What is it?
A revolution. The Honda FCX Clarity may look like a typical, five-door large family hatchback, but don’t be deceived: it also just happens to be the first full production fuel cell-powered car in the world.
Okay, so ‘full production’ is not of the fashion that we’d usually consider it. Honda won’t be making tens or hundreds of thousands of FCX Clarities (more like 200, in fact), but it is the real deal, the first of many. It’s estimated that, by 2050, 100 million fuel cell cars will be sold every year.
Simply put, the FCX Clarity is a five-door hatchback, with an electric motor (and control unit) under its bonnet, powering its front wheels. In its middle is a fuel cell stack, and under the boot floor is a tank that can hold several kilos of hydrogen, compressed to 5000psi. The hydrogen is released as needed to the fuel cell, which generates electricity as needed by the motor. The only byproduct is pure water vapour, which exits from the tailpipe.
Crucially, the FCX Clarity emits no greenhouse gases. And, if you cleanly generate and pressurise the hydrogen that goes into it, its overall carbon footprint is, by current standards, negligible.
It is, in short, the future.
It is also sadly, unavailable in the UK. As it stands the FCX Clarity is available to lease only, and only in Japan and California, because they’re the only places where hydrogen is widely available on tap.
In many ways the FCX is still a research project, but hand in hand with that development is Honda’s ambition to turn it into a commercially viable product.
Honda desperately wants to sell an affordable fuel cell car to the wider public, at a price that will let it compete with the biofuel and full electric-powered cars it will be up against in the coming decades.
That future may still seem a long way off, but the FCX Clarity has started making it a reality.
What’s it like?
Totally familiar yet distinctly odd, both at the same time.
The great thing about the FCX Clarity is that it’s so utterly usable and, in a lot of ways, utterly normal. You get in, insert and twist a key, and press the start button. There’s no engine noise to greet you, but you get a few muted whirring and whining noises as you might in a Toyota Prius hybrid.
The FCX’s cabin is pretty classy. Honda says it’s furnished with eco-fabrics, but you wouldn’t know. It just feels like a well-finished Japanese car. There’s plenty of space in both the front and back.
There’s a diddy toggle gearlever like a lot of autos now have, and with a press of throttle you’re away. The FCX’s low-speed ride could be a bit more supple, but it smooths out as speeds rise. The steering is light, yet consistently so, and pleasingly responsive and accurate. The turning circle’s tight. Visibility is reasonable. It is, unsurprisingly, astonishingly quiet.