Cars

Published on October 25th, 2017 | by Subhash Nair

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Honda Clarity Plug-in and Fuel Cell Tested and Explained!

Honda is embarking on a bold journey. Their Vision for 2030 is for two-thirds of the cars they sell to be electrified in some way.

In order for them to get there, they need a car that can take them into the future. That car is the all-new Honda Clarity.

We first saw the Clarity at the previous Tokyo Motor Show, back in October 2015. Today, two years later, Honda have gone from concept to working models. That’s right, we got to drive the new Honda Clarity at the Twin Ring Motegi Race Track!

Before we begin, we should clear the air – this is not the ‘FCX Clarity’ that you may have seen on TV about a decade ago. This Clarity was built from the ground up to be a no-compromise alternative fuel vehicle. And since there are so many alternative fuels out there, the Clarity was designed to accomodate 3 different powertrains. A Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV), a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV), and a Fully Battery Electric Vehicle (EV).

Clarity Plug-in Hybrid

The first one we’ll talk about is the Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV). This is aimed at the mainstream Honda buyer who wants to pollute less without changing how he deals with his car. Like most PHEVs, the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid is filled up with petrol like a regular car, but can be plugged into a wall socket overnight.

But unlike the PHEVs you see on Malaysian roads, the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid works MORE like an electric car and LESS like a hybrid car. Honda’s engineers told us that the 1.5-litre Atkinson cycle petrol engine behaves more like a charger-generator – it’s there to keep the batteries charged primarily. Those batteries will send power to the i-MMD dual electric motor system, which you can learn more about here. With the batteries fully charged, you can drive the Clarity over 100km in PURE electric mode. Of course, once the batteries are going a little low on power or when you activate Hybrid mode, the 1.5-litre engine kicks in either as a generator or a source of extra power.

The i-MMD system is one that requires an entire article on its own, and maybe we’ll do that at a later date. All you need to know is that there’s no real gearbox involved. There is a gear system in there, but whether you’re driving in pure electric mode, or in hybrid mode there’s only one drive ratio. Honda claims that this system has 46-80% less friction than a conventional automatic.

So, to summarize, the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid is a car that was designed to be driven like an electric car, but can be driven with power from both the engine AND the twin motors for greater power. But ideally, the petrol motor just comes on the charge the batteries. We’re a little unclear as to what the total system output of both motors together might be, but the electric motors alone here generate a very respecable 135 kW and 315Nm of torque.

We have no official word from Honda Malaysia, but we have a feeling that this version of the Clarity may eventually find its way to our shores. Well, maybe not, but here’s hoping the technology finds its way into future versions of the Civic, Accord and CR-V.

In our brief time behind the wheel, the Plug-in Hybrid Clarity was astonishing. It was larger than the Accord, and with really great material selection. It was powerful, quiet, could be driven in multiple modes, and the transition from electic to hybrid was buttery smooth. Given how well PHEVs have been doing in our market, there’s a case to be made for this version of the Clarity.

Clarity FCV

The FCV version of the Clarity is intended as a long-term soluion. This is because Fuel Cell vehicles produce ZERO emissions and hydrogen fuel works more or less like petrol in the way it’s stored and distributed. It’s a win-win-win for every party. The petrol companies get to stay in business, selling and distributing hydrogen fuel using established petrol stations as hubs, the consumer gets the long range of an FCV plus the short refueling time involved. Society benefits from cars that produce a lot less noise and heat and ZERO harmful emissions.

Of course, we’re a long way off from hydrogen cars completely taking over the roads. But the Clarity FCV will be there when the time comes. As an FCV, it’s pretty remarkable. It has a class-leading range of 750km and a 130W/300Nm AC Synchronous motor. No other car can go 750km without emissions without stopping for a recharge/refill. That’s very significant.

And, Honda, being Honda, insisted on a sporty element too.

They brought out a Clarity FCV that had been lightened by 300kg (the actual car is about 1890kg) and got a racing driver to take us on a taxi lap. Needless to say, the Clarity was extremely quick and capable.

But it’s also safe.

The engineers told us that the high pressure tanks are designed to be away from crumple zones, so in most severe collisions, they are unaffected. However, there are failsafes integrated for worst case scenarios to bleed the hydrogen gas into the atmosphere. Unlike liquid petroleum, which spills everywhere dangerously when the tank is ruptured.

Clarity EV

We didn’t get to see the pure electric version of the Clarity, and very little information was given about the car. We have a feeling this is still too unrealistic for any mass market manufacturer to dive into for now. Honda have a leasing program in the US, but when the time comes and the technology/mindset has matured, this is the version of the Clarity that will be the most relevant.


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