by Roger Biermann
While there are a couple of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles available, most notably the Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity, there's just one manufacturer claiming FCEV rights in arguably the fastest-growing vehicle segment of them all, crossovers. Hyundai claims this honor, and for 2019 has replaced the aged Tucson Fuel-Cell with an all-new, bespoke FCEV dubbed the Nexo. Available only in certain parts of the state of California, the Nexo promises an EPA-approved range of 380 miles from a full stock of hydrogen. With no other FCEV crossovers, the Nexo finds rivals in the form of the Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity and looks to put up a good fight with a 161 horsepower electric motor with 291 lb-ft of twist. It's big on tech and offers greater convenience than traditional EVs, requiring just five minutes to refuel, but hydrogen filling stations are few and far between and priced between $58,300 and $61,800 for the two trims, the Nexo is expensive.
The Hyundai Nexo is all-new for 2019, replacing the old Tucson FCEV with a bespoke fuel-cell platform, exclusive styling, and an all-new name for the Hyundai line-up.
Straying from Hyundai's hexagonal cascading grille, the Nexo gets a broad, grinning trapezoidal grille with triangular detailing and a Hyundai logo that overlaps a body colored strip across the top of the grille. The split headlight design is similar to that found on the Kona, with narrow LED DRLs separated from the main LED headlight clusters below. The wheel arches house standard 17-inch alloys on the Blue model and 19-inch wheels on the range-topping Nexo Limited. Aside from wheel size and design, the only other differentiating exterior cue between trims is the inclusion of a sunroof on the Limited trim.
In order to differentiate the Nexo from the Tucson Fuel Cell that preceded it, Hyundai has given the model a striking design that sets it apart from the new Tucson, despite the two sharing similar proportions overall. The Nexo is actually slightly larger than the Tucson, with an overall length of 183.9 inches and a wheelbase of 109.8 inches which is larger than that of the larger Santa-Fe. It measures 73.2-inches in width and 64.2-inches tall, but despite fairly sizeable proportions, the Nexo is a relative featherweight at a curb weight of 3,990-4,116 lbs compared to traditional battery EVs.
All new for 2019, the Nexo is available in four exterior hues, with the color palette comprising White Pearl, Copper Metallic, Dusk Blue, and Cocoon Silver, all of which are soybean-oil based polyurethane paint - for the sake of eco-friendliness.
Hyundai's next-generation hydrogen fuel cell technology debuts in the Nexo. The system is composed of three 10,000-psi tanks holding a total of 6.3 kg of hydrogen, a 95kW fuel cell, a 40kW battery, and a permanent magnet electric motor with outputs of 161 horsepower and 291 lb-ft of torque. The system combines to drive the front wheels through a single-speed push-button operated gearbox.
Performance in the traditional sense is hardly what one might call stellar, with 0-60 mph arriving in a claimed 9.5 seconds; a far cry from the hot-hatch bating times posted by traditional battery electric vehicles like the Kona Electric. But that time is 20% swifter than the Tucson FCEV the Nexo replaces, which is a substantial improvement. The most noticeable improvement from behind the wheel is the increase in torque, and once on the move, there's a good amount of shunt that'll see you easily reach highway speeds before you need to merge from the onramp.
The Hyundai Nexo makes use of an advanced fuel-cell powertrain. It's an evolution of the one from the Tucson FCV, but Hyundai has reduced the power output of the fuel cell to 95kW while increasing battery outputs to 40kW to improve acceleration to battery-electric standards. Three hydrogen tanks, pressurized at 10,000 psi each are housed in the trunk and carry a total of 6.3 kg of hydrogen. The battery and fuel cell combine to send power through to a 161 horsepower, 291 lb-ft permanent magnet electric motor and a single-speed direct drive gearbox.
