New & Used Honda Clarity: In Depth
The Honda Clarity name has been applied to two generations of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, both in the shape of mid-size sedans. The second of them will arrive in the U.S. as a 2017 model sometime during 2016.
The new 2017 Clarity is the follow-on to the first-generation Honda FCX Clarity, which was leased to selected California drivers in tiny numbers from 2008 through 2014. Only about 60 first-generation Clarity cars were leased--they couldn't be bought outright--and each one was rumored to have cost Honda well into the six figures.
The 2017 Honda Clarity, however, will be built in slightly higher numbers: Honda executives have said the company expects to build 200 the first year for all global markets. But it's useful to keep the low numbers and limited availability in mind when thinking about the car, since its volume is no more than a rounding error for Honda's popular Civic, Accord, and CR-V models, each of which sells more than 300,000 a year.
The Clarity design is futuristic, and has more ornamentation, vents, trim and accent lines than the two concept cars that previewed it. Recognizable Honda design cues include the chrome bar that underlines the grille opening and then sweeps up and over the thin, swept-back LED headlamp units. The flat top of the rear wheel arch, angled slightly forward, may be the most dissonant stylistic element.
Every Clarity has a glossy black roof, with a chrome arc along the pillars and roof edge that delineates it from the lower-body color. It's a striking look, and most eyes would agree that the longer, sleeker Clarity is better-looking than the homely 2016 Toyota Mirai, the other dedicated fuel-cell vehicle coming onto the market. The Clarity's interior is relatively conventional, with a luxurious feel and few of the Mirai's unusual controls.
The new Clarity will compete with the 2016 Mirai sedan, as well as with battery-electric cars of various sizes and ranges. Compared to the Mirai, whose first unit was to be delivered in November 2015, the Honda Clarity seats five rather than four. It also manages to house all of its running gear--fuel-cell stack, electric traction motor, and power electronics--under the hood, with a large hydrogen tank set transversely between the rear wheels, and a smaller one under the rear seat. A small battery pack to handle sudden power demands sits under the front seats.
The motor that powers the Clarity's front wheels produces 130 kilowatts (174 horsepower) and 221 pound-feet of torque. Honda estimates acceleration from 0 to 60 mph at roughly 9 seconds. Like hybrids and electric cars, it uses regenerative braking to recharge the battery pack. The company says the new Clarity has enough hydrogen-storage capacity--at 10,000 psi--to provide 434 miles of range, as measured on the Japanese testing cycle. That will likely translate to more than 300 miles on the tougher U.S. EPA test cycles; the Mirai, by comparison, is rated at 312 miles.
The production Honda Clarity is likely to provide underpinnings to two additional future Honda green vehicles. One is a dedicated battery-electric vehicle, the other a plug-in hybrid, both of them unique models that do not also come with conventional powertrains. That means that the full name--Honda Clarity Fuel Cell--might in due course be joined by a Clarity EV and a Clarity Plug-In Hybrid.
Honda will lease the 2017 Clarity only to households in carefully chosen areas of Northern and Southern California that lie within range of small but growing number of hydrogen fueling stations. But as a zero-emission vehicle option, the new Clarity is likely to be swamped in volume by total sales of more than a dozen battery-electric vehicles now on the market, including the Tesla Model S and Model X, and a host of shorter-range electric cars as well.
Honda hasn't released pricing for the Clarity, or even completed final specifications. But for those buyers uninterested or incapable of plugging in who are lucky enough to live near a hydrogen fueling site, Honda's hydrogen-powered vehicle will offer another way to drive with zero emissions from the vehicle.
The first-generation FCX Clarity was roughly similar in form, but its 100-kW fuel-cell stack sat in a thick, wide console between the two front passengers. It used a 100-kW (134-hp) electric motor to power the front wheels. Because its hydrogen tanks were only designed for pressures of 5000 psi, they were relatively larger to provide the car's rated range of 240 miles.