‘Honda’s hy­dro­gen car? It’s a gas!’

Could the hy­dro­gen­fu­elled Clar­ity be the car of the fu­ture? Ab­so­lutely, says our man – if only there were more places to ill it up

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - CONTENTS - CHRIS EVANS

Ever heard the phrase, ‘Usain Bolt can pass any­thing hu­man but a kid­ney stone?’ No, didn’t think so. That’s be­cause I just made it up. Not that a kid­ney stone is ac­tu­ally hu­man but rather from a hu­man, and not that I have any rea­son to think the great Ja­maican could not pass one should he ever have to. All I’m say­ing is that pass­ing a kid­ney stone ain’t no walk in the park. I know, be­cause I ex­pe­ri­enced as much this week.

At first I had no idea what was hap­pen­ing. Two hours later, I still had no idea what was hap­pen­ing. Four hours later, the same. Ex­cru­ci­at­ing pain. The sen­sa­tion of des­per­ately want­ing to go for a pee but not be­ing able to, re­gard­less how hard I tried. Even­tu­ally, even though the pain kept on in­ten­si­fy­ing, I could feel what­ever was block­ing my flow be­gin­ning to move.

‘Kid­ney stone,’ said the doc later that morn­ing. ‘Al­most cer­tainly. You may have felt like your num­ber was up but they’re rel­a­tively fleet­ing and far more com­mon than most peo­ple re­alise.’

Why doesn’t any­body tell you this? Any­way, there you go, I have, just in case. You can thank me if we ever meet.

In other news this week, I went to see the new Mur­der On The

Orient Ex­press. There’s a train and a mur­der, it’s fan­tas­tic. I also saw Padding­ton 2. There’s a bear, its also fan­tas­tic. En­joy. OK, car time. Al­ready some­what per­plexed that the whole of Berk­shire seemed to have sold out of pump- kins be­fore she bagged one for her an­nual vat of Hal­loween pump­kin soup, my wife ex­claimed: ‘What the heck is that?’ upon see­ing this week’s test car for the first time.

‘That’ll be the Honda Clar­ity Fuel Cell,’ I replied, some­what taken aback on its be­half.

Suf­fice to say, she didn’t ex­actly con­sider what she was star­ing at, open-mouthed, to be one of the more at­trac­tive mo­tor cars to have graced our gravel. And yes, I sup­pose its outer shell is a bit of a shock if you’re not ex­pect­ing some­thing a lit­tle out of the or­di­nary. Sure, the body looks a bit too big for its boots, like a home-made ap­ple pie with its lid yet to be trimmed. But viewed an­other way – the fu­tur­is­tic way – I thought it looked ex­cit­ing, a bit Blade Run­ner- ish even.

The shape, claims Honda, is über-aero­dy­namic, a de­sign fash­ioned in a wind tun­nel for ul­ti­mate drag ef­fi­ciency. The front-end styling is some­where be­tween a Honda Civic Type R and a Lexus RX. In pro­file, it does ap­pear very long, with the rear wheel spats, again part of the over­all drag re­duc­tion phi­los­o­phy, sug­gest­ing a US Art Deco vibe. Or is it retro Citroën?

The gen­eral gist, then, is that this car is just about as cut­ting edge as a com­mer­cially avail­able ve­hi­cle can be right now. There is fuel – liq­uid hy­dro­gen, to be pre­cise, and quite a lot of it – and an elec­tric mo­tor that drives the wheels. And of course there is a fuel cell, which mixes hy­dro­gen with oxy­gen and con­verts it into elec­tric­ity. This is where I al­ways get con­fused with fuel cell cars. Re­mem­ber the Hyundai ix35 and River­sim­ple Rasa? But don’t feel too thick if it melts your brain the same way it does mine. I talked to some re­ally clever peo­ple about it and the ma­jor­ity glazed over af­ter no more than a few sec­onds.

As well as there be­ing fuel but no en­gine, there’s also an ex­haust pipe but no fumes. All that you’ll ever wit­ness es­cap­ing from your Clar­ity will be var­i­ous types of mois­ture – wa­ter, if you will. Melt, melt, melt... Now, re­gard­less of how con­fus­ing all that may be, it still all sounds some­how po­ten­tially fab to me. So why don’t we all buy one? Three rea­sons. The first is sim­ple: you can’t, you can only lease one.