The transmission is push-button operated and feels typical of the single-speed electric powertrains we've experienced in standard battery electric vehicles, as does the powertrain itself. Performance isn't stellar, although the 0-60 mph claim is still 20% quicker than the Tucson FCV the Nexo replaces. Crucially, the torque is available all the time, which means it's nippy through town and as rapid at highway speeds or when merging onto the freeway.
Interestingly enough, for the Nexo, Hyundai ditched the traditional, whiney roots-type air compressor between the tanks and the fuel cell and replaced it with a turbo-compressor, which makes the power delivery as silent as it is effective.
One of the Nexo's big points weighing in its favor is just how much it drives like a regular crossover. While the electric motor might not be high on power, there's a useable chunk of torque that makes it feel at home in and around the city.
Electrically assisted steering is now a staple for Hyundai, and while its no more feelsome here than it is in any of the other Hyundais equipped with this numb setup, it's suitably weighted for everyday driving, erring on the slightly lighter side of things that'll make it a firm favorite with those who frequently navigate tight parking lots. There's no huge amount of feedback, and at highway speeds, it's a little too light, but it's not particularly bad and most will be happy with its directness and the fact that there aren't any dead spots.
A particular strong point is the Nexo's braking, which outstrips the Mirai and Clarity by some margin, not just in the effectiveness of the brakes but in the feel of the pedal and the way the regenerative functionality is blended with friction braking. There are, as is the case with the Kona Electric, three levels of regen controlled by steering-mounted paddles, and the system works well overall.
The suspension is well sorted too, though nowhere near as sporting as the Kona Electric which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It rides well, cruises quietly, and absorbs large bumps and crunching potholes rather well. Body roll is kept to a minimum, and mid-corner bumps are dealt with without much fuss or dishevelment. It's yet another solid effort from Hyundai who is proving lately to be the king of exceptional ride quality.
The crown jewel in the Nexo's collection is the range and effective fuel consumption it offers compared to rivals. 6.3 kg of hydrogen can be refilled in a matter of minutes, compared to the hours it takes to fully charge an EV, and on a full tank the Nexo can drive a claimed 380 miles in the more efficient Blue derivative. The Limited model loses some range, but is still impressive at 354 miles. The Honda Clarity FCV manages only 366 miles on a tank. In traditional terms, the Nexo Blue achieves EPA-rated economy estimates of 65/58/61 mpg equivalent on the city/highway/combined cycles, with the Limited's figures dropping to 59/47/57 mpg equivalent.
The Hyundai Nexo gives us a glimpse at the next generation of luxury interiors from Hyundai, pairing environmentally-friendly materials like sugarcane and bamboo fabrics with high quality synthetic leathers and a luxurious dual 12.3-inch screen setup. The interior space is fresh, open, and devoid of clutter and the seats are comfortable and supportive with a wide range of adjustment to keep you comfortable. Seating is generous too, with space for five occupants and head- and legroom suitable for adults in both the front and rear of the cabin. Amenities like heated seats are standard, while the Limited trim gets ventilation and a heated steering wheel. The rear seats are fully child-seat compliant with two full sets of LATCH anchors on the outboard seats.
The Nexo easily seats five occupants in comfort and luxury. Standard synthetic leather upholstery is equipped to plush yet supportive seats, with standard power adjustment for the front seats including lumbar support for the driver and standard heating on both front perches. A tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel enables easy reach, and the driving position is comfortable and confident with good visibility. Legroom is capacious for both front and rear occupants, as is headroom, with more than 58 inches available both front and rear. Even tall adults won't complain if required to sit in the rear of the cabin.
Standard coverings on all the main touchpoints in the cabin of the Nexo are made from a soft synthetic leather, while carpets and other materials come from bamboo and sugarcane. The leather itself is perforated and can be equipped in two color choices - Stone Gray on models equipped with White Pearl, Copper Metallic, and Dusk Blue exteriors; and Meteor Blue on models with a Cocoon Silver Exterior. Dash and door panels are equipped accordingly, but the cabin is overall kept light and airy.
