Electric cars have rapidly evolved from kooky novelty to a commonly spotted fixture on UK roads. For better or worse, it’s no longer an event to witness a Nissan Leaf or a Tesla Model S quietly taking off from the lights.
In light of limited oil resources, many consider electric vehicles (EVs) to be the future of motoring but others believe the future lies with hydrogen.
However, while the number of battery-powered vehicles continues to grow every year, the general public essentially remains locked out of the hydrogen market.
So that’s where the Honda Clarity comes in. It is one of few hydrogen fuel cell vehicles available, leading the way along with the Toyota Mirai.
The first thing you need to know about the Honda Clarity – a saloon-shaped hatchback – is that you can’t have it.
The car is on sale in the US and Japan, albeit in small numbers and priced at the equivalent of £40,000. But in the UK and Europe, the Clarity won’t be available until the next generation model arrives around 2022.
That five-year delay may be enough to make you want to stop reading right now, but wait, it’s worth knowing how the technology currently weighs up and what the critics make of it.
Smooth and easy
Autocar awarded the Clarity four stars in its very complimentary review.
It was described as ‘easy to drive, civilised, comfortable’ with an emphasis on ‘smoothness and quietness’. So for those reasons, it’s easy to recognise why the car would have plenty of appeal to anyone with a fondness for electronically driven cars.
Inside, the ‘plush and quite spacious’ interior was praised and although Honda claims the Clarity is the first five-seater fuel cell car, Autocar felt there was only enough room in the back for two, with the middle passenger being forced to ‘sit astride a large tunnel’.
The car’s powertrain interferes with boot space too, with a barrel-like hydrogen tank resulting in an oddly-shaped front wall.
‘Tough to judge’
Auto Express also gave the Clarity four stars despite admitting the car was ‘tough to judge’ due to being developed with little consideration for price or profit.
However, they added that it feels ‘every bit as ready for public consumption as any of the pure-electric cars currently on sale’, more so in some cases.
One major advantage of hydrogen vehicles over EVs is their range. Recent tests in the US found that the Clarity could drive for 365 miles before refuelling, while Honda’s own tests exceeded 400 miles. Either figure is greater than any other zero-emission vehicle in production. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of Hydrogen refuelling stations in the UK right now, a major obstacle facing the Clarity.
Auto Express commented on how massive the car is, stretching for almost five metres with a 1.8-metre width and tipping the scales at 1.8 tonnes.
Performance is fairly low down on the priority list, but the powertrain can produce the equivalent of 174bhp and up to 300Nm of torque, meaning it can get up to 62mph in 9.2 seconds with a top speed of 103mph. That’s far from stunning, but certainly not sluggish either for such a sizable car.
As a car, the Honda Clarity feels ‘more than ready’, writes Car Magazine, praising it as ‘supremely relaxing to drive’ and complementing its ‘top notch quality’.
‘The Clarity suggests we can look forward to a future that continues to be full of accomplished, inventively engineered cars’, they added.
The Clarity is in an awkward position. As a product, faults are few. It’s great to drive, lovely inside and the styling isn’t too far removed from the current tenth-gen Civic.
Even if you manage to get behind the wheel of one of the three examples in the UK right now, there’s the issue of how you acquire the hydrogen to fuel it.
It’s a similar predicament that faced electric cars about ten years ago; great technology, but few refuelling options. Once this chicken and egg situation is solved, there’s little reason why hydrogen cars won’t take off.