2019 Hyundai Nexo Fuel Cell First Drive

OCT 18 2018 BY TOM MOLOUGHNEY 19

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Too bad it’s so difficult and expensive to get it into your fuel tank.

When I received the invitation to attend the Hyundai Kona Electric & Hyundai Nexo Fuel Cell press drive event I have to admit I was hoping I could manage to spend more time with the Kona Electric than the Nexo Fuel Cell.

That wasn’t because I hate fuel cell vehicles, because I don’t. I just have a hard time believing that they will ever be as efficient and as convenient as pure electric cars, and I really don’t think we’ll ever have enough infrastructure installed to make them a real viable alternative. Plus, I have been anxiously waiting to get behind the wheel of a Kona Electric, as I have been planning on getting one myself.

As the press event worked out, Hyundai arranged for all of us to have equal time behind the wheel of both vehicles; there wasn’t really any way to get around it. Half the day would be in a Nexo Fuel Cell, and the other half in a Kona Electric. I elected to take the Nexo first, and have the second half of the day with the Kona.

The Hyundai Nexo has a self parking option, demonstrated here by a Hyundai representative

The planned route took us from our hotel through bumper to bumper Los Angeles city traffic for a while, before a stint on the highway, and finally ending up on the winding roads of Topanga Canyon. The Nexo isn’t a quick vehicle, and actually seemed a little slower than Hyundai’s claimed 0-60 time of 9.2 seconds. The Nexo weighs between 3,990 and 4,116 pounds depending on trim, and the motor’s 161 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque are adequate while driving around town, but definitely underwhelming at higher speeds.

There really isn’t much oomph at highway speeds when you punch the accelerator, and I asked Dr. Bo Ki Hong, a fuel-cell specialist for Hyundai who was riding along with me in the Nexo, if they could improve the performance. He said that it would be “challenging” to get much more power delivery. It is worth to note that Hyundai did improve the performance of the Nexo over their previous hydrogen-powered offering, the Tucson Fuel Cell. The Tucson needed a full twelve seconds to reach 60 mph.

But it’s not all bad news for the Nexo. Besides the mediocre power, the Nexo is actually a real pleasure to drive. The seats were very comfortable, and I really loved the instrumentation as well as the center console. The driver’s display and the center display screens are connected into one unit, even though they work as two independent screens. I liked the layout, both for display and aesthetics.

The Nexo's interior is comfortable and has a premium feel

Hyundai Nexo Interior

It actually felt like I was driving a vehicle from high-end premium manufacturer. To reduce noise, Hyundai used triple-layer noise-reducing glass on the windshield and front windows, and the result is a serene cabin experience. The journalist I was partnered with felt the same way and said Hyundai should rename it the “Chill,” because it was so smooth, quiet and comfortable. The handling was compromised by the low-rolling resistance tires, but the vehicle exhibited very little body-roll and took the winding mountain roads of Topanga Canyon well.

Hyundai was also able to lower the rear floor of the Nexo as compared to the Tucson by using three smaller Hydrogen tanks, instead of the two larger ones in the Tucson. Two of the tanks are under the rear seat, and one is under the load bay. The Nexo utilized a 1.56-kilowatt-hour battery pack, and can store 6.33 kg (13.8 gallons) of hydrogen.

If I were in the market for a Hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, I believe this would be my choice – by a wide margin over the Toyota Mirai or Honda Clarity, both of which I’ve had the opportunity to ride in. The ride quality, comfort, luxury and utility of a CUV make the Nexo the clear fuel cell winner in my book. It’s worlds better than Hyundai’s previous fuel cell offering, the Tucson. The Nexo also has a longer range than the fuel cell offerings from Toyota and Honda, with 380 miles of range compared to 312 for the Mirai and 366 for the Clarity. But the 380 miles of range is only possible with the base trim called “Blue.”  The “limited” trim adds weight and larger wheels which reduces the range to 354 miles.

