Honda FCX
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During the Honda media trip to Japan for the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show, we also got to visit Honda’s Tochigi R&D Center where we got to see all kinds of interesting and embargoed things, heheh. But one of the experiences we had at Tochigi that I am allowed to write about at this time is my driving experience with both the current generation 3-door Honda FCX and the new Honda FCX Concept.

Read more on my experience with these fuel cell vehicles after the jump.

Honda FCX
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The drive was nothing more than just a long rectangular lap around some cones placed on a big straight, but we weren’t there to test out the handling or comfort levels of the car or anything like that – this was not a test drive per say.

In real life, its huge, definitely looks like it dropped out of the sky from the future, and rather comfy inside. We drove left hand drive versions, and also had the opportunity to be in the passenger seats of the car. Rear legroom was excellent – it felt bigger than say, a 5-series. The car felt quite airy – likely the result of the huge window panels that included the little triangle between the A pillar and the front windows that isn’t really little anymore with the FCX Concept, and the light coloured interior.

The current generation “production” Honda FCX was a biggish 3-door hatchback that felt like a Honda FR-V with it’s butt chopped off and had you sit in a rather high seating position but sitting in the new FCX Concept just felt like you were driving a large and airy sedan. And a very quiet one at that.

At idle, all you hear is a little whiney buzz, kind of like the high pitch sound that computer power supplies make. Just shift into gear – this is a little Shift by Wire lever at your fingertips much like the 7-Series and S-Class and you’re good to go. With no noise at all, the car gracefully moves forward and you watch all the lights on the meter panel move around, responding to the differences in your throttle action in ways that could take some time to get used to and interpret. Our test drive time was definitely not enough to understand what was going on with the meter panel.

Honda FCX
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Gun the throttle and the FCX really surges forward. We’re talking about 256Nm of torque – the equivalent of a 2.6 litre normally aspirated engine – across what you could consider a “rev range” – right from 0rpm. There’s plenty of pull yet with the most minimal amount of noise. It kind of feels like a very very high powered golf kart. We got up to highway speeds and eased off the pedal to maintain it those speeds with minimal power sent to the wheels, and the car was eeriely quiet. All you could hear is the tyres rolling.

Definitely where I could see cars going in the future, especially luxury cars. Because of how differently the whole driving experience is, it might be hard to imagine fuel cell or electric motor drive ever replacing the good old combustion engine when it comes to amateur motorsports though – it’s just not as fun. But it’s definitely a hell lot more refined and comfortable.

On to some technical specs – the Honda FCX Concept is quite an upgrade over the previous generation Honda FCX. Honda says it is 50% better power/volume density and 67% better power/weight density. The Honda FCX Concept goes up to a top speed of 160km/h, but definitely does so rather quick – this is probably just a gearing limitation.

It’s 171 litre hydrogen tank gives the car 570km of range, which is really quite enough for the car to be a daily driver and be used in normal conditions. The fuel cell stack puts out 100kW, or 134 horsepower for those who can’t think in kilowatts, but only 95kW makes it to the electric motors, or the equivalent of 127 horsepower. Three motors are used – an 80kW motor at the front axle and two 25kW motors each powering a rear wheel – this makes the Honda FCX Concept an all-wheel drive vehicle. The rest of the power is used to power ancillaries, I assume – but there might be other reasons. Energy is stored in a lithium ion battery.

Powering that battery is a new generation V Flow fuel cell platform. The V Flow PEFC (proton exchange membrane fuel cell) fuel cell stack is arranged in a center tunnel layout, which allowed the engineers to design the new FCX Concept as a low sedan instead of the previous high riding Honda FCX. This new V Flow stack is 20% smaller and 30% lighter than the current FCX fuel cell stack, but power output is 14kW higher. Also, more of this power goes to the electric motor – 15kW higher. The overall package is 180kg lighter than the one in the current FCX, or about 40% smaller.

The new V Flow fuel cell platform uses a vertical flowing fuel cell stack – now you know what V Flow means. This means it flows from top to bottom vertically. This allows gravity to assist with the fuel cell stack operation. The new fuel cell stack has also had its low temperature startup improved – cold weather starts can now be done at -30 degrees Celcius, which is a 10 degree Celcius improvement over the current FCX fuel stack.

As with all hydrogen fuel cell vehicles – exhaust output is drinkable water.

The whole problem with Fuel Cell technology is the availability of refuelling stations, which is just about non existant at the moment. But Honda CEO Takeo Fukui says someone has to make the first step – it’s a whole chicken and egg thing. When the Model T was first introduced a long time ago, there were no fuel stations as well, but look where we are now.

A limited run production version of this new Honda FCX Concept will be released in 2008 for leasing to certain customers.

Honda FCX
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Honda FCX

Honda FCX

Honda FCX

Honda FCX

Honda FCX

Honda FCX