8
You can't buy the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, but the innovative hatchback does enough to show that hydrogen models deserve a more mainstream future

Our Verdict

Honda Clarity FCV

Honda’s fuel cell flagship reaches its second generation, but is the world ready?

  • First Drive

    Honda Clarity Fuel Cell 2017 review

    You can't buy the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, but the innovative hatchback does enough to show that hydrogen models deserve a more mainstream future
  • First Drive

    2016 Honda FCV Clarity review

    New rival for the Toyota Mirai will arrive in the UK in 2016, with a longer range than the old FCX Clarity and more ambitious sales plans
Steve Cropley Autocar
26 April 2017

What is it?

It's unobtainable, that's the first thing you should know about this new Hydrogen-powered Honda Clarity Fuel CellThe company may have decided to show this car in Europe, and to run small fleets in interested markets, but it won't be selling it in Europe until the next-generation model arrives in five years' time. True, the car's on sale in tiny numbers in the US and Japan, for the equivalent of £40,000, but there's no such deal on this side of the pond.

Why show it all? One suspects, to show the extent of Honda's fuel cell progress so far and to prevent Toyota, whose fuel cell Mirai you can actually buy, from gathering all the glory. Honda has been working on this technology for 30 years, and considers itself the leader, even if it chooses not to sell cars here yet.

At present, Honda's Clarity pilot plant in Japan can only make three cars a day, and that output is fully utilised sending cars to more promising outposts of the hydrogen-fuelled world - Germany, Denmark, California and, of course, oil-short Japan, where hydrogen fuelling stations are being built at a greater rate than our own. Besides, Honda still has to get costs down further (the Clarity would cost more than £40,000 here).

What's it like?

Here's the bottom line on the new Honda Clarity Fuel Cell saloon: it is civilised, comfortable, easy to drive and desirable to anyone who likes electrically driven cars and puts a high value on smoothness, quietness and an abiding feeling of plushness.

The new Clarity indisputably shows the potential of the design. It's a big car, a 4.9-metre-long saloon with a body made from an expensive-sounding amalgam of ultra-high tensile steel, aluminium and composite. Honda claims it as "the world's most advanced fuel cell vehicle" on the grounds that it has greatly reduced the size of every powertrain component (fuel cell stack, power electronics and electric drive motor) so that the total assembly fits under the bonnet in a space slightly smaller than the drivetrain of one of its 3.5-litre V6 models.

The Clarity has two fuel tanks - one under the rear seat, another behind it - carrying a total of 5kg of hydrogen (the same as the Mirai) and Honda claims this 1800kg car has the longest driving range of any zero-emissions vehicle so far.

The Clarity's interior is plush and quite spacious in front. Honda's claim is that this is the first five-seater fuel cell car, and it is, but we don't think the central rear-seat passenger (who must sit astride a large tunnel) would be comfortable for long. Rear seat room for the other two is quite good, without approaching the standard of the Ford Mondeo. Boot space is okay, but the floor isn't flat and the front wall is oddly shaped because of the barrel-like hydrogen tank ahead of it. 

On the road, driving is very much the experience you'd associate with any well set-up electric car - same smooth and swift departure from rest, accurate accelerator responses and strong torquey power delivery (the motor has 172bhp and 221lb ft or torque) and complete absence of gear changes. As with most electric cars, there's one gear and no clutch. 

As you drive, there's no sound build-up from the powertrain, just a steady hum from the new, smaller two-stage supercharged compressor, plus a distant whine when the car is slowing as the regenerative brake system charges the battery. You can increase the feeling of deceleration by thumbing a Sport button on the console, although it barely sharpens accelerator response.

Handling is neat for a big car, and the ride is flat, plush and quiet and, surprisingly, the steering isn't too light. With its size and long wheelbase, the Clarity certainly isn't a car for throwing about, but it does grip nicely on corners, maintains a neutral cornering attitude even in high-speed bends, and has strong, easily modulated brakes. In short, the serene driving experience will be familiar to those who know the Toyota Prius well, except that it is quieter and smoother still. You could easily imagine this powertrain in a Rolls-Royce.