The Nexo interior is spacious and has a premium feel

But that only matters if you can find a hydrogen refueling station, of which there aren’t many. California now has 35 operating hydrogen stations, and that’s pretty much the only place in the country where there are H2 stations available to the public. That’s OK since the Nexo will only be available in California. We even had the opportunity to visit an H2 station and refuel a Nexo. The cost of the Hydrogen at this station was $17.50/kg. That means refueling an empty Nexo would cost $110 which divides out to a fuel cost of 29 cents per mile. That’s about three times more than a comparable efficient gasoline crossover would cost to fuel and between five and ten times more than the Kona Electric would cost to recharge, depending on where you live.

To offset the high cost of Hydrogen, Hyundai is giving Nexo owners a credit card that gives them $5,000 of free Hydrogen. Both Toyota and Honda have similar hydrogen subsidy programs for their fuel cell customers. Hyundai hasn’t released pricing for the Nexo, but it is expected to be about $55,000, making it a tough sell when you consider the competition in that price range.

A 2019 Hyundai Nexo fuel cell at a hydrogen refueling station in California

This is the real reason why I’m not so high on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. I’d really like to believe they have a future as a piece of the puzzle to move the world off of fossil fuels, but I just don’t see how they can compete with pure electric cars in the long run. When we were at the Hydrogen refueling station, I looked at the truck delivering the H2, the storage tanks they were pumping it into, then the piping that took the H2 to another smaller storage tank, then more piping to bring it to the pump. Then I thought about my home solar array and how I just plug my car in, and the electricity made by sunlight trickles into my battery. The thought of that made the H2 station look like a crazy Rube Goldberg device of inefficiency. Maybe that will change some day.

8 photos
Hyundai NEXO FCEV Hyundai NEXO FCEV

Categories: Hyundai, Test Drives

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19 Comments on "2019 Hyundai Nexo Fuel Cell First Drive"

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SJC

I like the console.
They can make hydrogen from renewable methane at lower cost.

John Doe

Yeah, but they should be forced to make it out of renewable resourses like solar, wind and hydro.
It is already make that way many places, and the new hydrogen stations in California will mostly be made that way.

The main advantage with hydrogen fuel cell is the green option. . or else they could just use natural gas and a “normal” ICE engine.

SJC

Six negative votes? Really…get a life.

John

So, essentially under-powered, expensive, $55k purchase price, $110 to fill, and extremely limited on fueling locations??? Gee, can I buy 2?

Prsnep

Did you say this about electric cars 8 years ago?

Do Not Read Between The Lines

No, they’d have said. “Apart from the Tesla Roadster, which is extremely expensive, they’re under-powered, have too short a range and they cost over $30k., so are expensive for what they offer. The low fuel cost won’t pay off. I’ll get a Volt. It’s $41k, but at least with the gasoline range extender I don’t have to worry about refueling infrastructure on longer trips, and the OK fuel economy in hybrid mode means it’s not expensive for those extra miles.”

JoeInTheUK

And in 8 years from now, H2 will still cost 3x pure electric, pure EVs will be even cheaper than FCEVs because battery prices will be lower and range and charging speed will be comparable with H2. And the electric car can be charged at most people’s houses. Whereas that’s never going to happen with H2.

John

No, because electrics didn’t really exist 8 years ago. And if they cost $110 to fill and I couldn’t do it from my house I would’ve said it, though. However, I did buy a 2012 Leaf, which was only 2 years after that. And it didn’t cost $110 to fill. Sorry, I completely missed your point.

zzzzzzzzzz

2012 Leaf was around $35k, and was barely being able to make 100 miles. Why do you care about “$110 to fill” when you yourself paid $20,000 premium for a smaller car with no range to reach every destination? This “$110 to fill” is $10,000 per 36,000 lease miles, half of which is prepaid by Hyundai. Remaining $5,000 is basically the same as 21-25 mpg Hyundai Santa Fe at $3/gal for the same 36,000 miles.

