One small leap for Hyundai, one giant leap for the automotive industry. Could the Nexo be the first mainstream hydrogen powered vehicle?
*** Note : £1 = $1.33 (correct at time of post)
- Priced from £60,000 (est)
- Release date Now
Another day, another family SUV review – nothing to get excited about, right? Wrong. You see, this might be yet another medium sized ‘crossover’ – albeit an adventurously styled and thoroughly futuristic looking example – but the Hyundai Nexo is also the first mass-produced and therefore widely available hydrogen powered car on sale in the United Kingdom.
Now, it’s at this point you might argue that the Toyota Mirai, launched three years ago, was the first fuel cell powered car available to purchase rather than to lease or loan. However, three years on and only 45 Mirai’s are currently registered on UK roads: a high list price and a complex manufacturing process acting as a natural bottleneck.
Indeed, even Hyundai (a manufacturer that has been developing fuel cells since 1998) struggled to produce its hydrogen powered ix35 FCEV in high numbers, with only a handful of left-hand drive examples making their way to the UK. Which is why Hyundai has taken a different approach with the Nexo.
Instead of being merely a hydrogen-powered variant of an existing model, like the ix35 FCEV, the Nexo has been engineered around a dedicated platform, which has allowed the engineers to package the fuel cell and accompanying addenda more tactically. The results, on paper at least, speak for themselves: the Nexo will be offered in right-hand drive, has boot space that is comparable to conventionally powered family SUVs and has decent space for passengers in the rear seats.
Oh, and did we mention Hyundai plans on selling thousands, as opposed to hundreds? Now that’s ambitious – just like the estimated £60,000 price tag.
2018 Hyundai Nexo on the road
We could go into some serious detail on how the Nexo’s hydrogen-powered fuel cell works, discussing the inner workings of the fuel stack, how the hydrogen atoms split into protons and electrons when they come into contact with an anode and how those electrons travel to an external circuit which operates the electric drive motor.
However, all of that is a little complicated for us – even if it is fascinating – and in reality, the two most important points you need to know are these: one, the Nexo drives like any other electric car, and two, the hydrogen set-up emits nothing but water. Let’s focus on that first point to start with.
Flex your right foot and the Nexo pulls way in near silence, the chirp of rubber slipping momentarily against tarmac as the car takes off from a standing start the only audible sign that you are indeed moving forward. At higher speeds, wind noise and a bit of road roar joins the medley of noises that would usually be drowned out by an internal combustion engine, but none are overly intrusive. In fact, the Nexo is far much more hushed than the iX35 it replaces thanks to its more aerodynamic shape and the improved efficiency of its drivetrain.
Indeed, it’s hard to think of a conventionally powered family SUV that’s as relaxing to drive in an inner-city environment. And with maximum torque available from a standstill, the Nexo feels very strong off the line – although current Tesla owners (and future i-Pace owners for that matter) are unlikely to be impressed with the Nexo’s official 0-62mph time of 9.2 seconds. Nor, we suspect, will they be that impressed with its handling.
This is a heavy car, and it feels it in the bends. Through moderately quick corners it feels recalcitrant and unwilling to change direction, and then leans noticeably when it finally does so. The steering is also a little difficult to key into, with inconsistent weighting at faster speeds and very little sense of connection with the front tyres – that said, the latter point could be levelled at most modern day SUVs.
In terms of ride, the Nexo is far more impressive, soaking up the majority of small bumps and undulations remarkably well. However, expansion joints and cracked surfaces do send the odd thump through the body.
That said, it does ride very well at higher speeds and its driver assistance tech should prove popular with safety conscious families. With active lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise activated, the Nexo will drive semi-autonomously, although we did find that you still need to steer the car gently to make smooth progress; unlike Nissan’s ProPilot system, if the lane-keep assist is left to its own devices (with your hands still on wheel, of course), it does have a habit of ‘pinballing’ beteween white lines rather than keeping you directly in the middle of your lane. Fingers crossed it gets a tweak before it arrives in the UK.
