Kia Borrego FCEV

Hydrogen powered Kia models are just around the corner - and Autoblog has been lucky enough to sample the future already!

Today we got behind the wheel of one of the first Kia models to use a hydrogen fuel cell at the firm's Eco Tech Research Institute in Mabuk, Korea.

The maker is currently working fervently towards a goal of putting 10,000 fuel cell vehicles on the road a year by 2015 with 150 engineers at this dedicated facility working solely on making that aim a reality.



And if our test is anything to go by they're well on course! Based on Kia's Mohave SUV - a large Land Cruiser sized off-roader – the fuel cell car is already very polished. And it's not the first either - Kia already has several fleets of fuel cell vehicles operating in Korea and USA on trials.

The cars' fuel cell mixes hydrogen and oxygen to create a chemical reaction that produces electricity that in turn powers an electric motor - the only by-product of that process being water and heat.

Kia has mated a super capacitor to the power train too which stores power and boosts the electric motor when needed. This is then regenerated under braking.

Starting up the Mohave is still done by key, but there's no explosion of noise as it fires into life. All you hear is a series of clicks and whirrs as the fuel cell prepares for propulsion.

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It's virtually silent from the inside on the move too – the loudest thing on our test was the squeak of the leather seats - and from outside a slight generator hum can be heard. But even that's so quiet it's drowned out by the tyre roar as the car rolls by.

Kia is actually having to engineer in a noise in production cars so that pedestrians can hear fuel cell-powered cars coming. And that won't be the sound of a conventional engine - Kia instead wants something completely different; a noise that would 'mark it out as a fuel cell'.

Our test drive was short and restricted to relatively low speeds, but what was immediately apparent was just how real and ready this car feels. Inside the Mohave things look and feel just like a conventional model, apart from a kilowatt dial on the dash where the rev counter would be.

Performance from the 115kw unit is impressive for a car of this size: 0-60mph takes 12.8 seconds and it'll hit a top speed of around 100mph. What's more, on a full tank of hydrogen - which currently costs just £20 - it'll do 425 miles.

Because all that power is available immediately, it pulls away very smoothly. However, there's little 'engine' braking when you slow down which does feel a bit disconcerting.



It also takes a little while to start up again after turning it off. During our test we stopped and restarted the fuel cell and the cycle takes around 30 seconds until a green 'ready' light appears on the dash.

How far off is full-scale production of fuel cell cars from Kia? The answer's not very far at all. The maker is already making 100 models a year and this capacity is increasing all the time. It estimates they'll be commercially available by 2015 and cost in the region of £35,000 by the time they're in dealers.

But before we get too excited there are obviously obstacles to overcome - cold starting is still causing issues as the water in the system turns to ice, while a hydrogen filling station network will be needed in the UK.

However, what is clear is that not only are car manufacturers like Kia committed to getting this technology on the road as soon as possible, but that it's not as far off as some people think...