Toyota has given a small selection of journalists their first taste of prototypes of its long-awaited hydrogen fuel-cell production car--and driving impressions are beginning to surface.
The Japanese automaker has shown off hydrogen concepts for some time, most prominent of which is the FCV-R concept, expected to inspire the eventual production vehicle debuting in 2015.
According to Bloomberg, Toyota's prototype is based on the Lexus HS 250h platform, sold in Japan as the Toyota Sai.
It's slightly larger than a Corolla, slightly smaller than a Camry. This makes it similar in size to the Prius in Toyota's own lineup, though a sedan rather than hatchback layout is most likely.
Most of Toyota's work has focused on reducing the cost of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. Just half a decade ago, a fuel-cell prototype vehicle easily ran past $1 million or more.
While each individual prototype doesn't account for cost amortization, the eventual production cars are likely to cost nearer $50,000.
That's still expensive, but well within the range of some current electric vehicles--a technology Toyota is largely shunning in favor of fuel cells.
Range from 11 pounds of compressed hydrogen should be over 300 miles, exceeding even the highest-range electric cars like the Tesla Model S.
Toyota FCV-R hydrogen fuel-cell concept car, 2012 Detroit Auto Show
That's a little less range than stated for the refreshed FCV-R concept revealed by Toyota early last month, and it's unclear whether the production vehicle will use the same drivetrain layout.
Toyota has concentrated on increasing the energy density of its fuel cells, allowing it to do more with less hydrogen.
That also frees up space for batteries as part of a fuel cell-based hybrid system. A 21-kilowatt-hour battery pack--marginally smaller than the battery found in a Nissan Leaf--helps boost the FCV-R Concept's range.
After driving the prototype car, Autoweek estimated 0-to-60-mph performance of around 9 seconds and an output of 150 horsepower from the prototype car, adding that the prototype was "much more fun to drive than...a Prius".
Thanks to electric torque, the prototypes offered enough power to chirp the tires off the line, though the car is more likely to be focused on efficiency more than on outright fun.
A concept version of the eventual production car should appear at the upcoming Tokyo Auto Show--so we'll know more about the car's design in late November.