Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Equinox

Recently I finally got the chance to drive the Chevrolet Hydrogen Fuel Cell Equinox (try saying that 5 times fast). Sitting still in the parking lot the vehicle emitted noises one did not expect to hear from an automobile, at least not yet. It produced a quiet whir and a bit of clicking from the power electronics. All it all it wasn't very audible over the sound of traffic driving by. Once inside though, with the doors closed, the exterior noise was blocked out. I took the passenger side initially, while a coworker took the wheel. I used the opportunity to poke around at buttons and listen to the vehicle. Mostly the interior followed that of a normal Equinox. Although in place of a tachometer sat a kilowatt gauge. As a reminder that this wasn't a typical vehicle, or even a mundane hybrid, the shift knob featured the GM water droplet badge and the navigation screen displayed the fuel cell power flow. When leaving the parking lot the Equinox accelerated up to the speed of traffic with no drama. The ride was also very smooth, no jarring shift points. After a few minutes of driving I swapped spots with my coworker and took over the helm.

Being an Equinox the vehicle was significantly larger than what I am used to. For just that reason I did not expect it to perform anything like my BMW 335i. Pulling out into traffic I got on the accelerator and, while by far not the fastest thing I have driven, it wasn't the slowest either. It weighed somewhere in the range of a decent mid-sized sedan in terms of get up and go, meaning I wouldn't fear for my life merging onto the 405. I stayed on the pedal for a little bit and it hit me that I had lost a connection to the vehicle. I am tuned to feel for speed through gear changes and audible rpm. However, a fuel cell vehicle does not have such feedback. The sound of the electric motor was somewhat audible, but with music playing and people talking it just wasn't enough of a factor. I had to glance at the speedometer to get my bearings back straight. The smooth, uninturrupted, acceleration was a great experience though. The one possibel downside was that when coming to a stop, the brakes required more input that I was used to. The system transitions from regenerative braking to mechanical braking depending on the amount of depal depression. I probably would have been more comfortable with the braking if I had not come from mainly driving a sporty vehicle with a stiff and sensitive pedal. The brakes were in line with those of a standard Equinox, not that that is necessarily a good thing.

In the end I wish I could have had more drive time. Maybe then I could have found some Priui (plural for Prius) to drag race.

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