Three identical hydrogen tanks are housed beneath the cargo floor of the Nexo, but unlike other FCV's they're uniform and allow a flat cargo floor. Behind the rear seats there's a decent 29.6 cubic feet of available storage, far more than the 11.1 cubic feet in the Honda Clarity, while folding the 60/40 split rear seats unlocks up to 56.5 cubic feet of available storage. There's an available hands-free smart tailgate equipped to the Nexo Limited, which opens the power tailgate when the keyfob is within three feet of the tailgate for more than three seconds, which helps with loading while your hands are full without the need to stand on one leg.
Inside, there's an abundance of storage spaces, with large door pockets, storage beneath the floating center console, and large storage bins thanks to the push-button gear selector. The wireless charge pad is also rubberised to ensure maximum grip of your prized smartphone.
Regardless of which trim you opt for, the Nexo is highly equipped. The Blue boasts a proximity key with push-button start, dual automatic temperature control, power front seat adjustment, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a wireless charging pad, and dual front USB ports. Safety-wise, the Nexo Blue gets standard forward collision-avoidance assist, blind spot monitoring, a rearview camera, rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear park sensors, semi-autonomous lane follow assist, driver attention warning, high beam assist, and smart cruise control with stop/go functionality. The Nexo Limited gets a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, hands-free liftgate, remote park assist, ventilated front seats, and heated steering wheel. Additionally, it includes a surround-view monitor and an active blind-view monitor which shows you what's in your blind spots on the media screen.
The Hyundai Nexo comes technologically well-equipped as standard, boasting a dual 12.3-inch display setup on the dash in similar fashion to recent offerings from Mercedes-Benz. The central display is a touchscreen infotainment system that incorporates standard navigation. It's fully Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatible, and comes with AM/FM/MP3/SiriusXM/HD Radio functionality, allowing for Bluetooth media streaming and telephony, and including dual front USB charging ports. For compatible devices there's a standard wireless charging pad too, and for added auditory delight, the Limited trim includes a 440-watt Krell premium audio system with eight speakers and Live Dynamic Algorithm for the highest sound quality.
The Nexo is all new for 2019 and is built on a completely new, dedicated FCV platform. Because it shares almost nothing with current models and there's no history to go on, it's difficult to predict what reliability will be like, but hopefully Hyundai will have ironed out all the kinks in development. The interior is also all-new, so predicting reliability is tough, but it feels good and seems well put together, so we're hopeful.
Of course, Hyundai's extensive warranties are applicable, as well, including its class-leading 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, five-year/60,000-mile limited warranty, seven-year/unlimited mile anti-perforation warranty, and there's five years worth of unlimited mileage roadside assistance included as well.
The Hyundai Nexo has not yet been crash tested by either the NHTSA or the IIHS, but European safety ratings agency, NCAP, awarded it five out of five stars, with Hyundai hoping for similar results when tested in the US due to the high amount of standard safety features.
The Nexo come standard with seven airbags, including dual front airbags, a driver knee airbag, side curtain airbags, and driver and front passenger side impact airbags. However the Nexo's best features are also standard, including lane follow assist, driver attention warning, and forward collision avoidance assist. A first for this segment is made available on the Nexo Limited, which equips Blind-Spot View Monitor that shows the driver what's in their blind spot by means of cameras and a display on the infotainment cluster.
The Nexo is hugely compelling in a market where FCVs are few and far between. For the same money as you can buy a Toyota Mirai the Nexo not only gives you a popular, practical crossover, but it gives you a huge range, the convenience of a five-minute fill-up, loads of standard tech, and high levels of safety. Interior space, driving refinement, and a competitive price are further benefits, but the relative lack of hydrogen filling stations and the California-only availability of the Nexo are downsides that stunt the Nexo's practical usability. Still, if you're one of those that loves the idea of early adoption, the Nexo is without a doubt the best FCV available on the market.
