2017 Honda Clarity: Monthly Update for July 2017
by Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing
Where Did We Drive It?
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.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Did It Get?
No new records were set this month, and our overall average fell a little bit to 59.6 mpkg, which stands for miles per kilogram of hydrogen, the unit that is used to price the amount of fuel dispensed at the pump.
You may have heard of mpge, which attempts to translate alternate fuels into a gasoline miles per gallon equivalent. But I hate to use the term when we're talking about electricity because any talk of gallons makes little sense unless you're an electrical engineer. My tone is slightly different when it comes to hydrogen because the equivalency factor is 1-to-1: 1 kilo of hydrogen has the same energy content as 1 gallon of gasoline. This makes the math very easy; our Clarity's lifetime average of 59.6 mpkg therefore equals 59.6 mpge.
But don't get too excited by the ease of this conversion because it's still useless to a consumer. That's because 1 kilogram of hydrogen is significantly more expensive than 1 gallon of gasoline. How much more? My local pump was charging $15.99 per kilogram of the stuff while the adjacent gasoline pump was asking $2.89 for a gallon of 87 octane unleaded.
Despite an apparent mpg equivalency factor of 1-to-1, hydrogen is 5.5 times more expensive to buy. And that is why I hate mpge as a unit: It's purely an energy density yardstick. It's not the cost yardstick many people assume it is, and in the case of hydrogen it's not even close.
Average lifetime mpkg: 59.6
EPA mpkg rating: 67 combined (68 city/66 highway)
Best fill mpkg: 69.8
Best range: 269.9 miles
Current odometer: 3,957 miles
Maintenance and Upkeep
"The Clarity has enough off-the-line punch to get up to speed quickly when you, for argument's sake, pull out of a side road and turn in front of — well in front of, I must stress, when the maneuver started, at least — a car that's coming on stronger than you estimated. Ask me how I know." — Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing
"Below the sloping main rear window there's another tiny vertical window between the passenger compartment and the trunk. And then there's another smoked glass window that's cleverly disguised as black paint beneath the trunklid's spoiler. This weird arrangement lets you look through the trunk to see a little patch of road below the main bit that's visible through the sloping main window.
"But this intricate plan goes pear-shaped if you've got your trunk packed full of luggage, at which point you see luggage in the lower third of your rearview mirror. Or dirty laundry, if that's what your trunk is full of. The possibilities are endless, especially for writers who tend toward gangster-movie scripts." — Dan Edmunds
"I'm already on record as being hostile toward Honda's push-button shift array, which can be very laggy in an 'I'll take your request under advisement' kind of way if you push a button and the computer decides that insufficient time has passed since you pressed the start button or rested your foot on the brake pedal.
"At least here in the Clarity it makes a certain kind of sense. This car is ultimately powered by a direct-drive electric motor. Park, Drive, Neutral and Reverse are pretty much all you need with such a single-speed transmission. Why not use buttons?
"But now Honda/Acura has ridden this ergonomic nightmare to a new low. They've gone and installed it in the Acura NSX supercar. What do the Honda Clarity and Honda Pilot have in common with an Acura NSX? This thing." — Dan Edmunds
"Filling up the Clarity cost me half an hour today because I had to go to two stations. At the first station, the pump wouldn't work. The pump accepted my card, prompted me to start pumping, and then told me there was an error and I should start over. This isn't my first time filling the Clarity, and I tried three or four times, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't user error.
"Fortunately, another hydrogen station was only about 3 miles away, so I made the drive and ... got free hydrogen, for some reason. The pump just told me to start pumping without asking for payment. I was worried that somehow whoever had pumped ahead of me had managed to leave his payment info in or something, so I tried everything I could to cancel the transaction. I even tried pumping a tiny bit and then stopping so there would be a complete transaction. But every time it went back to the screen that prompted me to start pumping without asking for payment.
"These sorts of errors don't really instill confidence in the hydrogen infrastructure that's being built — particularly the first one when the pump didn't work at all." — Will Kaufman, automotive editor
"I happened to bend down and look at something that caught my eye under the Clarity as it sat in my driveway. I hadn't realized how truly weird the rear suspension was going to be. The huge hydrogen tank (indicated) that makes the rear seat good for three-across accomodation also eats into the real estate engineers traditionally use for the rear suspension. Here they've shifted many of the important bits aft to an alarming degree. I've got to put this one up on our lift to have a closer look." — Dan Edmunds