24.9.2010Honda FCX Clarity (fuel cell) review
If the hydrogen to power the fuel cell has been produced using renewable sources (such as solar, wind or hydroelectric power) the FCX Clarity, the world's first production fuel cell car, is the ultimate in clean motoring.
The fact that even in left hand drive it was easy to live with, shows the progress made by Honda with fuel cells over the last 20 years. One fuel cell I saw in Japan was the size of three big suitcases and weighed 200kg. Today it's less than a third the size and a third of the weight. A curved surface in the boot and nowhere to refuel are the only practical problems. London plans six filling stations by 2012.
Review by Russell Bray for WhatGreenCar.com
Smooth and very quiet thanks to a 100kW electric motor producing 129bhp and 189lbs ft of instant torque which accelerates the rather large Clarity from rest to 60mph in about nine seconds and on to a top speed of about 100mph. The hum of the electric motor and a compressor forcing oxygen from the atmosphere into the fuel cell has been left audible to give the driver a sense of gaining speed. A fascinating glowing energy 'ball' in the centre of the instruments reflects the rate of hydrogen being burned.
On the road the FCX feels just like a bigger Honda hybrid like the Insight with quick, light steering, smooth automatic transmission and a comfortable ride. It really feels effortless and not very driver involving as a result. Rather like an electric tram that doesn't run on rails. The brakes, which are regenerative – storing energy during deceleration in a lithium-ion battery just like a hybrid for an acceleration boost later – feel rather 'dead' and the pedal has a lot of travel.
Considering that there is no conventional petrol or diesel engine and their ancillary cooling and gearing devices – the compact fuel cell sits in the console between the two front seats – the FCX looks sleek and modern but doesn't shout about its dramatic propulsion differences. The big, pressurised hydrogen tank robs boot space so there won't be a convertible with a folding roof any time soon, but an unaware passenger would just think you had a big, smooth car. Length 4833mm. Width 1846mm.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
If you can drive an automatic you could drive the Clarity but the instrument panel is like using a new, multi-screen video game until you get used to it with some information overkill at times. The plush, comfortable seats are covered in a bio-fabric made from fermenting corn.
As well as dual zone climate control the seats are also cooled and ventilated. Aiding the car's restful nature is a very light and airy interior. Naturally there are electric windows and mirrors and the ubiquitous cup holders. A reversing camera displays the view behind on the centre screen.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
This is guesstimate land. Hydrogen isn't commercially available to motorists in the UK but costs about seven Euros a kilogram in Germany so filling the 171 litre tank with four kg of compressed hydrogen would cost about £25 and let you cover about 270 miles. Honda says as a ball park figure the car's consumption equates to around 100mpg. With only water vapour from the exhaust the FCX's CO2 emissions are zero. This puts the car into tax band A so no road tax is payable.
With no harmful exhaust emissions the Honda FCX Clarity is as green as a pure electric car. A blue 'energy ball' display in the centre of the instruments encourages economical driving. Small and green is good, big and orange prolifigate. Medium size and blue is the most common halfway house. Fin-shaped plastic fairings on wheels reduce air turbulence so improving aerodynamics.
Somehow all the usual executive car kit of climate control, up market sound system, alloy wheels, electric this and that doesn't seem exciting or advanced enough for a car from the future, 2050 at least, that's here today. You at least expect it to talk to you like KITT from the television series Knight Rider or drive itself. It hasn't even got 'night vision' thermal imaging you get order on cars like Audi's A8.
Model tested: Honda FCX Clarity
Body-style: Five-seater executive saloon
Engine: 1kW electric motor 129bhp, 189 lbs ft
Trim grades: Only one trim level
Vehicle class: Four-door saloon powered by hydrogen fuel-cell
On-road price: Rental only (Japan & California) Ã‚Â£390 per month
In the showroom: 2030 (estimate)
Review rating: 4.0 STARS