The 2019 Hyundai Nexo is currently the only SUV-powered by a fuel cell. Yes, there was the Hyundai Tucson fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV), but that was discontinued. The Nexo incorporates some of the lessons learned and expertise gained from its Tucson predecessor, and moves the whole game on by several steps.
Dimensions-wise, the Nexo is on the generous side of compact, with seating for five. Maximum range is 380 miles and Hyundai says a full replenishment of the Nexo’s 3-hydrogen tanks takes just five minutes.
A quick (and extremely basic) reminder on how a fuel cell works. It’s essentially a metal box with special polymer membranes inside. Hydrogen is passed through these membranes, causing a chemical reaction that creates electricity. This energy then either powers the vehicle’s electric motor or is stored in a battery for later use.
There’s a school of thought that hydrogen is the fuel of the future, but the supply infrastructure is still in its infancy. And even that description could be construed as generous. The plan is to have 59 hydrogen fueling stations in California by 2020, which still isn’t that many.
The Nexo, however, definitely feels like a vehicle of the future. It’s extremely rich with technology, especially in the driver-assistance department. Even the "base" Blue version has active blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control with stop/go, lane-following assistance and a forward-collision warning system with automatic emergency braking. There’s also a digital driver information display, retracting door handles and driver attention monitoring. The Limited trim has a self-parking feature and a 360-degree camera system.
Some of the materials used were created with ecology in mind. For example, polyurethane paint based on soybean oil, fabric fashioned from bamboo thread and plastics derived from sugar cane. Even the simulated leather upholstery is vegan-friendly.
Acquiring a new Nexo is not as straightforward as walking into the nearest Hyundai dealership and choosing a color. It’s only available from certain outlets in Los Angeles, Orange County and Northern California.
What’s New for 2019?
The Nexo FCEV is totally new. See the 2019 Hyundai Nexo models for sale
What We Like
- The only emission is water
- Virtually silent operation
- Solo driving in the carpool lane
- Long range, up to 380 miles
- High safety scores
What We Don’t
- Only available in some parts of California
- Patchy hydrogen fuel supply
$59,395-$62,895. The state of California offers a rebate up to $5,000. Hyundai will also be providing hydrogen fueling cards valid for the first three years of ownership, worth about $13,000.
At this time, most fuel cell vehicles are leased. Hyundai offers a deal on the entry-level Blue version of $399 a month for 36 months, with $2,999 due at signing.
An electric motor developing 161 horsepower and 291 lb-ft of torque drives the front wheels. For comparison, the 2019 Tucson offers either 161 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque, or 181 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque. Note that the Nexo’s torque figure is much healthier, as torque is the amount of thrust we feel when accelerating. That’s just one positive trait of electric motors.
Electricity from the fuel cell, plus from the regenerative brakes, is stored in a lithium-ion polymer battery.
The Environmental Protection Agency has its own way of working out energy consumption and comparing it with vehicles using internal combustion, called miles per gallon equivalent, or MPGe.
The 2019 Nexo in the entry-level Blue trim is rated at 65 MPGe in the city, 58 MPGe on the highway and 61 MPGe in combined driving. The higher Limited trim is estimated to achieve 59 MPGe city/54 MPGe hwy/57 MPGe combined.
That’s all a bit academic, since range is a more crucial, real-world issue. The Blue model can cover 380 miles, which is better than any other FCEV or all-electric vehicle, while the Limited trim’s range is a still-respectable 354 miles.
Standard Features and Options
The 2019 Hyundai Nexo fuel cell-powered SUV/crossover comes in Blue and Limited trim levels.
The Blue ($59,395) has 17-in alloy wheels, LED exterior lighting, power-folding/heated side mirrors, keyless entry, push-button start, selectable drive modes (Comfort, Eco and Eco Plus), dual-zone automatic climate control, heated/power-adjustable front seats (driver: 8-way, passenger: 6-way), a leather-wrapped/telescoping steering wheel, simulated leather upholstery, a self-dimming rearview mirror with a universal garage door opener, 60/40 split/fold rear seats, front/rear parking sensors, an 110-volt outlet, a 12.3-in infotainment touchscreen, Bluetooth, navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, wireless charging, two USB ports, auxiliary audio input, satellite/HD radio, a 6-speaker audio system, and the driver assistance features mentioned above.
The Limited ($62,895) adds 19-in alloy wheels, a powered tilt/slide sunroof, roof rails, cargo area cover, a hands-free powered lift gate, a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, 8-speaker/440-watt Krell audio upgrade (a highly respected sound system manufacturer, often found in Acura vehicles), a 360-degree camera system with Blind Spot View Monitor, and Remote Smart Parking Assist.
Cargo space behind the rear seats measures 29.6 cu ft., which increases to 56.5 cu ft. when they’re folded down. For comparison, the Tucson comes with 31 cu ft./61.6 cu ft. But the Nexo has to house three hydrogen tanks, so that’s still impressive.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn’t crash-tested the 2019 Nexo. But the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has, making this the first fuel cell vehicle to be put through that process. The Nexo emerged with the institute’s highest accolade of Top Safety Pick Plus.
Behind the Wheel
Despite low rolling resistance tires (often found on hybrids and other fuel-efficient vehicles) whose grip and ride quality isn’t typically as good as conventional rubber, the Nexo handles tidily.
Locating the battery low in the vehicle means the center of gravity is similarly near the ground for optimum stability. Hyundai has also fitted a multi-link rear suspension instead of some less expensive, less sophisticated setup.
For zipping around town and reaching freeway pace without stress, the Nexo’s power output is more than fine. It’s just not as muscular at higher speeds.
Other Cars to Consider
2019 Honda Clarity FCEV — This midsize sedan has a range of 360 miles. The interior is pleasantly upscale, almost at a luxury car level.
2019 Toyota Mirai — Can run for 312 miles between refills. This is a compact sedan.
Make sure you live and/or work near a hydrogen filling station, and that your personal transport requirements can be sufficiently well served by a fuel cell vehicle. Find a Hyundai Nexo for sale