by Gerhard Horn
At this point, it's safe to say the future is electric. Now, before the eco-warriors jump up and down with delight, it's worth talking about the Hyundai Nexo.
Why? EVs don't tread as lightly as you might think. We know half the fun of owning an EV is self-righteous indignation and smugness, but it's all one big illusion. The power comes from a plug, but where does the plug get it? According to the US Energy Information Administration, most of our electricity is generated from coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy. Shock, horror. Yup, your so-called green car relies on some rather dirty methods of energy generation.
The Nexo is a great answer to this conundrum, since it circumvents the need to recharge via the grid. Instead of relying on batteries that have to be charged, the electric motor in the Nexo is powered by a chemical reaction using hydrogen and oxygen. The former is the most abundant element in nature.
Hyundai's Nexo EV is still relatively fresh, having been introduced in 2019. It soldiers forth without any model updates.
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The Hyundai Nexo is one of the most technologically advanced cars you can buy, and yet Hyundai chose to make it look like 15 feet of generic car design. The only highlight is the swooping front end with its thin headlights, but from there, it's the perfect car to think of if you want to fall asleep. We believe this was intentional. When electric vehicles first arrived, they featured some funky (read ugly) designs. Hyundai simply wants to demonstrate that hydrogen cars can be just like any other, just more efficient. We have to look at this car in context and remember that cars are simply slightly larger white goods to most people.
However, if you look closer, you'll notice some compelling exterior features, like the LED headlights, daytime running lights, heated side mirrors, and roof rails.
Designs can be deceiving, as this crossover is larger than both its Kona and Tucson siblings. It has a total length of 183.9 inches and a 109.8-inch wheelbase. It's 73.2 inches wide without the side mirrors and 64.2 inches tall. We can see that hydrogen power hasn't reached its peak quite like conventional battery EVs when it comes to weight. It's not much larger than the Tucson but weighs over 600 pounds more. The base Blue weighs 3,990 lbs, while the Limited comes in at 4,116 pounds.
If you thought you could overcome the bland design by splashing on some funky paint, better think again. The Nexo is available in only four colors, none of which are particularly mind-blowing. Dusk Blue is the most striking, though it's essentially just dark blue. Other no-cost color options on the palette include Copper Metallic, White Pearl, and Cocoon Silver.
While hydrogen powertrains are as advanced as they come, they still have a long way to go before offering the kind of thrills associated with gas-type and traditional electric powertrains. The Nexo isn't fun or lively at all; independent tests have shown that it takes a leisurely 8.4 seconds to get from 0-60 mph. It has a maximum speed of 111 mph.
Since it's still primarily an EV, it retains that initial burst of acceleration thanks to low-down torque, so it feels strong enough around town to grab the occasional gap in traffic. The power diminishes rapidly at around 80 mph. To get that last 31 mph out of it, you'd have to be patient and on the Salt Flats at Bonneville. Though the automaker provides no official towing capacity for the Nexo electric car, owners claim it can manage up to 4,000 lbs.
It feels unfair to judge this car on performance alone; it must be applauded for being one of only two fuel cell cars for sale in the US. That alone makes it interesting, not to mention the mechanics of how it works. Any real car nerd should appreciate the engineering that goes into a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.
Hyundai invested a lot of money in this car, and the Nexo SUV is currently the flagship of its environmentally friendly lineup. It takes the best parts of an electric vehicle and internal combustion and blends them to create the car of the future.
The powertrain consists of a 41.4-gallon tank that holds nearly 14 lbs of hydrogen, a 95 kW fuel-cell stack, a 40 kWh battery pack, and an electric motor. Hydrogen is fed from the tank to the fuel-cell stack, where it goes through an electrochemical process that creates electricity. The result is 161 horsepower and 291 lb-ft of torque. It doesn't seem that impressive, but take the battery pack and fuel cell size into account. Do the math, and you'll see this system has an efficiency of 60%. In layman's terms, the powertrain uses much more of the latent power in the hydrogen than a combustion engine does for gasoline. EVs have a higher efficiency rating than the Nexo, but, once again, consider the source of the fuel.
Power is sent to the front wheels via a single-speed transmission. Three driving modes are available; comfort, eco, and eco plus. That tells you everything you need to know about the Hyundai Nexo SUV performance-wise. The fastest setting it has is comfortable.
Considering the fastest setting is comfort, Hyundai hasn't set the bar very high. Luckily, the Nexo is a niche vehicle with a specific target market. What this market demands above all else is real-world efficiency and comfort. The Nexo delivers precisely that.
Body roll is minimal, but the suspension setup is not stiff. Push it too hard, and it will understeer, which is the safest default setting for an SUV/crossover. The steering is light but not nervous at freeway speeds.
We think this is yet another example of Hyundai's engineers being wise and reserved rather than funky. As modern as it may be underneath, it looks and drives like a typical crossover. The Nexo, it seems, is made to prove that hydrogen-powered cars don't need any sacrifices, but as we shall soon see, that's not exactly the case.
