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BMW 5 Series GT Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle prototype. Image by BMW.

BMW 5 Series GT Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle prototype
Can BMW solve electric vehicle range anxiety with hydrogen?

   



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BMW 5 Series Gran Tourer Fuel Cell prototype

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Taking the range extender philosophy and applying some forward thinking to the problem, BMW has reasoned that to make an electric vehicle work at its best, it needs to be powered in the main by a hydrogen fuel cell. To that end, it has joined forces with Toyota and is working on creating a "technologically mature, customer-ready" fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) for some time in the 2020s. This 5 Series Gran Turismo is a prototype featuring the hydrogen technology at its most advanced state yet.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: BMW 5 Series Gran Tourer Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) prototype
Pricing: not in production
Engine: hydrogen fuel cell with synchronous electric motor
Transmission: two-stage reduction gear, rear-wheel drive
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 0g/km (VED Band A, 0)
Range: either 280- or 438 miles (see copy)
Top speed: 113mph
0-62mph: 8.4 seconds
Power: 245hp

What's this?

A pretty standard looking BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo, but don't despair just yet - it carries within it some truly cutting edge technology. Of all the major carmakers, BMW probably has the most enviable record when it comes to the use of hydrogen in automotive circles. It first dabbled with this gas as far back as 1984, but more recent successes came in the form of the Hydrogen 7 (a bivalent 7 Series) and the H2R showpiece of the 2000s. Storing the gas for use as a fuel is the big issue, but BMW is working with Japanese giant Toyota to push this technology forward for use in electric car applications.

The reasoning behind it is that a car equipped with a hydrogen fuel cell can run in zero-emissions, full electric mode all the time, bypassing the problem with current plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) of having to use fossil fuels to supplement the battery. In terms of practicalities, the passenger compartment of this 5 Series was every bit as capacious as a normal version, with a hydrogen fuel gauge in the cluster, a bespoke digital display screen cut into the centre console (that is purely for R&D purposes; it won't make production) and a little arc of carpeted material on top of the rear transmission tunnel being the only giveaways to this car's priceless nature.

The nearest analogue to this research and development prototype 5 Series GT in the current BMW range is the i3 Range Extender model, which has a small motorcycle engine working as the on-board generator for the electric motor. Replace that 647cc unit with the hydrogen fuel cell and you've got the rough idea of how this FCEV works.

How does it drive?

Equipped with all the necessary ancillaries, the hydrogen fuel cell looks like a big combustion motor so it has to go in the engine bay of the 5 GT. The fuel tank itself is the marvel, a huge cylindrical affair that gets bolted into the chassis longitudinally in place of the propshaft. BMW can store hydrogen fuel at either 350bar, leading to 4.5kg in total and a range of around 280 miles, or in its cryo compressed form, allowing for a 7.1kg payload and a longer 438-mile capability. Filling the tank takes place in a process largely identical to dropping some petrol or diesel into your daily driver, the refuelling currently requiring less than five minutes, though BMW assures us that in the near future technological advancements will cut that number to match petrol/diesel refuelling times. The total system weight of the hydrogen kit comes in at around 160kg, which BMW says adds 100kg over a comparable 5 Series GT with a 'normal' engine.

It must be stressed that this 5 GT is a development mule and is a long, long way from being a showroom reality, so scrutinising it as if it were a regular road-going car is neither relevant nor fair. However, it's extremely promising. In terms of the motive experience, it drives just like a battery-electric vehicle, such as a non-Range Extender i3; there's a surge of near-silent, electric motor torque pushing things along and the Five picks up speed in a clean and fuss-free manner. The 5 GT FCEV is not a light car; nevertheless, the ride and handling seemed perfectly acceptable, although we must concede our test drive was very short - and neither of these aspects of the FCEV are the priority at this stage.

There was a noticeable shunt as the FCEV switched into the longer of its two reduction gears at about 56mph, which would of course be smoothed out on any showroom model, and there was also a strange whooshing noise coming from underneath the car during acceleration, which is a compressor forcing air into the fuel cell. But again, BMW says the acoustic damping has not been worked upon. Other than that, this 5 Series GT felt remarkably well sorted, for an early-stage prototype.

Verdict

As with the wave of battery-electric vehicles we've seen emerge in recent years, the key factor in the success of the FCEV will be how quickly a decent infrastructure can be put in place to support early adopters of the technology. In the FCEV's case, this means hydrogen filling stations. BMW cited some key markets' expansion targets on this score, with California aiming to have 100 stations operational by 2020, Germany 400 by 2023, Japan 800 by 2025 and South Korea 500 by 2030. Whether that sort of growth is replicated in other places, such as here in the UK, will depend on the drive of the governments in charge. But if the infrastructure does emerge, and BMW presses ahead with the FCEV, on this early showing we reckon this could be the future of electric vehicles. Truly zero-emission running at all times, with no need to rely on oil reserves - now that would be absolutely brilliant.

3 3 3 3 3 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

3 3 3 3 3 Luggage Space

4 4 4 4 4 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 2 Jul 2015



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2015 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo hydrogen fuel cell prototype. Image by BMW.2015 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo hydrogen fuel cell prototype. Image by BMW.2015 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo hydrogen fuel cell prototype. Image by BMW.2015 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo hydrogen fuel cell prototype. Image by BMW.2015 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo hydrogen fuel cell prototype. Image by BMW.

2015 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo hydrogen fuel cell prototype. Image by BMW.2015 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo hydrogen fuel cell prototype. Image by BMW.2015 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo hydrogen fuel cell prototype. Image by BMW.2015 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo hydrogen fuel cell prototype. Image by BMW.2015 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo hydrogen fuel cell prototype. Image by BMW.



2015 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo hydrogen fuel cell prototype. Image by BMW.
 

2015 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo hydrogen fuel cell prototype. Image by BMW.
 

2015 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo hydrogen fuel cell prototype. Image by BMW.
 

2015 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo hydrogen fuel cell prototype. Image by BMW.
 

2015 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo hydrogen fuel cell prototype. Image by BMW.
 






 

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