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Mercedes F600 HYgenius

Date: 02 August 2006

Category: Fuel cell Consumption: 81mpg

Range: 250 miles On sale: 2012-2015

Right, we're there. With the super-clean F600 HYgenius, DaimlerChrysler has shown that you can pack an emissions-free fuel-cell into an A-class sized car and replicate the performance and range of a regular diesel.

Other than the usual creakiness of a one-off concept car, the F600 drives as if ready for mundane commutes up the A3 and beyond. Race the traffic away from the lights at Richmond Park and it'll reach 62mph in 11secs. Lose yourself in a fantasy with no traffic or speed limits and it'll reach 106mph. Back in reality it'll drive for around 250 miles before needing a refill, consuming hydrogen at the equivalent of 81mpg.

The F600 is the showboating advance party for what will be Mercedes' next fuel-cell vehicle in a couple of years. Replacing the A-class F-cell and based on the B-class, this new productionised version will use much of the F600's tech. It'll be the seventh incarnation of a Mercedes-badged fuel-cell, but only the second to be used in fleet road trials and very likely the last experimental fuel cell before sales begin in earnest come 2012ish. Quite important, this F600.


The fuel-cell process stays the same. That is, hydrogen is introduced to oxygen to create electricity, which in turn powers an electric motor. The only emission is water. The goal has always been to make the componentry cheaper, more powerful, lighter and more compact, and the F600 is the best yet. For example, using stamped metal plates for the 400 'cells' instead of engraved graphite shaves pounds, both physically and financially. The fuel cell stack isn't any more powerful, but the addition of a hybrid-style battery (a giant version of the mobile phone favourite, lithium ion) takes the overall power from 87PS to 115PS and the torque from 212Nm to a whopping 350Nm.

Riding in the F600 demonstrates how much quieter it is compared to the 2003 F-cell. The noisy air compressor has been replaced by a near-silent electric turbocharger that reduces the factory-siren whine at start-up, and the engine is quiet on the move, whereas the old one certainly wasn't. Acceleration is sharp, constant and entirely adequate.

Under a flap (right) in the electric tailgate is another fuel-cell bonus: a domestic-voltage plug socket. Theoretically one fuel-cell car could generate enough power for several homes, and certainly enough for an outdoor event. In a car packed full of the promise of a friendly future, the abundant electricity also heats or cools the cupholders and powers individual back-supporting elements within the seats.

There's still a way to go before we're humming to work, dripping fresh water as we drive. The F600's drivetrain is still too heavy collectively. It's also too expensive by "between 10 and 100 times", according to one coy DC executive. Needing platinum in the chemical process doesn't help (although there's a lot less than there was). But with the F600, DaimlerChrysler has nosed ahead in the race to drop cars from the CO2 axis of evil.