Review: Honda Clarity hydrogen car won’t go the distance – USA TODAY
Honda’s new generation of its Clarity hydrogen fuel-cell car boasts a maximum range of 366 miles.
But to those lured into leasing one, we’re hoping you’re having better luck than us in achieving anything close.
We didn’t miss by a mile. We missed by 75 of them.
No one would ever be able to achieve a perfect 366, as rated by the Environmental Protection Agency. That would be mean completely emptying the car’s two hydrogen tanks. But we were surprised and confused that we missed the mark by such a wide margin.
Some automakers have been trying to develop realistic hydrogen-powered cars for years as a more practical alternative to battery-electric cars. Both fuel-cell and pure electrics are emission-free. Honda has made a big push for fuel cell-powered cars, along with Toyota, which offers the impressive Mirai and Hyundai, with the Tucson Fuel Cell. Hydrogen fuel-cell cars have the advantage of being able to be filled up in minutes and driven long distances unlike pure-electrics, which can require long periods plugged into a charger. The problem with hydrogen car is there are relatively few places to refill them, which is why range becomes so important.
California has been on a binge to add stations and now sports 26 statewide, according to Honda. Most other states have none — so hydrogen cars remain largely a Golden State experiment — at least on a wide scale.
We had high hopes for the new Clarity. It’s the latest generation of fuel-cell and anchors a lineup that will include a plug-in hybrid and a pure electric, both of which are going to be unveiled in a couple of weeks at the New York Auto Show. The new Clarity’s fuel cell is both smaller and more powerful than the last generation. The car has dramatic, some might say polarizing, looks. Partly, they reflect aerodynamic tricks to help squeeze out more range and fuel economy. Inside, Clarity has the feel of an Acura, a car from Honda’s luxury line, with a nice melding of wood and leather to create an upscale impression.
The car is smooth and confident on the road.. Its fuel-cell powerplant, which powers up with a Space-age sounding whoosh, is as quiet as an electric car on the road.
Clarity is available only by lease from select dealers at a $369-a-month over three years with $2,800 due at signing. The big selling point is that Honda is throwing $15,000 worth of hydrogen fuel into the deal – a critical factor considering that hydrogen sells for up to $16 a kilogram, roughly equal to a gallon of gas. That’s a lot of fuel, helped along by the fact the car is rated at 69 miles per gallon equivalent to gasoline in the city and 67 mpg on the highway.
“Overall, we’ve tried to overcome all the barriers to acceptance,” says Stephen Ellis, Honda’s manager of fuel-cell vehicles.
But the range question could be a painful surprise for customers who thought the car could live up to what they see on the billboards — 366 miles — without reading the fine print about that range depending on how you drive.
Emboldened by having a new hydrogen fuel station only a few blocks away, we topped off a Clarity. The car’s range meter showed maximum range to be only 280 miles. Nonetheless, we took a 240-mile roundtrip drive from Los Angeles to California’s Central Valley, leaving behind the safety zone of hydrogen fuel stations. And why not? With its 366-mile range, surely Clarity would prove the gauge to be wrong.
It didn’t. We drove normally to the city of Bakersfield, but saw that we had only half a tank left. Worried, we trailed trucks at 60 mph on the way home and coasted down hills. That helped. We made it home with only about 40 miles left on the gauge. The low-fuel warning lights engaged at 26 miles.
Overall, we traveled 286 miles on a tank of fuel, beating the estimated range meter in the car by six miles. We had five miles left to spare before the car would conceivably run out of fuel. That’s a total of 291 — far cry from 366 miles of range.
Reaching out to Honda for an explanation, Ellis said the estimated range meter in the Clarity adjusts based on how people drive. As drivers learn how to squeeze more miles out of a Clarity by driving more tenderly, the estimated range will increase accordingly. The car is also designed to go farther than the range indicator might show just to give drivers an extra margin of reassurance. The range, he says, is completely accurate under the Environmental Protection Agency’s protocols.
We are, by no means, a leadfoot. Average drivers may love the Clarity, but they better be prepared for fewer miles pf range than they expect — at least initially — and what is blared on the billboards advertising the car.
What Stands Out
Range: Far less than 366
Driveability: Smooth and quiet
Interior: As nice as an Acura
2017 Honda Clarity
What? A five-seat hydrogen fuel-cell sedan
When? Available for lease at select dealers in California
Where? Made in Japan
How much? $369 a month, with $2,800 due at signing, including $15,000 in hydrogen over the three years
What makes it go? A hydrogen fuel-cell producing the equivalent of 174 horsepower
Overall? A leap forward on fuel-cell technology if you can deal with the range.