Should I buy one?

You can't, as explained. For the next few years Honda will use its few European cars to promote the idea of fuel cells, and to build anticipation for the day, around 2022, when a new generation Clarity Fuel Cell model hits the market in decent numbers. But even in this iteration, the car deserves buyers - and proves that a hydrogen Honda (at a sensible price) can't come too soon.

Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

Location Copenhagen; On sale Never; Price N/A; Motor Electric, hydrogen fuel cell; Power 174bhp; Torque 221lb ft; Gearbox Direct drive; Kerb weight 1800kg; 0-62mph 9.0sec; Top speed 104mph; Range 403miles (NEDC, claimed); CO2 0g/km; Rivals Toyota Mirai, Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell

Join the debate

Comments
13

26 April 2017
Some day the world will come to realise its probably the only answer. Build lots of nuclear power stations to create lots of cheap power, use the power to split water. Convert petrol stations to hydrogen stations. Put this powertrain in all sorts of vehicles. A world that never runs out of fuel and can't be held to ransom by the goats of the dessert ever again. Just do it!

26 April 2017
Goat dessert, ugh I'd much rather have a New York cheesecake or apple crumble and a nice vanilla custard thanks.

26 April 2017
Cleverzippy1 wrote:

Goat dessert, ugh I'd much rather have a New York cheesecake or apple crumble and a nice vanilla custard thanks.

I know, my wife was talking to me at the same time so I was diverting 20% of my attention to her, that is my only excuse.

26 April 2017
The Apprentice wrote:

Some day the world will come to realise its probably the only answer. Build lots of nuclear power stations to create lots of cheap power, use the power to split water. Convert petrol stations to hydrogen stations. Put this powertrain in all sorts of vehicles. A world that never runs out of fuel and can't be held to ransom by the goats of the dessert ever again. Just do it!

Some day people on internet message boards will stop using gut feelings to advocate for fuel cell cars.

Splitting hydrogen from water is massively inefficient compared to just transmitting this energy via the existing electricity grid. Most Hydrogen is actually split out of methane with the CO2 still going into the atmosphere. Other fun fuel cell issues are that the hydrogen leaks directly through the walls of any container it is stored in.

The only reason for hydrogen cars is to try to replicate the range of petrol cars. In practice most electric cars will be charged on peoples drives and will be adequate for virtually any journeys undertaken without prior planning.

For longer journeys plan and use a supercharger or travel by other means.

Range is set to be not a problem once we switch to self driving cars. In those cases most cars will only need a 100 mile range, the cars would take 5-10 people to work in the morning, charge in the afternoon and take 5-10 people home again. For longer journeys Uber or similar would select a fully charged long range car, these would be only a small proportion of the fleet.

Trucks will also never use hydrogen for the same efficiency reasons. Even though trucks travel many hundreds of miles a day even with todays tech a range of about 200 miles is possible with batteries.

Given trucks have standard form factors a universal exchangeable battery isn't too difficult to pull off, the other option is the self driving trucks simply swap trailers and then go recharge and pick up another load.

26 April 2017
But why? Once you've created that cheap power, why not just feed it to cars directly via the electricity supply? I'm yet to be convinced of the killer advantage hydrogen has over electric.

26 April 2017
scrap wrote:

But why? Once you've created that cheap power, why not just feed it to cars directly via the electricity supply? I'm yet to be convinced of the killer advantage hydrogen has over electric.

