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This is Honda's new Clarity Fuel Cell

176bhp and a 300-mile range: Paul Horrell gets a brief drive of Toyota Mirai rival

You wait a century for a bespoke fuel-cell car, and then two come along (almost) at once. Just as the Toyota Mirai goes on sale, Honda reveals its answer.

The Clarity Fuel Cell is on show at the Tokyo Motor Show. It doesn’t go on sale until late next year, but we’ve had a very brief drive, and the signs are good.

It is Honda’s second bespoke fuel-cell car. The first, the FCX Clarity, was a great thing but never properly went on sale; only 72 were built in all. That’s scarcer than a McLaren F1. This time around, the plan is to build up to 1200 a year.

It might be later than the Toyota, but we can see advantages. It’s faster, for a start, making 176bhp compared with the Mirai’s 152. The two both weigh something over 1800kg.

Also, the Honda’s interior is nicer to our eyes: lots of suede and open-pore wood give it a bit of a swanky modern-hotel feel. It’s also roomier, because Honda managed to squeeze the fuel cell itself above the electric motor under the bonnet. This frees up back-seat leg room.

And, let’s face it, the Honda also swerves the room-sized elephant that is the Toyota’s exterior styling (though to be fair, on exposure the Toyota is growing on us).

Fill the Clarity Fuel Cell’s tanks with 5kg of 700 bar hydrogen and you’ve got a potential 300 mile range by the fairly stringent US drive cycle. Apparently, people who ran the original FCX Clarity all wanted more range, which was lacking because it ran lower pressure.

Like other fuel-cell cars, the Clarity Fuel Cell has a buffer hybrid battery to store spare electricity for later acceleration-boosting. The fuel cell itself has a peak of 100kW while the motor can use more.

The new Clarity Fuel Cell has a bespoke platform. But the fact the stack goes under the bonnet means there’s the possibility for using the fuel-cell system as a replacement for an engine in other body styles, says Honda. Doubtless the all-conquering crossover is in line for the FC treatment, then.

To build bigger numbers, Honda engineers say they’ve managed to make the fuel cell itself for about one-10th the cost of the original FCX Clarity’s. Unfortunately the carbonfibre-cased hydrogen tanks are still punishingly expensive.

For that reason, Honda is collaborating with GM on a project to do a cheaper next-generation tank and fuel cell system. The idea is to get something production-ready for 2020, though the two companies will design independent vehicles around these common parts.

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