2017 Honda Clarity: Monthly Update for September 2017
by Jason Kavanagh, Senior Road Test Engineer
Where Did We Drive It?
You've heard this drumbeat before. With one exception, trips in our long-term fuel cell cars like the 2017 Honda Clarity don't stray far from the Los Angeles basin. This is, of course, a consequence of the nascent hydrogen refueling infrastructure. The existence of few refueling options limits the distance, and locations to which, the Clarity can travel.
Hence, the Clarity is cut out for commute duty and local trips rather than road trips. And in September it served duty in precisely that capacity, ferrying editors and Edmunds employees to and from home. Again, a familiar situation for every (OK, both) fuel cell cars we've tested. In the meantime, we've pontificated on the Clarity's place in automobiledom and found new things to like about it.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Did It Get?
This month showed the Clarity suffering somewhat in the fuel economy department, turning in 55.3 miles per kilogram of hydrogen (mpkg). One fill in particular was responsible for dragging down the Clarity's result for the month since there were only three fills in total during September, covering 645 miles of travel.
It's worth reiterating that "miles per" metrics are inherently poor measures of fuel economy. That includes mpkg, though as a yardstick it is far less misleading than miles per gallon equivalent (mpge), which is almost completely useless.
In any case, our Clarity's fuel economy in September slipped a bit from last month and dragged down its lifetime average in the process.
Average lifetime mpkg: 60.4
EPA mpkg rating: 67 combined (68 city/66 highway)
Best fill mpkg: 69.8
Best range: 269.9 miles
Current odometer: 5,375 miles
Maintenance and Upkeep
"The Clarity seems to be the only car in our fleet right now that insists on restoring the driver's seat to the saved memory position attached to each key's driver profile. I understand the value of this feature to some, but it means that if you're sharing a key with someone else in your family, the seat will always be wrong for one of you when you get in. It's redundant if you have your seating position saved anyway and an annoyance in a shared car."— Will Kaufman, associate automotive editor
"I'm a fan of head-up displays in cars, and our Clarity has a good one. The numbers are easily legible and don't get washed out in the sunlight. For a while, this was the only Honda where you'd find a head-up display, but now the 2018 Accord will offer one in the Touring trim." — Ron Montoya, senior consumer advice editor
"To echo J-Kav's comment from last month, the Clarity's styling isn't doing it any favors. This point was underscored recently with the advent of the all-new 2018 Honda Accord, a genuinely graceful thing that makes the Clarity look like a designer's bad dream from the '80s. To be fair, the rival Toyota Mirai has a similarly intimate relationship with the ugly stick, so at least looking weird is the FCEV segment norm right now. But why didn't Honda work harder to make this thing look cool? It's closer to the Pontiac Aztek (yeah, I said it) than the BMW i8. We need more designs like the latter if alternative-energy vehicles are to win broader acceptance." — Josh Sadlier, senior manager, content strategy
"Personally, I really like the Clarity. Issues with hydrogen infrastructure aside, I'd definitely consider leasing one if I needed a daily commuter and didn't have reliable access to a Level 2 electrical charging station. But I don't know if hydrogen has a future.
"Right now, Toyota and Samsung are promising breakthroughs in battery technology by 2020. It seems likely that electric cars will gain range and shed weight more easily than hydrogen cars, which will always need a big, heavily reinforced tank in their trunk. Electrical infrastructure is expanding, and charging stations seem largely more reliable and easier to install than hydrogen stations. Looking at battery electric and hydrogen technology, I have to wonder if hydrogen cars are going to wind up as another truncated stump on the automotive evolutionary tree, like steam cars or propeller cars. I'm still sad about propeller cars." — Will Kaufman
"I filled up as usual at our local station, but when I was done I could not get the nozzle to release from the car. It seemed that the collar was pulling back like it should, and I could move the handle in and out a little and rotate the nozzle, so it wasn't frozen in place. (They get very frosty as they fill.) I stood there for three or four minutes as another Clarity pulled up behind me. I called the number on the pump for help and was told that maybe the outer sleeve of the collar wasn't pulling back far enough.
"It was true. There was maybe another one-thirty-second of an inch of space, so I pulled back on the collar some more while holding the nozzle in. It worked. The extra travel released the retaining balls that ring the nozzle like an air compressor connector, and I was done.
"My first clue should have been how cold and frosty the nozzle had been when I arrived. That indicates someone had been there just before me, and maybe some slush inside was gumming up the works. I don't know. I've filled up at this station a dozen times, and this is a new hiccup. A new SAE hydrogen nozzle is in the works, so maybe this kind of stuff will soon cease to be an issue." — Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing
"The Clarity isn't a very popular car around the office, and I'm pretty sure that's the result of a spate of fueling issues (detailed in previous updates). The issue isn't the car per se; it's that no one wants to be a victim of the whims of the unreliable hydrogen infrastructure. It's unfortunate that the fueling stations' unreliability has made us skittish because the Clarity itself is a good, comfortable commuter."— Will Kaufman