We were busy setting up our camera gear for the highly anticipated Concept TL debut when we were approached by one of our friends at Honda PR. "How would you like to drive an FCX?", he asked. Sure, it's not a lusty supercar, but hell, you're not gonna find a fuel cell vehicle at your airport car rental agency any time soon. We lunged at the opportunity to drive it.
So we make our way out to the apron in front of Jacob Javitz Convention Center, and Honda has a little tent set up with a couple of FCXs parked in front of it (keep in mind there are only like 5 in existence in the WHOLE WORLD). Tuan and I grab the keys to one of them and jump in with one of the FCX engineers. Tuan's first behind the wheel, and the engineer tells him to put the key in, turn it, and wait for the car to "boot up". It takes a second or twelve to get the fuel cell operational, but it's really no big deal. You hear a slight whine as a pump of some sort starts the whole hydrogen to electricity process.
Then, it's all systems go. We put it in D, and begin whirring away, just like the Jetsons. If the FCX looks familiar, it's because it's based heavily upon the Honda EV+, which was a purely battery operated vehicle. For the most part, it is an EV+, with the addition of a Ballard fuel cell, providing a range of just over 100miles. Forget about all the rocket science involved, and you're left with a smooth, uneventful driving experience.
Off the line, the car launches pretty smartly, considering its mass (nearly 4000 lbs!). From there, it pulls smoothly and linearly right up to traffic speeds. We had no trouble squirting in and out of the hustle and bustle of Manhattan traffic, even catching a few cabbies offguard as we cracked them off the line and merged effortlessly in front of them. Also impressive is the roll-on performance of the FCX, as "throttle" response is instantaneous, and the car doesn't hesitate to tack 10 or even 20 mph onto the pace, just for the asking.
After learning of the sheer mass of the FCX, I marveled at the relatively puny 15" alloy wheels and how well they dealt with the buckled and cratered surfaces that double as Manhattan streets. Seriously, the car absorbed even the most serious heaves with little drama. In a vehicle weighing so much, I would have expected the delicate wheels to fracture.
It might be hard to believe, but in our first lap around Manhattan in the FCX, we even engaged in the world's first(?) fuel cell drag race. Unfortunately I have to report that TOV's driver of the moment (hint: it wasn't me!) was slow on the tree, and despite the fact we had one fewer passenger than the opposing FCX, we lost in a 1/16th mile sprint for the crosswalk. Somewhere, I have video evidence. I'm sure the spectacle of two whirring shoe-shaped vehicles going at it has Hollywood executives placing calls right this minute.
The key point to take away from all is that if the technology to distribute hydrogen effectively can catch up, Honda has proven that a hydrogen powered vehicle is a very viable alternative for environmentally friendly transportation, especially in urban settings.
It's not all perfected just yet, however. The engineer who accompanied us on our ride mentioned that he was thankful for the warm weather on that particular New York day (it was around 70F). Apparently the fuel cells don't operate very efficiently below about 45-50F, so given the fact that it was April in New York, there was understandable concern on their behalf. This also explains why the only FCXs that have been delivered to the "public" have all been in Southern California. Of course, the FCX uses Ballard's proprietary fuel cell technology, and it's no secret that Honda is working on their own technology, with certain designs on overcoming these limitations. But for now, the only thing that's demonstrable is Ballard's "black box" system, and until the world figures out a way to make hydrogen as ubiquitous as gasoline, we're all probably a long ways off from driving something from the Jetson's age.