On Autos: New Honda saves fuel without getting too small

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The 2018 Honda Clarity is a midsize sedan that you can plug into the electric grid to get 47 miles of gas-free driving. Photo courtesy of Brady Holt.

If you’re interested in a fuel-saving car, you’ve surely considered the Toyota Prius. This iconic hybrid defines its genre, blending everyday versatility with outstanding fuel savings.

But while the Prius is roomy and refined for a compact car, some folks will demand something roomier, quieter, or more posh. That’s especially true if you’re interested in its plug-in hybrid variant, the Prius Prime, which seats only four passengers.

Honda recently rolled out the answer for drivers looking to save fuel while enjoying more stretch-out space: the new 2018 Clarity PHEV midsize sedan. The Clarity PHEV, which stands for plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, uses futuristic styling to disguise its generous dimensions. You can fit five adults on comfortable seats, and on plusher upholstery than you’d find in the most opulent Prius.

Even more impressively, the Clarity can travel an EPA-estimated 47 miles per electric charge — far better than any competing midsize car and nearly any other plug-in hybrid but the much smaller Chevrolet Volt. A gasoline engine turns on to average 42 mpg in mixed driving after you’ve used up that range.

That 47-mile range will cover a lot of ground within D.C. That means you can go many days between finding a car charger, or that it won’t take long to top it off when you reach home with plenty of charge remaining. If you do go the full 47 miles, it takes 12 hours to recharge a fully depleted battery on a standard household outlet or 2.5 hours using a 240-volt car charger.

Better still, the tested Clarity PHEV achieved more than 50 miles per charge even in mixed driving that included plenty of less-efficient highway miles. As an urban runabout, it should go even farther.

The Clarity starts at $34,295, but its $7,500 federal tax credit brings the price down the level of a smaller Prius hybrid. Unlike the Prius, though, Honda doesn’t sell a conventional hybrid version of the Clarity. So, if you don’t have reliable access to a power source, Honda will direct you to the midsize Accord Hybrid or the new 2019 Insight, a Civic-based compact sedan.

The 2018 Honda Clarity starts at $34,295, but its $7,500 federal tax credit can offset the sticker shock. Photo courtesy of Brady Holt.

Also unlike the Prius, the Clarity is a sedan rather than a hatchback, so you won’t get the Toyota’s cargo flexibility. The good news is that the Clarity provides superior smartphone integration — Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. But its dashboard technology is a little dated, and the controls are fussy to operate. There are also fewer displays that show off your fuel savings, which are both fun and useful in many hybrids and electric cars.

Overall, the Clarity combines outstanding all-electric range with the comfort and refinement of a good midsize sedan, all at reasonable prices. If you have a place to plug it, don’t miss it.

Visit tinyurl.com/clarity-current to see more photos of the tested 2018 Honda Clarity.