by Roger Biermann
The Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell is available only on a 36-month lease – with a down payment of $2 999 and a monthly fee of $499. Thereafter, all maintenance is taken care of, and you can refuel as many times as you want, for free. Zip, zero, nada; and you get special dispensation to drive in the HOV lanes. But there's a caveat – you can only buy the Tucson Fuel Cell in California, and you can only fill it up at one of the 40 state-owned hydrogen fueling stations in the country (private ones too if you find one) – 36 of which are in California.
The Tucson Fuel Cell is based on the Tucson – but the previous generation Tucson. That means that although there's space for 5 occupants inside, the cabin is incredibly dated – it nearly was when the Tucson first launched. The dash is packed with harsh grey plastics, and the leather feels faux. The leather clad steering wheel is large and feels cheap and the infotainment screen's graphics and low quality to match the low quality operating system.
The rear-mounted hydrogen tank – one of two – and the central-mounted battery impede interior room – consuming 0.6-inches of rear leg room and 1.9 cubic feet worth of cargo capacity – now at 23.8 cubic feet, but the rear seats fold in a 60/40 split to increase this to 53.8 cubic feet. It's a minimal price to pay, and no less than other BEVs and PHEVs based on regular road-going vehicles.
The Tucson Fuel Cell may look like an ordinary Tucson, but it doesn't drive like one – it drives better. It's likely due to the extra weight mounted low in the car, that not only lowers the center of gravity but primes the suspension just a little so it's sprung and ready to go at all times. The ride quality is supple and smooth, and the crossover suspension travel soaks up almost all bumps entirely. But despite the extra travel, body roll is minimal and body control is exceptional. The steering is relatively lightweight and it's easy to manipulate the Tucson in parking lots, without it being too light on the open road.
The ride quality does an excellent job of isolating occupants from the chaos of the road – and sound insulation is impressive enough to add another layer of refinement to the Tucson Fuel Cell's overall demeanor.
Hydrogen Fuel Cell technology strips highly pressurized hydrogen of its electrons, passing it through a membrane, where it then reacts with fresh air to generate electricity, with the only byproduct being water. The electricity generated is either stored in the 0.95kWh lithium-ion battery or sent directly to the 136 horsepower, 221 lb-ft of torque electric motor driving the front wheels through a single-speed transmission. Topping up the 12.4 pound capacity hydrogen tanks takes just 10 minutes, giving a range of 265 miles for an EPA-measured MPGe rating of 49/51 city/highway, offering better range and more convenience than traditional battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
Tilt and telescopic steering are standard, as are air conditioning, leather upholstery, a trip computer, and a Bluetooth compatible audio system – though don't expect Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. The system also features navigation – though it's a slow, dated system – again the curse of being based on a 2009 model car. In terms of safety, the hydrogen tanks are protected by carbon fiber shielding, and the Tucson Fuel Cell features ABS brakes, electronic stability control, traction control, hill start control, and airbags. The Tucson Fuel Cell hasn't been crash tested, but the regular Tucson upon which it's based scored 4 stars out of 5 in NHTSA testing.
The Tucson Fuel Cell offers the same, if not fewer emissions than traditional BEVs, but it offers the convenience of 10 minute fill-ups when you're running low. The downside is the limited infrastructure, and that the Tucson Fuel Cell is more than a generation old now. Still, electric vehicles may not be the only path to the future…