Words by Aninda Sardar
Photographs by Honda Car India & Aninda Sardar
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Every now and then one is faced with a dilemma. Just like I am today. I have just driven Honda’s Clarity Fuel Cell Vehicle and can tell you with confidence that this unique car is not going to come to India any time soon. Why then should I feel the need to talk about it at all, given its low relevance to our part of the world? Because every now and then you come across technology so critical that you want to talk about it. So, here I am, fresh off the drive of the Honda Clarity, waiting to tell you wh at it was like.
Quite frankly, if you were expecting a Hollywood sci-fi-esque experience then let me burst that bubble and tell you that it feels like a regular car. Plush, but regular. The experience is not in the least bit futuristic, only the technology under the skin is.
The design is that of a highly aero optimised sedan with evidences of such aerodynamic engineering evident on the design of the wheels and the little ducts that channel air. Interiors are that of a richly appointed premium sedan that can seat five adults quite comfortable – a first in the world of FCVs. A man of the 21st century would feel at home here. But under the bonnet, instead of a regular internal combustion engine is a fuel cell stack powertrain that is fed by a 5kg Hydrogen tank that can be refilled completely in just three minutes. The powertrain that is similar in size as a V6 engine, produces 100kW (134bhp), which is transmitted via a single-speed gearbox. So all you get on the centre console are a bunch of buttons instead of the regular gear selector lever that you would find in a conventionally powered car. Honda claims a range of 750km under test conditions, which would probably reduce to 550-600km in the real world. From an emissions perspective, all this vehicle will breathe into the atmosphere is water. Additionally, the 80kWh battery is also capable of providing electricity to power an average household for seven days, says Honda!
Three drive modes are available and though there is only that much one can figure out in two laps of a test track, what becomes immediately evident is the way the vehicle’s nature changes as you progress from Economy to Normal and then on to Sport. Acceleration is smooth and linear and the vehicle masks its speed really well since there is no mentionable sound except a combination of a whoosh and whine. As a result the level of refinement you will experience even under harsh acceleration is phenomenal.
The vehicle handled the four turns (the final one being a mild S) fairly well at the 60kmph that we had been told to observe. It feels stable and planted even though the electrically assisted steering feels vague. On the plus side, it is extremely light to use and will be a boon when manoeuvring through city traffic.
In most ways, it’s just another car that incidentally is powered by alternative fuel – in this case, a fuel cell. And that is probably the strategy that manufacturers of such unconventional cars need to bear in mind. That the customer is looking for a complete car that also comes with the benefit of being Zero Emission.