Second, I’ve never ac­tu­ally seen a hy­dro­gen fill­ing sta­tion, though I am re­li­ably in­formed there are three within 20 miles of where I live and work.

Third, the jury is still out on what the ac­tual day-to-day range is com­pared to Honda’s claimed 366 miles with both hy­dro­gen tanks filled to the brim.

For the pur­pose of this re­view, how­ever, I am go­ing to ig­nore all of the above. The point is that

Honda is not giv­ing up the ghost any time soon where hy­dro­gen is con­cerned. They, along with Hyundai and Toy­ota, are all too aware that if they can make their H2 ve­hi­cles at­trac­tive, ef­fi­cient and easy to ac­cess for enough peo­ple, they may yet win the lion’s share of The Eco-Friendly Fu­ture Of Ev­ery­thing Com­pe­ti­tion. Elec­tric cars need charg­ing from the mains. Petrol cars re­quire fos­sil fu­els. And while fuel cell cars need fill­ing up too, their fuel of choice – hy­dro­gen – is the most abun­dant el­e­ment in the Uni­verse.

Now, park all of that and let me tell you what it’s like as a car.

Rear pas­sen­gers should have no com­plaints. The qual­ity leather trim is soft and wel­com­ing, even more so with the cen­tral arm­rest pulled down and the elec­tric seats turned on. The legroom is am­ple. Headroom is OK to start with, but gets even bet­ter the more you re­lax, sink down and stretch out. It helps if you also try to put out of your mind the fact that you are sit­ting be­tween two tanks of hy­dro­gen, one un­derneath you and a huge one right be­hind you.

Up front is just as com­fort­able and classy, framed by a pleas­ing blend of hard and soft, tex­tured and smooth ul­tra-mod­ern sur­faces. All very high-end. The cli­mate con­trol sys­tem is com­pletely man­ual – yay! The cen­tre func­tion touch­screen is pretty much stan­dard Honda but also in­cor­po­rates – wait for it – the Clar­ity’s ‘hy­dro­gen re­ac­tion and usage’, ‘bat­tery re­gen­er­a­tion’ and ‘charge mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems’. Melt melt melt...

On the road, the Clar­ity drives much like a Tesla – quiet with only the odd whoosh and whirr as you float along. Ex­cept that some- times af­ter you’ve stopped, there’s some more buzzing from un­der the bon­net – un­fin­ished fuel cell business still car­ry­ing on, ap­par­ently. And don’t be alarmed if while sta­tion­ary a friendly puff of steam wafts past your win­dow un­ex­pect­edly, es­pe­cially dur­ing the colder months. Melt, melt, melt...

As far as per­for­mance goes, it’s ev­ery­thing we’ve come to ex­pect from an elec­tric car, with pure lin­ear ac­cel­er­a­tion and all the torque, in­stantly, at all times. In sport mode (yup, it has one) you can re­ally feel ev­ery­thing’s be­ing di­alled up a notch. How­ever, greater power comes with clouds more steam. In this mode, keep a closer eye on that range meter.

The han­dling is first class, re­gard­less of whether you are se­dately driv­ing around town, cruis­ing on the high­way or bomb­ing around the coun­try lanes. With the help of a light­weight chas­sis, low cen­tre of grav­ity and beau­ti­fully made alu­minium sus­pen­sion, the Clar­ity stays poised, sta­ble and smooth at all times.

It’s just a shame the gov­ern­ment has not yet de­creed that one hy­dro­gen sta­tion should open for ev­ery old ser­vice sta­tion or pub that gets turned into a car wash or Tesco. I’m all for a healthy dose of range para­noia, but as pan­icky as var­i­ous Tes­las and BMWs have had me in the past, this Clar­ity takes fu­ture plan­ning to a dif­fer­ent level. Not un­man­age­able, just a bit of a pain. This is all that needs to change for the Clar­ity to take off and take over.

What Honda cur­rently has here, then, is a fan­tas­ti­cally welle­quipped, well-en­gi­neered car that is a gen­uine pioneer, pow­ered by some­thing our grand­par­ents could be for­given for think­ing is a bomb on wheels.

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