Short Test Drive of Toyota FCHV-adv, Running on Hydrogen

By · April 10, 2013

Toyota FCHV-adv fuel cell car

Toyota FCHV-adv fuel cell car

Fuel cells cars have never been very popular among EV fans, but I was genuinely happy when I was offered the opportunity to test drive the Toyota FCHV-adv. This is the hydrogen car with the longest proven range. There is no official EPA rating for it, but the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has tested it many times, and they experienced 431 miles on average. So it's as good as a gasoline car, and it fills up nearly as fast.

Toyota FCHV-adv fuel cell car

Toyota FCHV-adv fuel cell car

But it's not new. This prototype is based on the previous generation Toyota Highlander and it shows on the inside. The dashboard could be more modern. But what the car doesn't show, when on the road, is its prototype status. It drives like a regular production car, and just like a Toyota should. It's totally fuss-free.

The SUV designation is almost an accident, because this car drives like a sedan—and a very quiet one, thanks to its electric propulsion. There's some noise coming from the fuel cell, but it's no vroom-vroom. It's more of a whoosh-whoosh.

The fuel cell works a bit like an engine, you hear it working harder when you ask for more power, and that happened several times since performance was only adequate. It was Prius-like, so more than enough for daily use—but not much fun. The best part was looking at the on-board computer. It has the same layout the Prius has, only with a fuel cell instead on a gas engine. At times the power from the fuel cell was going to the motor, and at other times it was going to the battery. Much to my surprise, the fuel cell was not working continuously. Once again, it was like the Prius. It's always funny in a Toyota hybrid to see the gas engine turning itself on and off so frequently, and there was the same thing with the fuel cell in that FCHV-adv.

Toyota FCHV-adv fuel cell car

Toyota FCHV-adv fuel cell car

An EV with No Worry about Range

The fuel cell is not the rough and immature technology that some detractors claim. It's very refined, quick to start and quick to shut down, and very efficient in this generation. Toyota says it's 25 percent better than the previous one. One kilo of hydrogen provides more than 65 miles of driving. That's very impressive considering that in a vehicle this size, 100 kilos of the best lithium cells would not deliver this much distance. With more than 6 kilos in the high pressure tank, range is never an issue, and that's what the dashboard says. The hydrogen gauge is the same as in the gas Toyota Highlander—well, I guess, actually, I've never been in the gas version of this car. This car was the first EV I drove that I didn't worry about range. This is an EV which people can use exactly like a gas car. My only regret was that I couldn't take it to the highway. My short test drive was entirely in the city. But if this fuel cell car is as good on the road as it is at low speeds, the battery electric car faces some real competition in just a few years.

Well, one a few major conditions: for one, if the fuel cell car enters regular production, is available at an affordable price, and is there's a hydrogen network in most of the country. That's a lot of IFs. I don't see much of that happening, but nonetheless, I inquired about the price. The Toyota engineer replied that it was not the biggest issue. According to the company, it's possible to build fuel cell cars at a competitive price. Toyota says it will have one by 2015. That's just two years away.

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