by Michael Butler
When Hyundai first entered the US market on the 20th of February 1986, it brought with it the monumentally forgettable Excel, which wasn't even as cool as the Microsoft program of the same name. Fast forward 34 years and Hyundai is at the cutting edge of eco-friendly motoring, selling the only hydrogen-powered SUV on US soil. That's an impressive leap forward by most standards. The Hyundai Nexo, first introduced in 2019, offers us a peek into the near future, where most cars won't produce any toxic emissions, only friendly smiles, and H20. We appreciate the mountains of standard features, competent power delivery, excellent gas mileage, and class-leading levels of safety; we just wish we could get one outside of California.
The Nexo was an all-new model for 2019, so the new decade brings with it minimal changes to the world's first dedicated hydrogen-powered SUV. The base model, named Nexo Blue, now includes a rear cargo cover and rear privacy glass, and the top-spec Limited model sees the addition of rain-sensing window wipers.
For a car that's so technologically advanced, the 2020 Nexo sure looks awfully plain: if it wasn't for the swooping headlight setup, the front would look as dull as most 2010-era compact SUVs, and the side profile does nothing for us. With that being said, it doesn't look all that bad, and many buyers will appreciate the contemporary, but not overly loud styling. Thankfully, Hyundai has supplemented the exterior with a basket of features that makes up for the tiresome looks. In front, the auto LED headlights get high beam assist, and there's a set of daytime running lights as well. The side mirrors are heated and finished off in a glossy black, while the auto-retracting door handles sit flush with the body. A power-tilt sunroof (only standard on the Limited) opens up the interior nicely, and a set of standard roof rails is great news for those environmentally conscious surfers and weekend bike riders. The hands-free smart liftgate with an auto-open and adjustable height setting is a boon for parents who only have the use of one hand, although this feature is also reserved for the Limited trim.
This crossover SUV is much larger than its Kona and Tucson siblings, measuring 183.9 inches in length, compared to the 176.4 of the Tucson, with a wheelbase of 109.8 inches. Excluding the mirrors, the Nexo is 73.2 inches wide and sits 64.2 inches off the ground, rising to 64.6 when you include the roof rack side rails. For an SUV of its size, the 2020 Hyundai Nexo weighs in at a respectable 3,990 pounds in base form, over 600 pounds heavier than the lightest Tucson, and rises to 4,116 for the top-of-the-range Limited model.
For a car that sets the trend in modern propulsion, the 2020 Hyundai Nexo sure loves being underdressed and reminds us of a young Swedish climate activist who also loves to show extreme restraint when it comes to fashion. The exterior paint palette of the Hyundai Nexo consists of only four colors, which are shared between the base model and the top-spec car. New owners will be able to choose between White Pearl, Cocoon Silver, Dusk Blue and Copper Metallic. If it were our choice to make, we'd have one in Cocoon Silver; it highlights the few curves on show, and its almost matte-like finish gives the Nexo a bit of a futuristic spin.
All this talk of hydrogen fuel cells and hybrid batteries sounds great for fuel economy but won't convince anyone that the Nexo will be able to rival its gas-powered rivals in terms of outright performance. As with so many hybrid cars focused on economy instead of performance, the Nexo isn't the most exhilarating thing to drive fast, but it will get there just as fast as its rivals; independent tests have shown figures of 8.4 seconds to sixty, which is about as fast as a 1982 Ferrari Mondial 8, enough for the Nexo tol stick with its gas-powered class members. The 2020 Hyundai Nexo will reach a maximum speed of 111 mph. In the city, it is powerful enough to comfortably take gaps in traffic, and thanks to the low-down torque offered by the electric motor, it's nippy off the line. Out on the open road, things are less impressive; you'll be able to merge onto the highway just fine, but once up to speed, the Nexo runs out of breath at around 80 mph.
The Nexo is Hyundai's technological flagship of its eco-vehicle portfolio and is the only mass-produced fuel cell SUV for the U.S. market. Hyundai firmly believes that their hydrogen technology is the key to building a better future for us all; we'll let the car do the talking. The Nexo's 95-kW fuel-cell stack with 440 individual cells, and a 40-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack power an electric motor, and develops a commendable 161 horsepower with 291 lb-ft of torque which is available from the word go. The powertrain offers a system efficiency of 60%. The magic behind the Nexo's powertrain is the chemical reaction that takes place between hydrogen and oxygen, and unlike traditional EVs, the Nexo's hydrogen system allows for refueling in mere minutes. Power is sent to the front wheels via a single-speed automatic transmission, which provides seamless power delivery, making the most of the Nexo's modest power outputs. The Nexo can be run in three modes, namely comfort, eco and eco plus. We found that eco mode struck the best balance between power delivery and economy.
