2018 Honda Clarity PHEV Could Be The Chevy Volt’s Strongest Competitor Yet

With Honda’s revelation of electric range for its 2018 Clarity Plug-in Hybrid just 6 miles shy of the Chevy Volt’s, it stands to become the reigning sales leader’s toughest competition yet when launched later this year.

Since its December 2010 release, the “extended-range electric” Volt has been the best-selling plug-in hybrid in the U.S., although Toyota’s cut-rate Prius Prime has vied with it closely from January through August, and it’s anyone’s guess which could finish ahead for 2017 sales.

Even before we know the outcome of the Prius/Volt question, Honda will be releasing its plug-in hybrid Clarity which – like the Volt – will be available in all 50 states. The new Honda is one of three Clarity variants – a battery electric version, hydrogen fuel cell version, and the PHEV.

Clarity PHEV vs. Volt

Unveiled in April at the New York Auto Show, the largish-midsized Clarity will beat Honda’s conservative 42-mile e-range estimate it gave when introduced and instead serve up 47 miles on the U.S. EPA cycle.

With PHEVs, every few miles makes a difference when the range champ – the compact Volt – tops the scale at 53 miles, and others are only in the mid-to-high 20s.

2018 Clarity Plug-in Hybrid. Honda has not supplied more photos of the Clarity PHEV, and more info is forthcoming as well. Top photo next to Volt is of similar Clarity FCV.


Given electric range is the most prominent metric in what is really a balance of many pros and cons buyers choose from, the Clarity’s second-best EV range status – Honda says best “in class” for midsized vehicles – is good.

SEE ALSO: Honda And GM Reportedly Wrapping Up Deal To Co-Develop PHEV Tech

It’s also useful enough to get the job done which is avoiding gasoline usage day to day, and meanwhile it’s a semi-luxurious, larger car that may be priced competitively – enough.

Under the hood is essentially a variant of the dual motor hybrid system from the Accord Hybrid, albeit with 1.5-liter engine instead of 2.0-liter, and a 17-kWh battery for electric only driving.

Said battery is a bit smaller than the 18.4 kWh unit in the Volt, and as a matter of trivia, the Clarity PHEV’s battery is not all that much smaller than the pure-electric Clarity’s 25.5 kWh battery which yields 89 short EPA-rated miles range.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Review – Video

The Clarity PHEV’s engine is based on a next-generation 1.5-liter DOHC i-VTEC engine first used in the 2015 Honda Fit, according to Honda’s Natalie Kumaratne, Environment & Safety Public Relations.

“However, for the application to the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid the engine has been optimized for the unique requirements of a plug-in vehicle using the Atkinson cycle, where it functions primarily to generate electricity,” said Kumaratne, “but can also serve as a direct power source under certain driving conditions in parallel with the electric motor.”

The EPA rating now revealed for this engine is less than the Accord Hybrid’s however – 44 mpg city, 40 highway, and 42 mpg combined.

Its miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) for electric use, by the way, is 110 MPGe versus the Volt’s relatively close 106 MPGe

Fuel efficiency for the Volt in hybrid mode is close, with the same 42 mpg combined rating based on 43 mpg city, 42 mpg highway.

For 2016, the second-generation Volt introduced an aluminum 1.5-liter Ecotec engine with direct injection, 12.5:1 compression ratio, cooled exhaust gas recirculation and a variable displacement oil pump, and is rated for 101 horsepower at 5,600 rpm which is is added to by potent electric motor drive.

The Clarity’s horsepower otherwise compares to the compact Volt’s electrically augmented 149 system total horsepower and higher 298 pounds-feet. Its electric motor produces 181 horsepower and 232 pounds feet of torque. The battery recharges in 2.5 hours when fed 240 volts suggesting a faster on-board charger than what comes in the Volt which takes 4.5 hours to recharge its 18.4-kWh battery.

Acura Level – Almost

The Clarity Plug-in Hybrid is significantly roomier than the Volt and has Acura-level refinement and features.

