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First Drive

Road Test: Nissan X-Trail FCV Prototype

Published: 28 Oct 2008

Underneath its bulky shell, this X-Trail FCV has all sorts of brainy technology - FCV is for 'fuel cell vehicle'. So it's fed by hydrogen and does all sorts of clever things to convert that into movement, which is useful in a car. Obviously, then, the point of this thing is to be green and futuristic, but we'll come to that in a bit.

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Because, first of all, we should deal with wafting. Wafting is a fine art, see. Big Jags do it well. So do Rolls-Royces. "The only sound at 60mph is the ticking of the clock," a Rolls engineer once said. He was right. Cars like that have superb waftability.

And so does the FCV. In simple terms, that fuel cell takes hydrogen and oxygen and mixes them together to make energy, which charges the lithium-ion batteries. The batteries then act as the 'engine', and power the car. It's a very quiet process, which makes the FCV creamily smooth and nice and wafty. No noisy combustion or naughty exhaust to worry about, just a distant whirr from those electric motors.

If you want to slip silently around town you really don't need a posh Roller. You need one of these.

It operates just like a conventional car too. There's a key and a gearbox like any other auto. Simply select 'drive', and you're off. The only clue to its hi-techness is the digital dash, which shows things like power consumption and even next week's lottery numbers.

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And of course, you'll have a clean conscience as you nose it through a traffic jam. Thicko hippies might sneer at its SUV-ness, but little do they know it's kicking out as much harmful gas as a big sneeze.

It even feels quick. Ish. It doesn't look good on paper - torque is only 206lb ft - but you can have all of that instantly, the moment your foot squeezes the throttle. The single-gear transmission provides seamless power so you get instant, unabated motion. It's fairly practical too, with a 500km range. Good luck finding a filling station, though - there's only one in the whole of the UK.

Despite all that cleverness, it feels like Nissan is slightly behind the game with the FCV. When you consider Honda's space-age FCX is already available in some countries (with a similar hydrogen fuel cell), the FCV feels like a prototype. Because that's what it is. Based on the last-gen X-Trail, the interior is outdated and the styling is dumpy. But it's only meant to be a carrier for all that technology, rather than a shiny finished product. Nissan admits it's playing catch-up, and it'll be a few more years 'til there's an FCV you can have on your driveway.

Until then, you'll just have to do your wafting elsewhere.

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