Skid Marks

Clarity for our future—a Honda solution

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The Clarity has an 800-km driving range on a single charge.

The Clarity is Honda’s solution for an electrified world of motoring by 2030. By then, the firm plans to sell two thirds of all its total production output as electric vehicles.

While current legislation (and the necessary infrastructure to support them) in our country has yet to account for these vehicles, it’s a promising step from the small, Japan-based manufacturer whose engineering prowess is second to none.

The Insight is a dedicated platform that has three available alternative fuels propulsion or powertrain: full plug-in electric, a full hybrid electric with a small internal combustion engine, and a fuel cell or hydrogen powered .

A quick look at the numbers reveals something exciting: 800-kilometer range for the three vehicles; and a battery life expectancy of roughly 15 years, 50 percent more than the benchmark set by EV vehicles from a generation past, and twice that of most EV and hybrids.

Honda is confident indeed. They put warranty at roughly eight years, but that can change in the future according to Honda engineers.

Among these three powertrains, it is the fuel cell or hydrogen-powered variant that is of greatest interest. Hydrogen is, quite simply, very unstable and highly dangerous. Bombs were made to explode using hydrogen.

But Honda’s engineers have found a way to stabilize hydrogen, shrink it, as well as make it as efficient as can be.

Today, the Clarity FCV utilizes a combined cell stack and hydrogen tank that occupies the size of a typical current V6 petrol engine.

When Honda started dabbling in this technology 20 or so years ago, the cells and tank would have accounted for a third of the car’s size, and probably the mass as well.

Aside from shrinking and stabilizing this technology, efficiency is up to 60 percent cell stacking. An electrically operated high-voltage blower functions much like a turbo or supercharger as it force-feeds air into the mix, allowing the hydrogen-oxygen reaction to be carefully measured and optimized to deliver maximum power at almost all times.

Hydrogen is almost limitless as a source for fuel and power, hence its importance to energy, propulsion, mobility, and the future.

Backtracking a bit, how does hydrogen power work? Much like regular batteries that create electricity using chemicals stored inside and figuring in a chemical reaction, hydrogen stored in a compressed state creates electricity when mixed with oxygen. The more compressed hydrogen you can store, the longer the range, or the more power it can generate.

The mixing of hydrogen and oxygen goes through wafer-like layers called the fuel cell.

The Insight is quite heavy: 1,800 kg puts it in the same class as a midsize premium luxury sedan despite being smaller in footprint.

But the liftback rear gives literally acres of space, with a boot so large it might as well be the proverbial black hole as you can lose things inside. The rear seats drop down so you can slide in even bigger, bulkier objects.

Around the Twin Ring Motegi Test Track, my XL-sized frame could easily sit down with another passenger beside me, legs crossed while enjoying a very technical conversation about the future of cars and motoring.

The Insight is still lighter and smaller than the Accord Hybrid sold in the US, but supposedly offers just as much interior space.

The sound of the future is sheer silence: you hear what sounds like a dynamo winding up as the Insight (regardless of powertrain) accelerates hard.

The direct-drive one-speed transmission delivers essentially maximum torque of 300 Nm at near zero rpm, so it feels fast and grunt. Yet you can waft like a Rolls-Royce with careful throttle input, or accelerate as hard as a sports sedan in Sport mode (yes, there is a Sport mode).

A lithium ion battery (interestingly, another unstable element, but one which Honda, plus a slew of other manufacturers, claim to have perfected for use in automotive applications), adds extra juice from the get-go. It’s a small battery that is depleted in under a minute, but by then the hydrogen power reaches peak operating efficiency and thus takes over, transitioning seamlessly.

Despite utilizing aluminium for the hood, doors, fenders and trunk, the Clarity feels nose-heavy, with a 57:43 front to rear weight distribution.

On track, the steering is light; Honda could have engineered a bit more feel and feedback from the electric power assisted steering system, but sporty driving isn’t exactly on the cards for the Clarity at this point.

Nonetheless, it corners with confidence once you learn to trust the steering and suspension. The Clarity actually manages its weight transfer very well: left to right and front to back with modest body roll, minimal chassis pitching, and squatting and nose diving under hard cornering and transitions.

Our Twin Ring Motegi test track was completely flat. It would have been more telling if we drove on the main GP track but that’s for another time, hopefully.

Braking is simply phenomenal: despite weighing in the almost heavy-weight division, the brakes (both traditional discs and callipers, and the regenerative braking that charges the lithium ion battery) stops the Clarity with so much confidence and authority that it’s almost eye-ball popping and rope-burn inducing.

We were initially limited to a 60-kph test drive, which even for the heavy Clarity was a breeze, but a spin in Sport mode was very promising, followed by hot laps in a specially prepared Clarity race car with stickier tires and much firmer suspension.

Physics will need some re-writing if the future of high-performance motoring and driving will be typified by this.

Inside, aside from the luxurious space, there’s wood trim (a nod to Honda’s and the Clarity’s environmental friendliness), plus the usual Honda digital/LCD display and switchgear, and supportive comfortable seats covered in fabric.

The outside won’t win boy racers over, for sure, as the polarizing looks mean it truly intends to be different by standing out from the crowd and announcing its clean intentions.

Overall, the Clarity is promising. It feels like a properly sorted car which you and I can imagine driving everyday.

There’s loads of interior space, and it’s very easy to drive. It might not (yet) capture the hearts, minds and wallets of enthusiasts who look to Honda for an affordable hero car, but Honda’s engineers assured us that they will also get there in the near future.

Right now at least, the future looks brighter, less smoggy from Honda’s perspective.



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