2018 Hyundai Nexo interior
Hyundai is not exactly known for its interior design, but the Nexo is no regular Hyundai. Step inside and you’re met with a dashboard that looks more reminiscent of high-end Lexus than a Tucson or Santa Fe. There’s perforated leather seats, a metallic floating centre console, a large 12.3-inch infotainment screen and a seven-inch display that’s located in the instrument binnacle, all of which help to give the Nexo some real pizzazz.
However, while the interior might look the part, it doesn’t necessarily feel the part. Like the BMW i3, Hyundai has used a number of sustainable materials to build the dashboard such as sugar cane and bamboo – but unlike the i3, you wouldn’t necessarily know it. Everything feels a little too plasticky, with hard materials used in a few too many places. This is an SUV that’ll cost over £55,000 after all.
And the infotainment system is also a bit of a mixed bag. We like the fact that it’s responsive and vast in size (12.3in to be exact), but the graphics aren’t quite as crisp as those offered by VW’s Discover systemas found in the Volkswagen Tiguan and it’s not all that intuitive to use. Granted, it does come with a rather cool feature, a blind-spot view monitor that displays (in the 7.0in screen that acts as the instrument binnacle) a live image of what’s behind you. It’s rather clever and works as promised, but we still found ourselves looking over our shoulders just in case.
And while we actually quite like the buttonfest on the centre console (as manual touch points are far easier to use on the move than a screen), we doubt buyers will be as impressed. After all, more or less every manufacturer is moving towards a touchscreen-dominated interior to get that minimalist feel that the buying public seemingly crave.
In terms of space, the Nexo continues to impress. It’s hard to tell from the pictures, but the Nexo is actually longer and fractionally wider than a Tucson, which equates to plenty of space both in the front and rear. Even the tallest of drivers should have plenty of room, plus the heated and cooled leather seats are wonderfully comfortable. Room in the second row of seats is also impressive with plenty of head and legroom, although fitting three full-sized adults in the rear might be a bit of a squeeze.
The boot, however, is slightly less impressive – well, at least from an objective standpoint. You see, the boot offers 471 litres of capacity, which is less than both the Volkswagen Tiguan and Peugeot 3008. However, when you consider that Hyundai’s engineers have had to package a trio of carbonfibre hydrogen tanks underneath the boot floor, those 471 litres suddenly begin to look pretty acceptable; it’s usefully larger than most hatchbacks. Factor in folding rear seats with a flat load area and the Nexo is actually a pretty decent load lugger.
As automotive journalists, we get to spend a lot of time chatting to engineers about breakthrough technological advancements and where they see the industry going in the next twenty years. And while electric propulsion is usually the most common theme of discussion, most engineers will admit that in the long run, hydrogen power is likely to play a big part in the future of the automotive industry.
Which really, shouldn’t come as much of a surprise – it’s easy to make a case in favour of hydrogen power. Take the Nexo for example: it produces zero tailpipe emissions, has a maximum theoretical maximum range of 497 miles, can be refuelled in minutes and even improves the ambient air quality by taking in ‘dirty air’ and emitting clean air – yes, really.
However, the Nexo, and all other hydrogen cars up until this point have faced two hurdles that show no sign of improving any time soon: cost and the availability of hydrogen filling stations. Now, that latter one is a major problem. With a Government that’s only just starting to focus on electric power, it’s going to be a very long time until we see their attention turn towards hydrogen propulsion. So for the time being, unless you live in London, you will be severely restricted when it comes to driving your Nexo long distances.
As for price, Hyundai estimates that the Nexo will come in at around £60,000. Good value, you could argue, if you compare the Nexo to what has come before. But in reality, we suspect that even early adopters will find that a steep price to pay to be at the cutting edge of fuel cell development. Especially when you can already purchase a zero emissions car that’s faster, better to drive and has the badge appeal to boot: namely, the new Jaguar I-Pace.
So in conclusion, the Nexo isn’t quite ready to take on the world just yet, but there is no getting away from the fact that Hyundai is committed to this technology and has been making making massive strides year on year. In fact, by 2025 Hyundai reckons they can get the price of its fuel cell vehicles down by at least 30%, thus making them competitive with petrol and diesel models.
Until then, however, the Nexo really is reserved for those dedicated few who want to experience a slice of tomorrow today.