And this is decent and comfortable SUV/crossover with 380 mile range electric drive, not limited urban runabout car.

Do Not Read Between The Lines

What’s the book on:
1) total number of comments?
2) total number of uses of “fool cells”?

Even at 5 credits per HFCV, the ramp of CARB mandates and their 4% market share would mean having to offer cheap leases with a growth rate of around 1,000 per year. That’s $1M for every $1,000 of loss. Given $5k maximum cost per credit that could be an extra $5M each year.

But, they’re chasing a moving target in BEVs, so they might find it increasingly difficult to move the HFCVs.

BoltEV (was SparkEV)

Tom, since you don’t pay CA taxes, you can afford to say you’re neutral about FCEV. But as a tax payer in highest taxed state, and that money is wasted on subsidizing cars that cost 2X to 3X that of gasoline that will be crushed after 3 years or less of use due to high fuel cost after free period runs out, I have nothing but hate for FCEV.

For $5000 in free fuel and $0.29/mi, that’s about 17K miles. What do people do after 17K miles, continue to pay $17.50/kg or just dump it? This car should cost $25k like other comparable gassers AND come with $50,000 worth of free fuel to compensate for lack of H station inconvenience to compete. Basically, Hyundai should give $25K with every car “purchase”

Mike

I too have to wonder how many they will sell with only including 1 year of fuel. BTW, if you use the math on the higher trim level it only does 250 miles of range. That means $5000 worth of fuel only covers 12,500 miles. 🙁

Nick

They will sell 3. Simple Venn diagram, those with plenty of cash and nutters.

Bill Howland

Not sure if you are but it seems likely California Taxpayers are also financing the incredibly EXPENSIVE, horribly UNRELIABLE dispensary stations.

Nick

“Besides the mediocre power, the Nexo is actually a real pleasure to drive. The seats were very comfortable, and I really loved the instrumentation as well as the center console”.

At least they have prepared the interior for a decent electric car.

Joe J

Since FCEVs are essentially still electric vehicles, I wonder if the DIY community will see about making them pure BEVs after the free hydrogen credit is gone, or the hydrogen experiment is over (whichever comes first). People can already PURCHASE a Toyota Mirai, and at the current rate, it looks like BEVs will be advancing at a much faster pace. The Nexo is a sharp car. If someone could rip out all of that hydrogen crap and expand on its tiny battery buffer, it could have the potential to be a decent EV. Since hydrogen is expensive, the usable region is limited, and the fact that the tanks have an expiration date, I can’t imagine that their resale value on the used market would be all that high. If that’s the case, I can see these things rolling down the road years later albeit powered just on electricity.

Bill Howland

Just think how much more CHOICE We’d all have if automakers put the cash they’re putting into development of these Silly H2 things that NEVER sell worth beans and put the same amount of cash instead into EV vehicles.

Hydrogen Industry proponents will no doubt say “But we need to gain experience with zero emission vehicles!”.

I say fine – develop your fuel cells at your expense, the electric car portion of the car will be optimized by the time you guys really have anything worth buying. Until then, we’ll all take more EV’s since I don’t think Hydrogen will be practical in most areas of the states in my Lifetime.

CNG and LNG seem much more efficient, direct, low cost, and practical use of Methane – for those who want to push their cars that way. But no one in the states is the slightest bit interested in it anymore – although it holds much more promise than silly H2.

Jim Kirk may have H2 powered cars when he gets off his Ion-powered starship – but I think both in the 21st century are more or less science-fiction.

LeslieM37

The author “thought about my home solar array and how I just plug my car in, and the electricity made by sunlight trickles into my battery” – as if everyone around the world can do this.

Absurd.

Furthermore, imagine those road trips where you can’t “just plug your car in” , you actually need more range. You finally get to the one supercharger in 100 miles and there’s a line. There goes 3 hours. I don’t know about the author, but my time is valuable.