This Hydrogen fuel cell-powered SUV won't blow you away with its handling prowess, and will most likely never find its way onto a race track, so Hyundai has focused on what is most important to their target market: comfort. The suspension setup feels in line with the rest of Hyundai's SUV lineup; there is minimal body roll but the ride is not overly stiff, impressive stuff for an SUV of this size. Push the Nexo too hard and it will slowly start to understeer in the same fashion as other FWD SUVs. Steering is light, as you'd expect from a city-slicking SUV, but it feels steady enough and communicates well at highway speeds. So the Nexo is easy to drive and is entirely predictable at the limit, but make no mistake, this tech-savvy SUV is no thrill to drive at any speed.
The biggest reason anyone will want to spend their hard-earned dollars on a Hyundai Nexo is for the excellent fuel economy, but before we go any further it's important to note that the Hyundai Nexo is only sold in California metro areas, and even there, the hydrogen refueling network is still in its infancy, so owning one outside of the Sunny state will not be a simple affair. To the numbers: the most efficient Nexo in the range is the base model, which has a claimed maximum range of 380 miles, dropping down to 354 miles for the more substantial, but better equipped Limited model. The base model will return an estimated 65/58/61 MPGe city/highway/combined while the less efficient Limited will get 59/47/57 MPGe. What makes the hydrogen powertrain so attractive is the fact that you don't need to wait hours for the batteries to recharge; simply top up the hydrogen tanks, and you're off! The Nexo holds 41.4 gallons of hydrogen.
The exterior of the 2020 Hyundai Nexo might not be groundbreaking in terms of its styling, but the interior is definitely a closer match for the high-tech Nexo and takes a clear step away from the rest of the Hyundai range. Notable features such as a two-spoke steering wheel and broad center dash console make the Nexo look like something out of a near-future episode of Black Mirror. We like it, especially with the Limited's standard sunroof, which adds a sense of airy roominess to the cabin. As with other Hyundai cars, the Nexo is absolutely stuffed with standard features: both models get an eight-way heated and power-adjustable driver's seat with power lumbar support, with Limited models also getting ventilated front seats. Both models are equipped with a rearview monitor with parking guidance, an electronic parking brake, wireless phone charging, automatic climate control, remote keyless entry and proximity key entry with push-button start. Limited models add premium features such as a surround-view camera monitor, a heated steering wheel and remote smart parking assist.
The Nexo won't have any trouble gobbling up five average-sized adults and their vegan picnic baskets: its crossover SUV exterior styling means it offers good headroom as well as legroom, and its lifted ride height and standard side steps make it easy to get in and out of the cabin. Headroom measures in at a spacious 39.4 inches in the front and 38 inches in the rear; more than enough for six-footers. Legroom in the front measures 41.5 inches and those in the back will be happy to hear that there is a roomy 38.6 inches of legroom behind the front seats. There's 57.2 inches of shoulder room in the front, 55.5 in the rear, and hip room is measured at 54/53.5 inches front/rear.
Officially, the 2020 Hyundai Nexo is offered with Stone Gray or Meteor Blue synthetic leather upholstery, but that's only a fraction of the story; the eco-friendly Nexo not only cares about engine emissions and fuel economy but takes a holistic approach in everything it does. The Nexo uses a large number of eco-friendly materials in its construction: there are traces of soybean-oil based polyurethane paint, sugar-cane sourced bio-plastic, bamboo-thread-based bio fabric, and bio-carpet extracted from sugar cane. These strange and fantastic materials have been used in close to fifty different parts of the Nexo's construction, and according to Hyundai, has reduced CO2 emissions by 26 lbs.
Not only is this Hydrogen-powered Korean an eco-friendly tour de force, but it's also a practical companion that will easily swallow all the hot air produced by your vegan friends. With the rear seats in their upright position, the 2020 Nexo will offer 29.6 cubic feet of space, almost double the space offered in a BMW X3 hybrid, and with the 60/40 Split flat rear seatback folded down, that space opens up by 26.9 cubic feet for a grand total of 56.5 cubic feet, that's more than you get in both the Lexus NX Hybrid and BMW X3 Hybrid. Small items get stored in the center console storage bin, glove compartment and door side pockets front and rear. Backseat passengers also get a set of seatback pockets.
