Honda Clarity Fuel Cell e Honda Accord Sport Hybrid Plug In sono pronte a guidare la prossima generazione di veicoli eco-compatibili, ma questo non è l’unico asso manica della casa automobilistica giapponese.
TOCHIGI, Japan — The evolution of Honda’s fuel cell-powered vehicles has been an interesting progression. The outgoing FCX Clarity set a new benchmark for green cars when launched, as its only emission was water. Now comes the second generation – and as with the FCX Clarity, it’s the fuel cell stack itself that marks the biggest single step forward.
The Clarity Fuel Cell, as the new car will be called when it goes on sale next year, has a fuel cell stack that is 33 percent smaller, so it now fits under the hood along with the electric motor and power electronics that control everything. This takes it out of the cabin, which frees up a ton of space. There is now room for five adults and a trunk that will accommodate three golf bags, in spite of the fact the vehicle has two large hydrogen tanks aboard. The other bit of good news is the electric motor’s output jumps from 134 to 174 horsepower.
Honda Clarity Fuel Cell – hydrogen fuel tank configuration
Graeme Fletcher, Driving
What has not changed is the seamlessness of the Clarity Fuel Cell’s drive. A small 1.5 kW/h battery acts as a buffer between the electric motor’s demand for power (when the driver accelerates) and the time the fuel cell needs to satisfy the increased demand.
In practice, the two power sources deliver a completely seamless flow of electrons. In the end, it gives surprising zip off the line, it pulls strongly through the midrange and it makes absolutely no noise in the process. As with the NSX, the Clarity Fuel Cell’s brake pedal is worthy of note. Although it relies on regenerative braking as the first level of resistance, it still has a crisp pedal feel, which is a refreshing change.
The appeal of the battery electric vehicle (BEV) and a fuel cell-powered car is the promise of emission-free driving. Where the two solutions differ is functionality. Most EVs are limited to 150 km or less in real-world driving, and it takes around eight hours to recharge the battery pack using 220 volts. The Clarity Fuel Cell, on the other hand, has a driving range in excess of 700 kilometres and it can be refueled in three minutes. Now if only the refueling infrastructure were in place, hydrogen’s superiority would be conclusive.
The second electrified car up for test was an Accord equipped with Honda’s next-generation Sport Hybrid Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive, or i-MMD. The current plug-in system features a 196-horsepower, 2.0-litre Atkinson-cycle engine, an electric continuously variable transmission, a clutching system and two electric motors: one is used to drive the vehicle and deliver regenerative braking, the second is the generator that helps to charge the 6.7 kW/h lithium-ion battery and starts the engine when it is needed to power the vehicle.
Plugging it in sees the battery recharge in three hours using a 110-volt outlet, or one hour using 220 volts. The inclusion of the plug-in side not only increases the electric-only driving speed to 100 km/h, it brings an electric-only driving range of 30 kilometres. When this is added to the gasoline/electric hybrid system’s range, it boasts a driving distance of 1,000 kilometres on a tank of gas.
The next-generation system will feature the same engine, but a battery twice the size and an electric-only driving range of 80 kilometres. The other change will come in the form of the engine — I am willing to bet the 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder just launched in the 2016 Honda Civic will find its way under the hood of the production i-MMD. The drive was short, but the i-MMD accelerated quickly up to 80 km/h on electric power, and only when I hammered the gas did the engine kick in. It reminded me of the Chevrolet Volt — when the engine comes to life it revs at about 2,000 rpm and really did not seem to be tied into what I was doing with the gas pedal.
Honda’s bottomless bag of tricks
The fun ride during our visit to Tochigi came in a detuned version of the Electric SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive) CR-Z entered in the Pikes Peak hill climb. The racer, which finished first in the exhibitors class and eleventh overall, featured four electric motors, 450 horsepower, an 18-kW/h battery along with Honda Precision all-wheel steer.
The car I drove was, as I say, detuned to the point it was only kicking out 225 or so horsepower; that, however, is not to say it was any less impressive. That much power in an overgrown roller skate will always put a smile on one’s face, especially as the peak torque arrives the instant the wheels begin to turn. To prove the point, the first part of the drive was a flat-out acceleration run.
Then it was off around a twisty track, where the CR-Z’s handling was simply incredible. The four electric motors bring the ultimate in torque vectoring (front to back and left to right at both ends), and then with the rear wheels helping the steering process, it was as though the thing was literally running the track on rails. If this were how the CR-Z production car drove, Honda wouldn’t be able to keep them on the lot.
Another first is Honda’s 10-speed automatic transmission. As demonstrated in the RLX test car, the transmission proved to be very nicely sorted. In normal mode, it was in tenth gear by the time I zipped through 100 km/h. On the back straight, a healthy stab at the gas saw it drop four gears as quickly as any twin-clutch gearbox.
It can, if needed, drop up to six gears in two very quick steps. In Sport mode, it locks out ninth and tenth gears and stretches out the shift points, which sharpens the drive enormously. Frankly, I was ready to scoff at the thought of having 10 gears, given the problems Jeep and Land Rover are having with ZF’s nine-speed transmission. The drive proved me dead wrong.
Talking of wrong, Honda should be admonished for not bringing the S660 to Canada. I know about the crash standards and red tape, but if there is a cuter car that’s as much fun without disrobing, I am yet to find it. It is an absolute hoot in spite of the fact the diminutive, mid-mounted, 660cc turbocharged three-cylinder only churns out 63 horsepower. The power is fed to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox.
Out on the track, I coaxed the S660 up to sixth gear, kept the gas matted and waited for maximum warp to arrive. It turned out to be a rather pedestrian 138 km/h — I say pedestrian because moments earlier I was pushing 190 km/h in the new NSX. Regardless, fun is fun. My letter to Takahiro Hachigo, Honda’s president and CEO, would be short and sweet: Dear Sir, please think globally when designing the next S660.