Excellent fuel economy is Nexo's main selling point. Before we explore this statement further, it's worth noting that the Nexo is only sold in California's metros.This is because it's the only place with the necessary infrastructure. And by necessary, we mean the bare essentials. President Biden re-signed the Paris agreement this year, which has a heavy focus on hydrogen structure development. Still, a working national infrastructure is at least a decade away.
The base Nexo delivers an EPA-estimated 65/58/61 MPGe city/highway/combined, while the top-spec Limited is rated at 59/47/57 MPGe. Even more impressive is the fact that a hydrogen car requires no charging time. Like an old-school internal combustion car, you pull up next to the pump and fill it up. Then you drive it for 380 miles (354 in the Limited) and fill it up again within five minutes. Hydrogen isn't pumped into the tank like regular gas but under enormous pressure. In this case, the hydrogen is stored at 10,102.6 psi so great care is needed while refuelling to avoid any mishaps.
While the exterior may be generic, the interior of the Hyundai Nexo is anything but. Elegant simplicity is the theme, and Hyundai executes it beautifully. The two-spoke steering wheel is eye-catching, as is the broad, elevated dash console. Hyundai is exceptionally generous with the standard specs. Each of the two cars in the lineup get loads of comfort features, including heated seats as standard. The controls are laid out in a very easy-to-use manner, too. Only a select few features are reserved for the top-tier Limited trim.
Designed as a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle from the start, the unique powertrain requirements have had no impact on interior space. The legroom in the front is 41.5 inches, while passengers in the rear get 38.6 inches. Similarly, headroom is 39.4 inches in the front and 38 inches in the rear. This means the Nexo is large enough to transport five fully-grown adults in comfort. The elevated body also makes it easy to get in and out.
Hyundai takes a holistic approach to eco-friendliness, which means no cows were peeled to upholster the interior. The Nexo is offered with a choice of Stone Gray or Meteor Blue synthetic leather. Meteor Blue is paired with a Cocoon Silver exterior, while Stone Gray is the standard interior color on other color options. It doesn't stop there, though.
The list of materials used reads like a vegan hippie's shopping list; soybean-oil-based polyurethane paint, plastics made from sugarcane, bamboo-based fabric, and bio-carpets, also made from sugarcane. Hyundai says there are around 40 different, ethically sourced parts in this car. Building a car this way has resulted in a 26 lbs reduction in CO2 emissions, according to the automaker. It doesn't say compared to what, but it sounds impressive.
As stated earlier, the packaging in this car is brilliant. Not only do passengers get loads of room, but the Nexo also has 29.6 cubic feet of cargo space. Fewer batteries, more space. The difference is best demonstrated by comparing it to the BMW X3 hybrid's cargo capacity of 27.2 cubic feet. The German is longer and wider, yet the Nexo has more space. With the rear seats folded flat in a 60/40 split, the cargo capacity grows to 56.5 cubic feet.
You get just as much practicality around the cabin as in the trunk. Interior storage consists of a center console storage bin, a glove compartment, and door pockets front and rear.
The Nexo is the flagship in the eco-friendly range, and it comes with a hefty price tag. To make that price go down better with possible customers, Hyundai included many features as standard. Both models get auto LED lights with high beam assist, heated and ventilated front seats with eight-way power adjustment for the driver, and six-way for the passenger. A rearview camera with dynamic guidance lines, automatic climate control, and remote keyless entry with push-button start is also included. The top-spec Limited model adds a surround-view camera system, ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel. Safety-wise, the Nexo comes standard with a driver attention system, lane keeping forward, front and rear parking sensors, forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and blind-spot collision warning. Once again, the Limited gets a little extra in the form of remote smart parking assist.
Hyundai may have used many impressive eco materials on the inside, but it's the 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system that stands out. Next to it, you'll find a seven-inch LCD instrument cluster. The 12.3-inch screen is highly intuitive, thanks to a variety of menus displayed in high resolution. The system comes standard with navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, SiriusXM, and HRD Radio. Hyundai's Blue Link services are also standard, including a three-year subscription to Car Care, which comes with an assistant to help you find the nearest meat-, sugar-, and taste-free vegan burger.
Limited-spec adds a premium sound system with an eight-channel 440-watt amp, eight speakers, and an eight-inch subwoofer.
As a showcase for hydrogen cars, the Nexo needs to be reliable. Even a minor problem could end up crippling the entire concept. Unfortunately, from an owner's perspective, there is no rating available from J.D. Power. The owner pool is likely too small to paint a clear picture.
In 2019 the Nexo was recalled once for an integrated electronic brake malfunction, and this recall continued into 2020. The only other recall in 2020 was for possible unintended vehicle movement related to the remote parking assistant. So far, there have been zero issues related to the powertrain.
The warranty is spectacular and shows great confidence in the product. Each Nexo is backed by a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, seven-year/100,000-mile corrosion warranty, 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and five-year/100,000-mile warranty on the electric components.
