‘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
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.