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. While electric cars are largely seen as the future of the automobile, Hyundai hasn’t ruled out the hydrogen fuel cell and continues to develop the concept, with a particular focus on the fact that it takes just a few minutes to refuel, as a conventional combustion-powered car would. With a 380-mile range, the Nexo seeks to give buyers all the convenience of a combustion vehicle, none of the range-anxiety associated with electric drivetrains, and all of the environmental friendliness usually associated with an EV. But there are a few potential problems, such as the Nexo’s California-only availability, the relatively small hydrogen refueling network, and crucially, the fact that Hyundai’s own Kona EV is shaking up the EV world at nearly half the price.
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.
The Nexo is distinctive from the rest of the Hyundai line-up in more ways than one, but the most identifiable difference is the choice of grille design. 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. Above this is a chrome accent strip that spans the width of the front, extending into the narrow slit-like LED daytime running light clusters. 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 latter on the Nexo housed in a triangular cluster. Beneath these, cooling ducts are molded into the outboard edges of the front bumper, while an air intake on the lower front edge is framed by gray plastic cladding that extends around the entire lower edge of the body and wheel arches.
In side profile, the Nexo doesn’t challenge typical crossover design conventions, with cladding on the wheel arches and lower sills and lightly flared arches front and rear. These arches house standard 17-inch alloys on the Blue model and 19-inch wheels on the range-topping Nexo Limited. Silver roof rails frame the top edge, with a slightly sloping roofline towards the rear. Two areas of interest are the D-pillar with flying-buttresses and the door handles which lie flush with the doors of the Nexo. The A- and D-pillars also feature a slim black strip to give the Nexo a floating roof.
The rear of the Nexo features a narrow rear windscreen framed by a blacked-out integrated roof spoiler and curved body-colored tailgate. Triangular LED taillight clusters with clear lenses feature, as does body-colored ‘NEXO’ lettering across the tailgate. The gray cladding that surrounds the lower extremities of the Nexo’s body continues on the rear bumper, but extends higher, right to the lower edge of the tailgate, and houses the license plate within a trapezoidal cutout. As a sign of its eco-friendliness, the rear is completely devoid of any sort of exhaust outlet.
Aside from wheel size and design, the only other differentiating exterior cue between trims is the inclusion of a sunroof on the Limited trim.
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.
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.
But one of the key aspects to the Nexo’s hopeful success on behalf of FCEVs comes down to the ability to refuel in a matter of minutes, as you would in a conventional car. For 2019, Hyundai is estimating California will end up with more than 100 hydrogen filling stations. Of course, that still means you’ll need to plot routes carefully to ensure you’re able to fill up, but it takes a matter of minutes, and in the cheaper Nexo Blue, there’s an available range of 380 miles. That’s a leader in the FCEV segment, more than the 366-mile range of the Honda Clarity, but the range does drop in the Limited model to a still impressive 354-mile range. Importantly, unlike batteries which lose charge on an exponential scale over time, the Nexo can stand for extended periods of time with minimal losses, and cold weather has less of an effect on performance and overall range.
To put it all into traditional terms, the Blue achieves EPA-rated figures of a 65/58/61 mpg equivalent for the city/highway/combined cycles, while the Limited’s figures drop to 59/54/57 mpg equivalent on the same cycles.
While exterior styling cues may borrow from the Kona’s design elements, the interior of the Nexo is unlike any Hyundai you’ve seen before. A new twin-spoke steering wheel combines with horizontal dash design elements to give the Nexo a sense of space inside that makes it seem light, airy, and cavernously proportioned. That feeling is emphasized by the broad floating center stack, devoid of a shift lever due to a push-button selector, and the dual 12.3-inch displays that comprise the digital instrument cluster and infotainment system. It’s all very Mercedes-like, and the interface is fluid, the layout clean, and the ergonomics sound. It’s a win from Hyundai, here, and it blasts efforts from Toyota and Honda to smithereens. Synthetic leather is standard on both trims, and the materials - composed of numerous natural fibers and materials including bamboo and sugarcane - all feel high quality and solidly put together, all while reducing carbon emissions by 26 lbs in the process.
The interior is generously proportioned, and the lack of a transmission tunnel or driveshaft to the rear ensures legroom throughout is generous. Headroom is impressive too, for both front and rear occupants, and the Nexo will comfortably house five people. Standard eight-way power seat adjustment for the driver, including lumbar support, ensures a comfortable seating position, and like all of Hyundai’s recent crossover offerings, visibility is impressive. The front passenger seat is six-way power adjustable only, but both front seats are standard with heating, while the Limited trim gets ventilation as well.
In the way of interior technology, the dual 12.3-inch screens are standard on both models, and the standard infotainment features AM/FM/SiriusXM/HD Radio functionality along with full Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration. Navigation is also included, as are dual front USB charging ports, Bluetooth connectivity, three years of complimentary Blue Link connected car services, and a wireless charging pad for compatible devices. Standard on the Limited model you’ll also get a 440-watt Krell premium audio system with eight speakers and Live Dynamic Algorithm.
Unlike some battery electric vehicles and hybrids, Hyundai has managed to ensure the hydrogen tanks don’t impede on either passenger space or cargo volume. Behind the rear seats, there’s an available 29.6 cubic feet worth of space, which makes it the best of the fuel-cell brigade. The Clarity only offers a paltry 11.1 cubic feet while Toyota doesn’t disclose the volume in the Mirai. Compared to Hyundai’s other crossover offerings, the Kona provides 19.9 cubic feet of storage, while the Tucson’s 31 is only marginally larger than the Nexo’s available space. Still, the Nexo allows for a week’s worth of groceries or a couple of large suitcases to be stored quite easily, and the hands-free tailgate becoming a standard on Hyundai models makes access when your arms are full an easy and safe procedure on the Limited trim. The rear seats can fold as well, in a 60/40 split which increases the available storage to 56.5 cubic feet, which is again slightly less than the 61.9 afforded by the smaller Tucson.
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 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.
Hyundai is offering the Nexo in two highly-specified trims for the 2019 model, both of which are front-wheel drive and are powered by the zero-emission new fuel-cell/battery electric motor powertrain combination.
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. But the Nexo is pricey with the Blue model starting at $58,300 before incentives, which is about on par with the Toyota Mirai’s base price. The Blue is not only the most efficient model, but it also represents the best value for money which is why it’s our pick of the two trims.
The Nexo Limited is the range-topping trim and is priced at $61,800. It compromises a little on economy and range with a range of 354 miles due to the extra weight and specification, but offers some extra luxury, refinement, and safety. 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.
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.