DRIVEN: Honda Clarity Fuel Cell and Plug-In Hybrid in Japan – offering a clearer insight to the future

DRIVEN: Honda Clarity Fuel Cell and Plug-In Hybrid in Japan – offering a clearer insight to the future

It has been two years since the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell Vehicle made its debut at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, and the hydrogen-powered model has since been joined by Plug-In Hybrid and Electric versions, which were announced in April this year.

Ahead of this year’s Tokyo Motor Show, which begins today, the automaker again highlighted the the Clarity at a short drive event held at Twin Ring Motegi, essentially to showcase the products spearheading its initial push towards alternative fuel technologies as part of its 2030 Vision plan outlined earlier this year.

Both the FCV and Plug-In Hybrid were on hand for the drive presentation, which took place at the Active Safety Park 2 site in Motegi, the same venue that offered the first impressions of the BR-V back in 2015.

DRIVEN: Honda Clarity Fuel Cell and Plug-In Hybrid in Japan – offering a clearer insight to the future

A quick recap of the Clarity Fuel Cell. The five-seater’s powertrain, made up of a 103 kW polymer electrolyte fuel cell stack and AC synchronous motor, is consolidated under the bonnet, with an intelligent power unit lithium-ion battery housed under the front seats. Juice is provided by hydrogen compressed in a 141 litre, 70 Mpa high-pressure tank that can be refilled in three minutes, effectively the same time needed for a regular petrol fill-up process.

The system offers an output of 130 kW at 500 volts and 300 Nm of torque, and operating range is approximately 750 km, under a Japanese JC08 test cycle, though the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rated 589 km range more accurately reflects real-world capabilities.

The Clarity FCV can also be utilised as a power source on wheels in situations that demand it. Working in combination with a portable external power output device called the Power Exporter 9000, which was introduced alongside the car when it debuted, the car’s motive system can supply around seven-days’ worth of electricity for an average Japanese household.

As for the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid, it’s equipped with an i-MMD two-motor hybrid system consisting of a 1.5 litre Atkinson cycle engine – which functions as a direct power source as well as electricity generator – and a 181 hp and 315 Nm electric motor.

The car has a 17 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which can be recharged in 2.5 hours at 240 volts. Electric-only operation is more than 100 km on a full charge, thanks to an increase in the capacity of the battery, and overall range for the Clarity PHEV is claimed to be in excess of 530 km.

The session began with the FCV – though limited to two laps around the Active Safety Park 2 course, the drive provided a better insight into the workings of the fuel cell vehicle than that during the 2015 Honda Meeting held at Tochigi just before the Tokyo show that year. For one, there was more ground covered, and also the chance to open up the speed a fair bit more.

Despite the FCV’s 1,890 kg mass, take up from standstill is decent and smooth, and aside from a slight whine the transcription aspects are quiet, essentially giving it the behavioural characteristics of a pure EV. From a dynamic viewpoint, the Clarity is tuned for compliance right through – the steering is clean but devoid of any real sensation, and the ride is fairly decoupled. Doesn’t sound very exciting, but as we’ll get to it later on, the FCV can be quite a thrill, with the help of a few tweaks.

The Plug-In Hybrid is a little grainier around the edges from a powertrain perspective, but progress up the range to around 80 km/h feels livelier through the i-MMD system, the system definitely more responsive in its HV mode. Aside from that the PHEV behaves much like its FCV sibling in terms of ride and handling dynamics, and by all accounts should be a comfy thing to cover long distances in.

Some other observations – there’s a good sense of space inside the cabin, especially from a rear seat perspective, though the PHEV is ahead of the FCV in one area, and that’s boot space. As noted two years ago, a hydrogen tank is not a subtle thing, and it still isn’t, made even more apparent when placed side by side with the PHEV.

Honda decided to throw in a quick spin in the Clarity FCV Racing Special to show just how able the fuel cell system is – the car features the same powertrain but is around 300 kg lighter, accomplished by junking as much as possible from the car, including trim panels and door cards (to accommodate passengers, the rear seats were present, at least for the drive). It also features a sports suspension and grippier rubbers, as well as a slightly larger hydrogen tank.

As you’d imagine, losing 300 kg makes for a faster car, and a more agile one too. It’s no Ludicrous Mode Tesla, but rapid enough that you wouldn’t laugh at fuel cell vehicles or think they can’t get about quick, or have good traction while at that.

The Clarity doesn’t look to be coming our way in any form – the support infrastructure is non-existent for the FCV, and the PHEV (which only goes on sale in Japan in 2018) is very much a non-starter, given the volume – and pricing – that would have to come into play.

DRIVEN: Honda Clarity Fuel Cell and Plug-In Hybrid in Japan – offering a clearer insight to the future

A case of touch, but not have, then? Not quite, because something along those lines may come about in the not too distant future. Speaking to at the sidelines of the drive event, Honda Malaysia vice-president Akkbar Daniel said nothing concerning new tech should ever be discounted.

“The technology, in particular that of PHEV, has the probability of being brought into the Malaysian market in the future, even if it’s not necessarily with the Clarity. You could have the same technology being utilised on other Honda models,” he said.

He added that it might also come sooner than later, citing the example of how our market is tied very closely to Japan in terms of deploying new models and tech (case in point, the Jazz Hybrid, with Malaysia being the first country outside Japan to sell the car through official channels). An indication then of how the next step in the company’s hybrid direction might well shape up from a local perspective – the question is what form it will take when it gets here.

GALLERY: Honda Clarity Fuel Cell GALLERY: Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

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Anthony Lim

Anthony Lim believes that nothing is better than a good smoke and a car with character, with good handling aspects being top of the prize heap. Having spent more than a decade and a half with an English tabloid daily never being able to grasp the meaning of brevity or being succinct, he wags his tail furiously at the idea of waffling - in greater detail - about cars and all their intrinsic peculiarities here.



  • Honda fan on Oct 25, 2017 at 11:44 am

    After the Jazz, Accord hybrid is next

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0
  • thepolygonal on Oct 25, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    Now if only the Clarity Fuel Cell comes with 10k range and only needs refill during service time, that would be very practical.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • Not a single clear rear shot of the car provided. You need better photographers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
  • Somebody on Oct 25, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    As much as I like Hondas, I’ll have to admit that the Clarity looks like it was beaten by an ugly stick. I mean, who in the hell thought that this car looks good and should be produced?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
  • Brajesh Sharma on Feb 13, 2019 at 3:38 pm

    Hi I love Honda gold wing

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