The Hyundai Nexo isn't cheap with a base MSRP in the lowest Blue trim of $58,300 before taxes, registration fees, destination charges, and any incentives, most notably the $5,000 California Clean Vehicle Rebate. Fortunately even the base Nexo is well equipped, both from a luxury and a safety perspective, and the cheaper model is actually the more efficient of the two with a range of 380 miles. The Limited model is the fully-loaded option, and is priced at only $3,500 more at $61,800. While pricey, consider that the Tesla Model X carries a base price of $85,200 and offers a range of just 237-miles, while even the P100D only covers 295-miles while costing more than $100,000.
Hyundai offers the Nexo in just two trims: Blue and Limited.
The Nexo Blue kicks things off and is the most efficient model boasting a full 380-mile range, 17-inch alloy wheels and automatic LED headlights. It features a proximity key with push-button start, dual automatic temperature control, synthetic leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power front seat adjustment, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and the dual 12.3-inch navigation screen complete with SiriusXM/HD Radio functionality, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay capabilities, a wireless charging pad, and dual front USB ports. Safety-wise, the Nexo Blue gets standard forward collision-avoidance assist, blind spot monitoring, a rearview camera, rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear park sensors, semi-autonomous lane follow assist, driver attention warning, high beam assist, and smart cruise control with stop/go functionality.
The Limited gets 19-inch alloy wheels, a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, hands-free liftgate, remote park assist, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, cargo area cover, and a 440-watt Krell premium audio system with eight speakers. Additionally, it includes a surround-view monitor and an active blind-view monitor which shows you what's in your blind spots on the media screen.
Not wanting to increase production costs, Hyundai offers two trim lines with no options and no packages to speak of when it comes to the all-new Hyundai Nexo. Extra features come standard on the top-of-the-range Nexo Limited and include a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, 19-inch alloy wheels, hands-free liftgate, remote park assist, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, cargo area cover, and a 440-watt Krell premium audio system with eight speakers. Additionally, it includes a surround-view monitor and an active blind-view monitor. If you want those features, you'll have to fork out for a new trim entirely.
Both Nexo trims are incredibly well equipped, and both offer exceptionally high range witht he convenience of a five minute refuel stop. But the base Blue trim is our pick for a couple of reasons. As the entry-level model, it's several thousand dollars cheaper than the Limited, while still boasting full connectivity and many creature comforts like dual-zone climate control, power heated front seats, wireless charging, and standard safety features like forward collision avoidance and semi-autonomous lane assist. But what seals the deal is the fact that the Blue trim gets a higher range than the Limited, adding to the savings accrued.
There aren't many fuel-cell vehicles around, but it's these two that top the lists of the best available. However, there are differences. Honda leases the Clarity, while you can actually buy a Hyundai Nexo, with two choices of varying specification levels to suit your budget and desires, and with both trims comprehensively beating the Clarity for specification and luxury. The Nexo's infotainment is vastly better too, as is its 380-mile range. Not just that, but the Nexo drives better from a ride and handling perspective, and trades on the current fad of crossover styled vehicles, bringing with it the full-sized cargo bay of 29.6 cubic feet that simply decimates the Clarity's setup. The Nexo is the best fuel cell vehicle around.
Perhaps the Nexo's greatest rival comes rfom within the Hyundai stable, as the Kona Electric panders to the electric craze sweeping the world. While the Nexo offers greater convenience than the Kona from a refuel/recharge perspective, the Kona matches the Nexo for approcximate driving range. However, the Kona is smaller than the Nexo by some margin, and offers less seating room, less cargo volume, and less in the way of fancy features and innovative infotainment systems. But the Kona performs phenomenally - driving like a hot hatch rather than an eco-friendly electric crossover. However, what really seals things in favor of the Kona Electric is its nationwide availability, which we feel compensates sufficiently for the inconvenience of having to charge your vehicle overnight instead of stopping at a filling station.