As a flagship model in the already impressive Hyundai lineup, you can be assured that the 2020 Nexo is packed with everything that opens and closes. The exterior gets full auto LED headlights and daytime running lights with high beam assist as well as a hands-free smart liftgate (only on the Limited) with auto open and adjustable height setting for increased practicality. The interior is where the party really gets going: front passengers get to enjoy a heated and ventilated eight-way power driver's seat and six-way passenger seat with power lumbar control. The ventilation is restricted to the Limited trim, though. All Nexo models come with a standard rearview monitor with parking guidance, electronic parking brake, automatic temperature control, as well as a remote keyless entry system and a proximity key entry with push-button start. Limited models get a standard heated steering wheel and surround-view camera system. Active driver assistance features such as forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection and blind-spot collision warning are standard across the range.
The highlight of the Nexo's futuristic interior is the large 12.3-inch color touchscreen, which is nestled right next to the seven-inch TFT LCD instrument cluster. The infotainment screen displays images and menu transitions in crisp clarity. Industry standards such as AM/FM, SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio and Bluetooth streaming are all included. The Nexo also gets integrated navigation, but we prefer to be navigated through the standard Apple CarPlay or Android Auto systems. Hyundai has gone all out with Blue Link services: you get a full Connected Car System with a three-year subscription to Car Care, including their remote and navigation package. Limited trim cars get an upgraded sound system: a 440-watt Krell eight-channel external amp and eight speakers is boosted by an eight-inch subwoofer and delivers beautifully rich tones. We'd recommend the Blue Whale mating sounds greatest hits album of 1984-2003 to appreciate the system's capabilities fully.
The Hyundai Nexo was only released last year, so it's still fresh and has not been subject to any recalls. Hyundai enjoys an excellent reliability rating and was awarded the J.D. Power quality award as well as the J.D. Power dependability awarded to brands that had the fewest problems reported by 100 car owners during the last 12 months. Hyundai backs the Nexo with its traditionally extensive five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, which includes a seven-year/unlimited-mile corrosion warranty, a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty as well as a five-year/100,000-mile warranty on all hybrid components.
Fuel economy and zero emissions are all good and well, but it's of no use if the Nexo can't keep its occupants safe in case of a serious accident. Thankfully Hyundai has been at the forefront of automotive safety over the last couple of years, and are consistently one of the best-scoring manufacturers in NHTSA and IIHS safety rating tests. The Nexo isn't a cheap car, so it would be understandable if rating agencies shy away from destroying one, and that's precisely what the NHTSA has done. Still, the IIHS has taken it upon themselves to smash up one of these high-tech water vapor squirters. The IIHS found that the 2019 Nexo is one of the safest cars on the road, and awarded it with the coveted Top Safety Pick Plus award. With a mountain of standard safety tech, you can be assured that the Nexo will keep you in one piece.
The 2020 Hyundai Nexo proudly wears a Top Safety Pick Plus award from the IIHS on its collar, so you can believe us when we say that this crossover SUV is absolutely crammed with the latest safety features. Both Blue and Limited cars get standard forward collision-avoidance assistance with pedestrian detection, blind-spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic collision warning as well as front and rear park-distance warning, and lane follow assist with lane-keeping assistance and departure warning. This impressive list of features continues with standard driver attention warning and high-beam assist. Industry standards such as traction and stability control are present, as is ABS braking. Limited models also get a standard blind-spot view monitor and a surround-view monitor. The Nexo offers its occupants a driver, and front passenger advanced airbag, front seat-mounted side-impact airbags, and roof-mounted side-curtain airbags with rollover sensors for a grand total of six airbags.
The Nexo is a first for Hyundai as a brand, and the first mass-produced fuel cell SUV for the U.S. market, so there was a lot riding on it when it was first introduced last year. Fast forward to 2020, and the Nexo only sees the addition of a few minor updates, but the recipe stays the same; you get a comfortable and super practical SUV that does everything its competitors can do but does it while spewing water out its backside. Some might shy away from the Nexo due to its high asking price and the fact that it's only available in California, so if you're stationed elsewhere, you might want to jog on. The exterior of the Nexo doesn't blow us away, but it features tech such as an auto liftgate and high beam assist. Things get better once you step inside the cabin; the Nexo moves away from the traditional Hyundai interior design language and looks great with its two-spoke steering wheel and sci-fi center console. Out on the road, it's not the most fun to drive, but you won't care much when you're getting 65/58/61 MPGe city/highway/combined. With an impressive safety record and thorough warranty, the Nexo might be a bit pricey, but it gives us a good glimpse into the near future.
