Now that we have put 1000 miles on our 2018 Clarity PHEV I have the answers to a couple questions: how has the car handled temperatures plunging to well below 0F and how have my driving impressions changed?
I have really grown to love the Clarity. The night I first drove it I wasn’t sold on it, but my wife was going to be the primary driver of the vehicle, so it was ultimately up to her. So what has changed to make me love the car so much?
The night I first drove the car was on a very cold evening after a cold day when the car was sitting outside unplugged. Unfortunately, Lithium-ion batteries like the one used in the Clarity PHEV don’t like cold temperatures, it lowers their power output and so I think my driving experience was limited from the car not wanting to draw too much power from the battery.
The sport mode on my 2012 Volt gives the car improved response from the go pedal, and also the Volt has normal (D selected on shifter) or high regen (L selected on shifter) modes. Many of us like to drive the Volt in Sport with L selected. When I tried Sport on the first night I test drove the Clarity, I think it was being limited by cold battery with no charge so my opinion of it was somewhat negative.
Now that I have had the car for several weeks, I found the performance of Sport mode on the Clarity PHEV to be very good. It still won’t set any land speed records, but it will accelerate much faster than most traffic does on a regular basis, meaning it is fast enough assuming you aren’t trying to race people. It doesn’t have quite as much punch from 0 mph as the Volt, but as soon as it gets rolling it accelerates briskly.
I also found the regeneration improved as long as the battery is warmer. With the Clarity in Sport mode, if you pull the left paddle on the back of the steering wheel, the regeneration level will increase from 1 to 4 chevrons and stay at the level you set (other modes it clears after a stop). With the car set at 4 chevrons it is fairly close to my 2012 Volt in L mode.
A few notes, sometimes the regen level will change spontaneously in Sport mode. If it is very cold out it appears the chevrons will reduce from 4 to 2 after a stop, and setting the cruise control at speed on the highway will also cause the regen level to reset. Finally, setting the car in park will cause it to reset. There might be other cases I don’t know about as well.
Camera and Sun
The backup camera has a few modes: ultra-wide, wide, and straight down. These modes are all from the same camera, but they have different processing to the image to show different things. Sorry if I get a little technical here, it is my camera background.
The ultrawide view is basically an orthographic fisheye view that shows everything the camera sees. This adds a circular distortion to the image, but gives you the widest possible view and the benefit to this fisheye view is that scales of objects seen will be accurate, but they will have curvature to them. The outside corners of the screen are cut off and everything is curved.
The wide view is something like stereographic fisheye projection. It corrects some of the curvature out, but tries to keep scales accurate. This view makes smaller objects easier to see and straightens everything out significantly, but you lose field of view to the sides.
The straight down view is a near rectilinear, but still has some fisheye distortion, of the bottom part of the image. It really helps if you are parking up against something very closely and need to see how your bumper lines up, but you lose all your backwards view. Only use this for the last few feet in a difficult spot, not for backing out of your driveway onto a street with traffic.
What happens if the sunlight hits the screen and instrument cluster? For one, the center screen will show any fingerprints that might be on it. Gross.
The instrument cluster is better, but does wash out. The import information is still visible, like speed, but some other lighter color text disappears, like READY indicator, etc. The center screen is angled such that the sun rarely hits it and reflects in your face, but when it does it is glossy and reflective.
At low temperatures, the Volt runs in a special mode known as Engine Running Due to Temperature (ERDTT). At low temperatures (25 F on my 2012, 15 or 35 on the 2013 or newer) the engine would automatically start and cycle between battery and engine+battery. The engine would never really get hot in this mode, it is essentially being run for waste heat, although surplus energy is still put in the battery.
The Clarity PHEV also has an engine running mode at low temperatures, but it is a little different. It essentially runs in hybrid mode where it runs the engine much more often, but it still pulls energy from the battery. Notice in the above image, the blue bar has disappeared from around the edge of the speedometer and the EV text is no longer under the READY indicator.
At other times, the blue indicator is shorter, this happens when your battery is low for sure, and I am uncertain if it happens at any other times. I think there is a bug in the range calculation when driving in low temperature ERDTT mode since it uses both gasoline and electricity. I think the range will correct quickly once the battery is low, but given it has some history built in I would expect it to have half this range on the highway.