Simply because its impractical to get it in cars. I do like the other poster Utopian world but it would require such a massive infrastructure change it won't happen. We know how to make nuclear power stations now, we know how to make hydrogen now, we know how to transport and dispense it now and we have an infrastructure of retail outlet (Petrol stations) to distribute it. We also clearly know how to make viable fuel cell vehicles. Its all a smaller therefore more viable leap than upgrading the grid all the way down to digging up every street in the land and putting bigger cables to every house. Personally I don't want to live in that electromagnetic environment we would create! As it stands virtually every house in the country doesn't have enough supply to recharge a long range capable nicely heated EV with enough range to eliminate anxiety of if stuck in a 3 hour jam in the freezing cold with the battery fading - and supply the house needs. Neither do most streets have the capacity, or districts. All I am saying is the technology is solved, job done, don't like the Insight, they say the power unit is more compact than a diesel engine, stick it in whatever vehicle you like, remember with an EV you have to lug a lot of battery weight around taking a lot of efficiency out of the sum. The only obstacle is political.

27 April 2017
The Apprentice wrote:
scrap wrote:

But why? Once you've created that cheap power, why not just feed it to cars directly via the electricity supply? I'm yet to be convinced of the killer advantage hydrogen has over electric.

Simply because its impractical to get it in cars. I do like the other poster Utopian world but it would require such a massive infrastructure change it won't happen. We know how to make nuclear power stations now, we know how to make hydrogen now, we know how to transport and dispense it now and we have an infrastructure of retail outlet (Petrol stations) to distribute it. We also clearly know how to make viable fuel cell vehicles. Its all a smaller therefore more viable leap than upgrading the grid all the way down to digging up every street in the land and putting bigger cables to every house. Personally I don't want to live in that electromagnetic environment we would create! As it stands virtually every house in the country doesn't have enough supply to recharge a long range capable nicely heated EV with enough range to eliminate anxiety of if stuck in a 3 hour jam in the freezing cold with the battery fading - and supply the house needs. Neither do most streets have the capacity, or districts. All I am saying is the technology is solved, job done, don't like the Insight, they say the power unit is more compact than a diesel engine, stick it in whatever vehicle you like, remember with an EV you have to lug a lot of battery weight around taking a lot of efficiency out of the sum. The only obstacle is political.

Dude, do you have any *idea*..?

For starters, we would need to generate *three times* as much energy for hydrogen than for batteries. Running all of the UK's car miles on hydrogen would require two-thirds of our current electrical generation.

Second, the electrolysis machines for hydrogen fuel cost a fortune. A single 1MW unit, generating enough hydrogen for three or four cars per hour, is £800k. A rapid charger costs around £30k, and a destination charger costs a few hundred pounds.

EV charging doesn't require "new cables to every house", home charging uses as much power as an electric shower or hob.

As for weight, both the Clarity and Mirai weigh 20% more than a Nissan Leaf, which has similar usable space. Put enough battery cells in a Chevy Bolt for it to match the Mirai's range, and it'd still be the lighter car.

jer

26 April 2017
Have to have massive overhands and short wheelbases relative to their length?

TS7

26 April 2017
jer wrote:

Have to have massive overhands and short wheelbases relative to their length?

...they do.

26 April 2017
No mention at all of the Plug In Hybrid and pure Electric versions of this car? Are those coming to Europe?

Not that i'd be interested ( this car is Capital Letters UGLY, and the Electric versions range is ridiculous ), but you'd imagine that they'd at least be worth a mention.

 

 

Pages

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Jaguar XF Sportbrake TDV6
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The handsome Jaguar XF Sportbrake exhibits all the hallmarks that makes the saloon great, and with the silky smooth diesel V6 makes it a compelling choice
  • Volkswagen T-Roc TDI
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    Volkswagen's new compact crossover has the looks, the engineering and the build quality to be a resounding success, but not with this diesel engine
  • BMW M550i
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The all-paw M550i is a fast, effortless mile-muncher, but there's a reason why it won't be sold in the UK
  • Volvo V90
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The Volvo V90 is a big estate ploughing its own furrow. We’re about to see if it is refreshing or misguided
  • Kia Stonic
    First Drive
    18 October 2017
    Handsome entrant into the bulging small crossover market has a strong engine and agile handling, but isn’t as comfortable or complete as rivals