Toyota shows how hydrogen technology could save the exhaust note

Hearing the exhaust is part of the experience of driving a sports car, and silence is something many manufacturers struggle with as they add electric vehicles to their range. Toyota proved that zero emissions doesn’t necessarily mean zero noise by building a hydrogen-powered Corolla race car that manages to sound like a proper hot hatch.

Published on YouTube by enthusiast website Toyota Times, the 34-second clip was shot on a race track in Japan. It shows the rear end of the experimental race car announced in April 2021, and it zooms in on an odd-looking exhaust tip with a mesh-like insert. As the Corolla speeds off, nothing about its exhaust notes suggests it’s a zero-emissions car. It’s still being fine-tuned, but road testers say it already drives just like a gasoline-powered model.

“It’s not as different [from a gasoline-powered vehicle] as I expected. It feels like a normal engine. [If I wasn’t told otherwise,] I’d probably think this is a normal engine,” said Toyota test driver Hiroaki Ishiura after a few laps.

Not all hydrogen-powered cars sound this good; most are almost completely silent, including Toyota’s own Mirai. The handful of hydrogen models currently in production are fitted with a fuel cell, which produces electricity and uses it to zap an electric motor into motion. On the other hand, the Corolla being tested is equipped with a turbocharged three-cylinder engine that burns hydrogen instead of gasoline. It has cylinders, pistons, and valves.

Toyota will continue making improvements and tweaks to its experimental Corolla, and it will enter the car in the third round of Japan’s Super Taikyu racing series for 24 hours of racing on the Fuji Speedway. The event is scheduled to take place from May 21 to 23. It’s too early to tell if — let alone when — this technology will reach mass-production, but Toyota has made it clear that it doesn’t think going all-in on EVs is the right solution.

“We want to attempt to demonstrate that [internal combustion] engines can be useful in achieving carbon neutrality, and we want to turn them into a platform that mechanics and private garages, which support motorsports, can use in the future,” company boss Akio Toyoda told Toyota Times. He added that, in Japan and abroad, there is a tremendous amount of knowledge about engine tuning, and he hopes it will be useful in racing for a long time.

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