Honda Clarity

Debut: 2016
Maker: Honda
Predecessor: FCX Clarity

 Published on 8 Apr 2017
All rights reserved. 
Clarity Fuel Cell

Clarity is flexible enough to accept 3 powertrain options: fuel cell, EV or PHEV.

Remember the FCX Clarity? Honda built a handful of that car from 2008 as a small-scale experiment of hydrogen fuel cell technology. It was leased rather than sold to selected customers in Japan and USA because the technology was not matured enough. Unfortunately, last year Toyota Mirai leapfrogged Honda to be the first fuel cell car for sale to ordinary customers. This year, Toyota is expected to build 3,000 Mirais, so history will remember it as the first production fuel cell car.

Honda is not going to sit and watch, of course. In fact, it is stepping up its effort in promoting this technology. However, compared with Toyota, the once avant-garde Japanese car maker seems to be more cautious on the prospect of fuel cell technology. Fearing for cold reception, it decided to share the risk with EV and PHEV technology – clever, since one of them will win the race eventually. This means, the new Clarity will be offered with 3 power options: hydrogen fuel cell, pure battery electric and plug-in hybrid. The strategy is not unlike Hyundai with its Ioniq (which offers hybrid, PHEV and EV but not fuel cell, even though the company had another fuel cell car). The design of the Clarity is flexible enough to accept these power options without making expensive modifications. Launched first is the Clarity Fuel Cell, whereas the other two will come later this year.

Its old-fashioned shape recalls our memory of Citroen CX...

At the first glance, the Clarity looks disappointingly conservative, especially considering its predecessor looked so futuristic. Its long front and rear overhangs look old fashioned, and its overall shape, as well as the semi-covered rear wheel arch, recalls our memory of Citroen CX. That would have been a praise 40 years ago, but now it looks just outdated, even though Honda deliberately added a lot of flashy details to smart it up. That said, compared with the ugly Mirai it is still easily the most beautiful fuel cell car in the world, unfortunately.

Honda declines to tell us its drag coefficient, but I suppose it won’t be remarkable because fuel cell cars need a lot of cooling, which is evident from the Clarity’s extra ventilations adjacent to the front and rear wheels.

This is a big car, measuring over 4.9 meters in length and weighs some 1890 kilograms, though it is in the same ballpark as Mirai. While the Mirai has many of its platform components shared with Lexus HS250h, the Honda is largely new. Its steel monocoque chassis has aluminum front and rear subframes to mount the powertrain and hydrogen fuel tanks respectively. The suspension of struts up front and multi-link setup at the rear employ forged aluminum control arms and hollow knuckles to reduce unsprung weight. They are served with amplitude selective dampers to improve ride and handling. Outside, the bonnet, fenders, doors and boot lid are made of stamped aluminum.

The fuel cell, electric motor and inverter are packaged like a conventional engine.

The most interesting to me is what lies underneath the monocoque structure. This picture illustrates the placement of its propulsion components, which is rather different from the approach of Toyota. To enable the multiple powertrain options, Honda puts the hydrogen fuel cell stack on the top of the electric motor/single-speed gearbox, and the power electronics/inverter unit tops them. This means, the 3 are packaged remarkably like a conventional engine under the bonnet, so they can be easily exchanged with an EV or PHEV powertrain. Expectedly, the latest generation of Honda hydrogen fuel cell is more efficient than the one of FCX Clarity. Its efficiency has surpassed 60 percent, compared with just over 50% of the old unit. This means it can be made 33% smaller, with 30% fewer cells yet produces slightly more power. It can supply a continuous 103kW (140hp) to the permanent magnet AC electric motor, which is capable to produce 177 hp and 221 lbft of torque to the front wheels. The difference between motor and fuel cell output can be supplemented with a 1.7kWh lithium battery which is located under the front seats. At full thrust, the battery power can last for about 3 minutes. In the real world, unless you abuse the Honda like Fernando Alonso to his McLaren-Honda, it should be able to find some breathing space to recharge the battery, such as during regenerative braking.

Like Mirai, there are 2 high-pressure (700 bar) hydrogen fuel tanks, the smaller one is placed under the rear seat and the larger one occupies a substantial part of the boot, reducing luggage space to 334 liters. They provide a claimed driving range of 750 km in Japanese cycle, although in the real world it is much shorter.

Most of the surfaces are covered with recycled materials that look and feel good...

Although the Clarity is slightly larger than Accord in all dimensions, its interior is on the contrary. In particular, rear legroom is cut by 45mm, while headroom is reduced by 10mm despite its taller roof, blame to the hydrogen fuel tanks. That said, it is still roomy enough to sit 5 adults. On the positive side, the cabin is quite stylish and finished in premium build quality. Most of the surfaces are covered with recycled materials that look and feel good, not to mention the environmental-conscious image they deliver.

At the back, the boot is even less usable than the number suggested. While it has no problem to accommodate a couple of golf clubs, it is simply too short to place large suitcases. There is no folding back seat or pass-through for longer items either, blame to the cumbersome gas tank again.

On the road, the Clarity runs with remarkable refinement. There is some breathing noise from the electric air compressor that feeds the fuel cell, but the cabin is very well insulated with its laminated glass and sound insulating materials. Like Mirai, the power and performance is adequate, focusing on smoothness and quietness rather than excitement. The instant torque of electric motor satisfactorily masks its heft. 0-60 mph is expected to take 8 and a half seconds, slightly faster than the Mirai if still not anything to write about. Top speed is limited to only 105 mph though.

It drives just like a heavier Accord...

In corners, the Honda displays better handling than the Toyota. It rolls less and holds the road stronger than the Mirai, thanks to its lower center of gravity and better suspension. In fact, it drives just like a heavier Accord, with similar steering (precise and linear), braking (well modulated) and ride (smooth and composed), though you won’t confuse it with a driver’s car. It has a front-to-rear weight distribution of 57:43 like conventional FF cars. Many EVs achieves 50:50 and lower center of gravity.

If the Clarity Fuel Cell is priced at the same level as a top-spec Accord or even Acura TLX, it would have earned a 3-star rating. However, since it has a list price of $60,000 in the US market, it is hopeless. In fact, despite the quoted price, you are not able to buy it unless you live in Japan, where it is sold only to the government and selected customers at the same price as a Mercedes E-class! No matter buy or lease, you are taking advantage of Honda because the car is way more expensive to develop and build. Worse still, there are very few hydrogen refill stations in both countries at the moment. It might take a decade or so to become widely available, even if with the support of governments and energy industry. Clarity might be an interesting technology showcase, but there is little clarity in its prospect.

Length / width / height
Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Clarity Fuel Cell
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque, Al subframes
Aluminum + steel
4915 / 1875 / 1480 mm
2750 mm
Hydrogen fuel cell, electric motor
177 hp (fuel cell: 140 hp)
221 lbft
F: strut
R: multi-link
Mechanical adaptive dampers
1890 kg
105 mph (c)

Performance tested by: *C&D

AutoZine Rating

Clarity Fuel Cell

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