the battery charge has been depleted. That’s shy of some competitors like the Toyota Prius Prime or Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid, but it’s excellent by most standards.
Power balance. One of the Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid’s selling points is its all-electric range, which is longer than competitors. The 17-kWh battery pack can power it for up to 48 miles before the engine turns on.
That’s strong for a plug-in. The Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid does 29 miles in electric mode, and the Prius Prime can only manage 25.
That’s largely thanks to the Clarity’s larger battery pack. The trade-off is that it takes longer to charge, though a Level 2 charging station will get the job done in about 2.5 hours.
The extra range makes the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid a good choice for commuters, especially with frequent charging. Like most hybrids, performance isn't exciting, but the ride is comfortable and the efficiency is hard to argue with.
Better from the inside. The Clarity’s design isn’t as loud as it might be about its eco intentions, but it’s not exactly svelte. Aerodynamics was clearly the chief concern, but the sculpted curves don’t do much to flatter its profile.
The rear is particularly odd, where a chunky tailgate hides a porthole between the rear taillights. The extra window helps visibility, but the design feels busy. On the upside, the portly body contains a spacious and nicely outfitted interior. The cabin is quiet and exudes quality, with all the space expected of a midsize sedan.
The Clarity Plug-In Hybrid can’t quite match the cargo space of the related Honda Accord, and it falls well short of the storage in hatchbacks like the Prius Prime or Ioniq. Still, 15.5 cubic feet of trunk space is good for a sedan and excellent for one with batteries.
Getting what you pay for. With a starting price of $34,355 after destination, the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid starts well above either the Prius Prime or the Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid. It does come well equipped, with an 8-inch touchscreen, smartphone compatibility, and heated front seats.
All the same, we’d like to see a little more luxury for the luxury-car price. The base trim doesn’t get power-adjustable seats, and only the Touring trim gets leather upholstery included.
What Honda does include is active safety tech. Every Clarity Plug-In Hybrid comes with advanced features like automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. The NHTSA and IIHS aren’t likely to crash test any Clarity soon, but family buyers should be reassured.
Final thoughts. Of the three Clarity siblings, the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid makes the easiest transition for most drivers. Especially with a charging setup at home, it’s a highly efficient commuter with enough space for most.
The biggest obstacle is the price. As the market for eco vehicles grows, the competition becomes sharper and cheaper. The 2020 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid is a polished car, but its price puts it in competition with all-electric vehicles that grow more mainstream by the year.