New technology is always expensive. Look at the price of 3D printers, for instance - when they were first introduced, you were looking at paying thousands of dollars for a basic setup, but these days a simple machine can cost you as little as $500 or even less. So with that in mind, let's talk about the 2020 Hyundai Nexo's asking price. The base model starts off at an eye-watering $58,300 which excludes registration, taxes and a destination fee of $1,095. For that type of money, you could be cruising in a brand new BMW X5 sDrive40i with over 300 hp, but you wouldn't be making the world a better place now, would you? The top-spec Limited Nexo starts at $61,800, which is around the same price as a Dodge Challenger Hellcat with over 700 hp and enough testosterone to turn tofu into ground beef at the flick of a toe. Luckily for potential buyers, the Nexo comes as is, so there are no hidden costs.
Hyundai has kept things simple; you can get your 2020 Nexo in two trim configurations, namely Blue and Limited. The Blue is the base model of the range, but shares the majority of its features with the Limited, and offers better gas mileage than the heavier Limited. All Nexo SUVs are powered by the same hydrogen-electric powertrain, which develops 161 horsepower with 291 lb-ft and sends its power to the front wheels via a single-speed gearbox. Both models share the majority of their exterior features, such as LED headlights with high beam assist, privacy glass and integrated flush door handles. The Limited gets a standard power sunroof, roof rails, and a hands-free smart liftgate with an auto-open and adjustable height setting. Inside, both cars get an eight-way power-adjustable driver and six-way adjustable passenger seat with heating, a 12.3-inch touchscreen display with SiriusXM satellite radio and Apple CarPlay and Android Integration. Limited models add ventilated front seats, a surround-view monitor, a premium Krell sound system with eight speakers, as well as a heated steering wheel and remote smart parking assist. On the safety side, both cars feature tech such as forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic assistance, and driver attention warning, while Limited models add a blind-spot view monitor.
With only two trim levels on offer, Hyundai has packed both models full of premium features, virtually eliminating the need for an options list. The base model includes the majority of features found on the Limited model, but for those who want the full experience, the Limited model adds features such as a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, a hands-free smart liftgate with auto open, ventilated seats, a premium sound system, surround-view monitor and blind-spot view monitor.
Although both Nexo trim levels pack a hefty punch in terms of standard features, the Limited model gets some choice equipment that makes it feel noticeably more premium, and with a price difference of only $3,500, we think it's well worth the extra money. So for that extra three and a half grand, what do you get? First off, the exterior of the Limited Nexo gets a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, roof rails, and a hands-free smart liftgate with auto open. Moving to the inside, Limited models gain ventilated front seats, a premium Krell sound system, a heated steering wheel, surround-view monitor and auto parking. On the safety side, the Limited adds a blind-spot monitor. Well worth the added cost, we say.
We like the Hyundai Kona very much; it's a fun looking subcompact crossover SUV with a lot going for it, and at almost half the price of the Nexo, it will appeal to everyone outside of the state of California. The Kona is powered by a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter four-pot in base configuration which produces 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque, returning 27/33/30 mpg city/highway/combined. Our engine of choice, however, would be the 1.6-liter turbo-four, which offers 175 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque and a base model equalling 30 mpg combined. You'll notice that the Kona lacks any sort of hybrid technology. It is also a much smaller car, measuring only 164 inches in length compared to the Nexo's 183.9 inches, and that translates to the interior, where the Kona is outclassed in terms of passenger space and cargo capacity. On the road, the Kona is a more enjoyable car to chuck around, but at half the price, you also get fewer standard features. The Kona is just as safe as the Nexo, and also comes with an impressive warranty. If you're looking for something more affordable, or you live outside the state of California, get the Kona.
The Tucson is arguably the best looking SUV in the Hyundai range, or to be precise, compact crossover SUV. It's smaller than the Nexo by quite a few inches in all directions but will seat the same five adults. Unfortunately, the Tucson isn't available with any modern turbo-petrol or hybrid powertrain options; instead, you get a naturally aspirated 2.0 or 2.4-liter four-cylinder with outputs ranging between 161 hp and 181 hp. Fuel economy likewise ranges from a best of 23/28/25 mpg city/highway/combined for the SE FWD, to a worst of 21/26/23 mpg for the Ultimate AWD. The interior design of the 2020 Hyundai Tucson is more in line with the rest of the Hyundai range, which is to say a clean and functional space that doesn't dazzle but gets the job done in subtle class. Interior and trunk space is down on the Nexo, but not by much. Out on the road, the Tucson drives beautifully, soaking up bumps at low and high speeds, but its naturally-aspirated engines can't keep up with modern turbo cars. The Tucson is a good deal cheaper than the Nexo with a starting price of only $23,550. If you're looking for a capable city SUV that won't break the bank, get the Tucson.