This continues to be one of the main talking points when it comes to hydrogen cars. What happens when you drive around with what is essentially a pipe bomb in the car? Not much, as it turns out. Expensive cars aren't normally tested, but the IIHS must have been as curious as we are, so it subjected the Nexo review. The results were shocking, but only because nothing drastic happened. The building is still in one piece, and the 2019 Nexo was awarded a Top Safety Pick Plus, which is the highest award it gives. It received the same award in 2020. The NHTSA hasn't bothered to review the hydrogen EV.
With two Top Safety Pick Plus awards behind its name, the Nexo is safe as houses. Both models have a comprehensive list of active and passive features. Traditional fare includes ABS, stability control, and six airbags. Driver assistance features include forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-follow assist, lane-keep assist and departure warning, auto high beams, and driver attention assist. Remote smart parking assist is also added when you upgrade to the Limited.
While not the first fuel cell car in the USA, the Nexo was the first mass-produced SUV using this technology. It's not much to look at, but perhaps this was Hyundai's plan all along? Show people that hydrogen is a perfectly safe solution, offering the best of both worlds - the environmental friendliness and responsiveness of an EV, but without the charging time. Take the fuel source out of the equation, and you're still left with a comfortable, large, safe, well-equipped vehicle.
Hyundai's most significant issue is the lack of infrastructure. The Nexo is currently only sold in California because it's the only place where you can own one. People remain skeptical, but if manufacturers keep producing fuel cell cars as good as this, the vehicles will do the talking.
We keep on thinking of traditional EVs as humanity's savior against global warming and dwindling oil reserves. The inconvenient truth is that they, too, rely on finite resources, not just for sourcing electricity but also for parts. How long before the cobalt and nickel run out?
The good news is that we've been here before. People were hesitant to move over to EVs until the Model S came along and blew everyone away. Perhaps that's what the Nexo is lacking. It's a glimpse into the future, but nobody's sitting up and taking notice.
The Nexo has a high price tag, but new technology always does. Mass production brings down the price of a car, but the Hyundai Nexo is still too niche to benefit from this. The base Blue model has an MSRP of $58,935, while the Limited retails for $62,385. This pricing does not include the delivery cost of the Hyundai Nexo, which adds $1,095.
Many top-tier luxury SUVs will set you back by a similar amount. BMW's X5 45e plug-in hybrid retails for $65,400 if you want to keep things on the green side of the spectrum. If you believe in destroying as much gas as possible before the kids get to it, go for the $63,995 Dodge Durango SRT.
There are two models in the Nexo lineup: the Blue and Limited. Both are powered by the same hydrogen-electric powertrain that sends power to the front wheels via a single-speed transmission. The base model is equipped with LED headlights with automatic high beams, a heated eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, and a six-way power-adjustable passenger seat. Other niceties include an eight-inch instrument cluster and a massive 12.3-inch infotainment display with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth connectivity.
Standard safety kit includes forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. The Limited model adds a sunroof, hands-free liftgate, surround-view camera, remote parking, and ventilated front seats.
Building a Nexo on Hyundai USA's website is a two-click process. You choose the model, click on a color, and hit the "finish build" button. That's just one of the upsides of buying a car that already has everything as standard.
At this level, it seems like you should just go all in and opt for the top-spec Limited model. But if you're buying this car, it means you believe in the technology and not merely making a statement. The Limited model only has a driving range of 354 miles, while the Blue can do 380 miles. From a fuel consumption standpoint, basic is best. Still, the Limited does give you a lot of extra features for just $3,450. You just have to ask yourself whether you prefer the additional range or the extra features.
Hyundai has not invested all of its money in hydrogen. It also offers a fully electric Kona, which benefits from a superb existing platform. With prices starting at $37,390, it's significantly cheaper as well. The Kona electric uses a 64 kWh battery pack and a single electric motor to produce 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque. That's good for a sub-seven-second sprint to 60 mph and a claimed range of 258 miles. Yes, it's not as much as you get in a Nexo, but you'll have more flexibility when it comes to recharging.
As a subcompact crossover, the Kona is smaller. Does it even matter if great mileage and a small environmental footprint are the primary considerations? That's a question you'll have to answer yourself. Hydrogen power still has a long way to go, while the Kona electric is an impressive car that just happens to be electric. But hydrogen fuel cell technology won't get much further if more people don't buy into the concept. If you're an early adopter living in California and are willing to take the risk, go for it.
Hyundai's Tucson is an impressive compact SUV. The top-spec model retails for $32,050, roughly half the price of a top-spec Nexo. It's smaller than the latter, but not by much. A fully-specced Tucson is a luxurious car and equipped with the latest safety technology. The IIHS gave it a Top Safety Pick title in 2020, making it hard to beat as a family.
Unfortunately, the Tucson is not available as an electric or hybrid - It still relies on the old-fashioned method of exploding dinosaurs to gain forward momentum. If you're in the market for a city-slicker SUV at a reasonable price, you can't go wrong with the Tucson. However, if you're in the market for something with a smaller footprint, there are various hybrid options available in this segment, including the Honda CR-V Hybrid.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Hyundai Nexo: