Honda's FCX Clarity is the latest fuel-cell vehicle to see public hands, and it's arguably the most well-thought-out. The latest version of Honda's hydrogen-fueled FCX boasts a significant weight reduction and power improvement compared with its predecessor, not to mention a depth of commitment and efficiency that makes rivals like BMW's Hydrogen7 look positively half-assed by comparison. The kicker? Although Honda representatives are still vague on specifics, the Japanese company plans to begin leasing FCX Claritys to customers in Southern California--for a measly $600 a month--beginning in the summer of 2008.
-The Clarity's fuel cell "stack" lives in the car's center tunnel. It weighs 147 pounds. By comparison, the 1999 FCX's fuel cell weighed 445 pounds. Happily, the current FCX's cell stack puts out almost double the power of the original car's unit.
-A lithium-ion battery lives under the car's rear seat, a blimp-shaped 5000-psi hydrogen tank lives in the trunk (shrinking cargo space to an unfortunate 11 cu ft), and an electric motor and power management unit live between the front wheels.
-Extreme-weather startup capabilities, long a problem with fuel-cell cars (the cold weather slows the necessary chemical reactions inside the cell itself), are no longer an issue: The Clarity's cell provides efficient and quick vehicle startup at temperatures as low as minus eighty-six degrees Farhenheit.
-Shift-by-wire, traction control, and electrically-boosted power steering are all standard.
-Fuel economy is estimated to be twenty percent better than previous FCXes, or about 68 mpg. Range is estimated at 270 miles per tank of hydrogen.
-Forged aluminum wheels with special drag-reducing plastic fairings suppress turbulence and drag, as does a near-flat underbody tray.
-Startup and acceleration times are claimed to be similar to those of a 2.4-liter gasoline-powered vehicle of similar size and weight.
-A strut-type front suspension (supported by two wishbone-shaped control arms) and a five-link rear setup offer a luxury-car-like level of comfort while retaining a sporting feel.
We say: Good on ya, Honda. Hydrogen may not be THE answer to the sustainable-energy-fuel-crisis issue, but it's definitely AN answer. And the FCX Clarity is the most normal-car-like FCX yet produced in the model's eight-year history. It remains to be seen as to what Honda's--or any other car companies'--plans are in regards to hydrogen/fuel-cell/hybrid production, but this is a tantalizing step in the right direction.