I haven’t been able to determine exactly what causes ERDTT in the Clarity, but it seems like it is related to battery temperature. A few days I drove around with temps from 6 to 8 F and it never started, and other days it started at similar temperatures. With high temperatures around 0 F, it has been running much more often.
I actually prefer how the Clarity does this as the Volt cycles frequently at low temperatures and makes for an odd driving experience. The Clarity PHEV starts feeling like a normal hybrid and doesn’t have the temperature swings in the climate control that the Volt has in this mode.
I have seen charges limited to 4 kw charge rates in cold weather, slowly increasing sometimes. I haven’t confirmed if this is the car limiting the charge rate of the cold battery, but I suspect that is the reason. If I charge after driving the car around for a while it charges at 7.2 kw, but if I plug it in when the battery might be cooler it seems to charge slower than that. It is possible it is the EVSE, but I don’t think it is.
I have also had more time to use the advanced safety features like the LKAS, ACC, AEB. I really love the adaptive cruise control. I know this feature has been on cars for a while, but being my first car with it I have a few comments. On steep curves, the car might stop seeing the car directly in front of it as the radar starts to point away from it. Also, make sure a car is registered as being seen or you might get unexpected results from some of the other systems. The radar won’t detect a stopped car either, so don’t count on it to stop you at a traffic light. The automatic braking might help there, but best not rely on it.
The LKAS shouldn’t be relied on to keep you 100% in the lane, even with decent lane markings. Depending on how visible the line markings are, I found it wanted to hug and even slightly cross the lane on my freeway I was testing it on, driving towards the middle of the road. It did warn me I was crossing the line before I did, but it let me cross 6″ or so before it corrected me back. It would sort of bounce along the dashed line in this fashion.
This effect might have been in part because solid white lane marker on the edge of the road was under snow and the car was trying to keep me from driving off. Overall, I think LKAS will be valuable but don’t try to let it drive the car without your attention. My main complaint with it is you will feel the wheel making small jerky corrections frequently. They aren’t felt in the car, but through the wheel.
The system also monitors if your hands are on the steering wheel, but I found in the cold with the bumpy roads here it seems to not detect this accurately and I was able to leave my hands off the wheel (in very close proximity) for several minutes. This let me feel how the lane keeping behaved, but I wasn’t able to see what happens if you don’t use your hands.
The included tires are acceptable on snow and ice. They won’t compare to a good snow tire, but are respectable for all season tires. It also helps that they only have 1000 miles on them. Brisk acceleration will make them slip, especially if surfaces are wet or slick.
When the brake pedal is pressed hard on ice, the car provides no feedback that ABS is being used. It stops smoothly with minimal pulsating as some systems feedback through the pedal. The stability control kicks in quickly when the steering angle doesn’t match the direction the car is traveling, quickly reacting to slow the car and allow it to turn as needed. The Volt always let the car slip to the outside more than I care for before the stability control would engage and correct (meaning you slide into the outside of a roundabout if you don’t slow down yourself).
After having the Clarity PHEV for 3 weeks and 1000 miles, I find that I really like the car. The comfort level is amazing, the power delivery is good enough that I don’t feel it is lacking for daily driving. The engine runs less than I thought it would in low temperatures, but more than I thought it would at very low temperatures (less than 10 F). I am growing to like the car in any mode, but Sport with 4 chevrons of regeneration is my favorite. I can’t wait for the temperatures to get above freezing, but we aren’t supposed to even see 10 F until next weekend.
I wish Honda included a battery heater in the US model to help efficiency at low temperatures, but overall it drives very well, even in the frigid Midwest. I have only put 4 gallons of gas in it during the time I have had it. Not too bad considering the Minivan would have needed 55 gallons!!!
To be fair, I have used about 300 kwh of electricity according to my Charge Point Home 32A charger (I love the smart features of this charger). This is about $33 worth of electricity plus $10 worth of gas, vs about about $137 worth of gas the minivan would have used over the same period. It has cut my operating expense by at least 3 times. I am pleased.