A Colorado driver’s plug-in hybrid experience

A Colorado driver’s plug-in hybrid experience
photo courtesy of Honda

By Richard Grossman

Our plug-in hybrid Prius was hit by a driver who fell asleep at the wheel on June 7th, 2019. My wife had a serious fracture but I was more fortunate with only minor injuries. The Prius, which saved our lives, was demolished. We wanted to replace it with another EV before the federal reimbursement for EVs decreased at the end of June. We had installed PV panels on the roof of our carport, had a level 2 charger and didn’t want to become reliant on fossil fuels any more than we could help. However, we travel to Denver to visit family, so range is a problem. The options were to replace the Prius with a Tesla (too expensive!) or get another plug-in hybrid (PHEV).

Fortunately, I had already done a bit of research and knew where to look. The Prius Prime didn’t appeal because of its limited EV range and overly complex appearance. After talking with local dealerships and finding that the Prius was the only option available in Durango, I looked down in Farmington. The Mitsubishi Outlander was a real option—it has 4WD and is the most popular PHEV world-wide [Ed. Note: all-electric range of 22 miles]. A test drive reinforced what I had already read, that it was not up to modern standards of finish. Furthermore, I was concerned that its safety rating wasn’t top notch.

The Honda Clarity was another possibility. It had the bells and whistles that make it safer, was comfortable and was available on the lot. It did not have any safety rating yet, but its first cousin, the Honda Accord, had excellent ratings; that was good enough for me. It also had a safety feature I hadn’t heard of before—an air bag for the driver that is under the dashboard that might have prevented my wife’s injury, had the Prius had one. She was driving in the accident, and had downward force on her left knee that broke the top of her two leg bones into several fragments.

The second test drive turned up a problem that I had read about in reviews of the Clarity. The vehicle refused to function on the battery, although it worked well as a hybrid. What was the point of a PHEV if it wouldn’t run on the battery! I negotiated a good price that included an extended service contract (just in case) and drove it home.

On the way back from Farmington I played with the controls that govern the source of the motive power. I had read that holding down a button for a few seconds will cause the engine to charge the traction battery. When I used that, a white line appeared on the panel showing the battery charge level—and I realized that the battery had been totally discharged!

After learning how to use this computer with wheels attached, I have been very pleased with the Clarity. Most of my trips at first were back and forth to the hospital or rehab unit where my wife spent way too much time. I clocked the battery-only as driving almost 60 miles. [Ed. Note; the EPA rating for pure-electric range on this vehicle is 48 miles, very similar to the 53 mile rating on late-model Volts, a comparable PHEV that is no longer made.] The first tank of gas, filled at the dealership, propelled me 715 miles to the gallon! Of course, that was because I kept the battery well charged at home. Since then we have taken longer trips—to Denver and Grand Junction—and had very good mileage and comfortable rides. I discovered that it is possible to carry 8-foot fluorescent bulbs in it, and that the trunk will hold a lot of stuff. It is the only vehicle that we have ever owned with a trunk in back; our first vehicle was a VW bug, but its trunk was in the front.

I hope Melloy Honda in Farmington has sold other Clarities. I have told them I’m pleased with ours—and I also suggested that they fill the battery as well as the gas tank in the future! [Ed. Note; I too have arranged to test drive a PHEV, only to discover upon arrival at the dealership that the car’s battery has not been charged, A dealer can always charge up using the 110 V cord that comes with the car, even if they don’t have a conventional (Level II) charger, but apparently many can’t be bothered. Consider requesting a charge in advance of arriving at a dealer to test drive a PHEV.]

Kelley Blue Book’s (KBB.com) awarded the Honda Clarity their 2020 Best Buy for BEV/PHEV cars, in recognition of the model’s class-leading all-electric range, seating for five, and safety features.