Our 2017 Honda Clarity accumulated yet more commuter miles this month. Somewhere along the way, I drove it through a new psychedelic car wash near my home, but that's about as adventurous as any of us got. No one has taken it on a road trip yet, and that's probably because California's Hydrogen Highway only connects Los Angeles to San Francisco, with a short offshoot that goes to Lake Tahoe.
In other words, nothing on the hydrogen supply side has changed very much since we road-tripped our 2016 Toyota Mirai to Lake Tahoe a year ago. Sure, more stations have been added since then — we can now fill up in Santa Barbara and San Diego. However, these stations and a handful of other new additions were built to expand the pool of potential buyers by establishing more neighborhood locations that owners can use as their primary filling station.
Road-tripping potential has not increased a bit, in other words. We still cannot venture across the desert to Las Vegas or up the eastern flank of California's Sierra Nevada mountains. Non-commuting travel does not yet seem to be a priority for the California Fuel Cell Partnership, and that is going to limit the appeal of hydrogen cars such as the Clarity and the Mirai.
This month, our 2017 Honda Clarity handled commuter duty. Maybe someday we'll be brave enough to try a road trip, but we haven't gotten there yet. So far, the Hondanburg is proving itself a comfortable, competent and thoughtfully designed alternative to battery electric cars. Then again, we've had it for a few months, so some of the shine is starting to wear off.
As the only fuel cell vehicle in our fleet currently, the 2017 Honda Clarity is unique but not completely foreign. It delivers a smooth flow of electric power like many of the traditional EVs we've tested, which makes it a comfortable daily driver. Its Honda roots are evident in the form of both interior layout and driving manners. And this isn't the first car with a hydrogen fuel cell that we've tested.
It's certainly not a performance car, but we still took it to the test track to get some numbers and see how they stack up against our 2016 Toyota Mirai. Take the jump to see how the two of them compare in a place where neither is particularly comfortable. It's the battle of the hydrogen beauties.
Where Did We Drive It?
The dearth of hydrogen fueling stations outside of the Southern California area limits the number of long trips we'll take in our 2017 Honda Clarity. As a result, the Clarity is settling into life as city dweller with the occasional longer commute thrown in the mix. This is also still just our third month owning the car, so admittedly we are getting our feet wet a bit before diving into range tests.
So far the Honda's proven itself a capable runabout. There is plenty of power for the situations we've encountered thus far. The interior fits us, too. Not just from a comfort perspective but also in the sense that it has cupholders and compartments where we want them, easy-to-use controls and an interior spaciousness we didn't expect from a car of its size. We are still getting to know the Clarity, but already it has a lot going for it.
Where Did We Drive It?
With limited hydrogen fueling stations beyond the immediate Southern California area, we've been hesitant to push the road-tripping capability of the 2017 Honda Clarity. Therefore, most of the driving during the month of April has been around town, with a few shorter cross-town trips mixed in. This also gave many staffers an opportunity to take a turn at the "fueling" station to literally gas up.
With all the shorter trips, we haven't had a chance to really test out the effectiveness of the rear cargo volume or true long-distance seat comfort. And many of the Clarity's parts are from Honda's parts bin, so some of the pros and cons will sound vaguely like those from our recently departed 2016 Honda Civic. See how many you can match up.
We've added a 2017 Honda Clarity to our long-term test fleet. It's one of only a handful of hydrogen fuel cell cars on the market today. We spent six months last year with a Toyota Mirai fuel cell sedan and were pleasantly surprised by how normal it was in day-to-day driving.
Then again, maybe we shouldn't have been that surprised. Although we call them fuel cell cars, they're really nothing more than electric cars that get their power in a different manner. Rather than storing electricity in batteries, cars such as the Clarity have a fuel cell on board that converts hydrogen into electricity.
Honda claims the Clarity is better than Toyota's Mirai in every measurable way. It's the kind of thing you expect to hear given the rivalry between the two companies, but Honda and Toyota are also two companies that have bet big on the whole idea of hydrogen fuel cells. Other competitors have decided that battery-powered electric cars are the way to go. Tesla boss Elon Musk has even gone as far as calling hydrogen cars "fool cells."
It's an issue that will be debated for many years to come. At the moment, all we can do is test what's available now. We already own a Tesla Model X and a Chevrolet Bolt, so the Clarity seemed like a logical choice.
Note that we don't actually own this vehicle. Honda only lets you lease a Clarity, and only a handful of dealerships in California stock it. Not surprisingly, there weren't many available when we started our search. After getting on a few waiting lists, the Norm Reeves Honda Superstore in Irvine was the first dealer to find one for us. There's not much negotiating to do since it's a set lease price of $369 per month. We signed the paperwork, and a dealer rep delivered the Clarity to our office and gave us a tour of its features.