Both the Volt and Clarity are well contented, but the Clarity may prove more refined.

Initial drive reviews of the Clarity Fuel Cell vehicle already on the market have won it praise as being nice enough to be an Acura, and the Plug-in Hybrid is expected to be the same.

Materials such as ultrasuede, and standard Honda Sensing suite of advanced safety and driver-assist tech make it a premium package indeed, but where it is hands down the winner is interior volume.

2017 Honda Clarity Electric. Photo of Plug-in not available.


Honda will release more specs later this year, but the three Clarity variants were built to satisfy focus groups who said a sedan should comfortably fit five.

The compact Volt technically fits five, but knee room is less, and space in the back seat is all around tighter. Honda media rep Chris Naughton also let on the Clarity is a bit roomier than the Accord Hybrid which is on the large scale of a midsized class car.

2017 Chevy Volt.

Martin emphasized also the Clarity will top the Volt in cubic feet for cargo and passenger by a significant margin.

“We expect it will have the most interior volume of any of the versions of Clarity,” said Martin of a provisional projection of around 121 cubic feet of passenger plus cargo space topping the Volt’s 100.9 total cubic feet, “and the cargo volume, the Volt is 10.6; we’re at 19.1.”

Aesthetics

In the looks department, the call may be closer, though time will tell.

The Volt is more “mainstream” and mirrors a Cruze with hints of the Honda Civic, Kia Forte, and other vehicles by automakers conspiring to make vehicles both attractive and ordinary all in one stroke.

2017 Honda Clarity Electric

That is, they blend in, while the Clarity stands out with semi-faired-in rear wheel reminiscent of the original Insight which set the tone 17 years ago as an odd looking green car.

Some will like the originality, others may see it as awkward or stylistically tone deaf, if not as much as some have disliked Honda’s Japanese rival’s car, the Toyota Prius.

Not hurting anything however is the Clarity is a Honda, and loyalists have been known to see beauty where others do not, and Honda has a fair number of loyalists.

Driving Dynamics

Based on the same chassis as the Clarity fuel cell vehicle, the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid uses a stiff body structure with strategic use of high-strength steel, optimized weight distribution, and it promises a relatively controlled drive experience.

It may yet do alright as the Accord is a solid, if not in sports car territory, and the Clarity is in league. Further, if you haven’t noticed, a lot of family sedans these days are competent handlers.

The Volt’s fans like to emphasize it has a fun-to-drive factor, but both it and the Clarity are eco cars focused on efficiency, and may be within realm.

Brand

Chevrolet has proven the Volt’s quality and this is stated preemptively because people with long memories may otherwise sneer at a GM product or American brand in general. To those who think along those lines, just the fact the Clarity is a Japanese Honda is enough to settle any question.

Beyond that constituency, Chevrolet has won more awards than an other brand for the past three years, and it is on a mission to remake its name after GM’s federal bailout and restructuring embarrassment of last decade.

The Volt is a pinnacle product and so if you are just catching up, it actually is the more proven of the two. Now in its second generation, among plug-in fans it is a premium nameplate, even if there is a “bowtie” on the front of the grille wearing silver “braces.”

Price

The Volt starts at just below $34,000 and is eligible for a $7,500 federal credit and state incentives as the case may be. Honda says the Clarity, eligible for the same subsidies, will start in the mid 30s, so that may mean very close or a couple thousand or more above the Volt.

SEE ALSO: 2017 Chevy Volt Review – Video

Enthusiasts are speculating after credits it could be below the critical $30,000 mark, but this is not definite until Honda tells us.

More to Come

We sought more info, such as whether the Clarity’s battery is liquid cooled like the Volt’s is, and other details to make a closer comparison, but such data is on hold.

Honda says more will be revealed closer to launch, and it will remain to be seen how well the car is marketed and received.

2017 Honda Clarity Electric.

On paper so far, it is plain why Honda says the plug-in model will sell the most among its low-range EV, and limited-market FCV.

Whether it wins more buyers than the Volt will depend on the total value proposition, so we shall see.


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