Hyundai Nexo Review
Innovative hydrogen fuel cell vehicle offers impressive zero emissions range, rapid refuelling times and a comfortable drive
Strengths & weaknesses
- Nexo is capable of travelling 414-miles on a single tank
- Materials used are sustainable or recycled
- Impressively quiet and smooth
- It is heavy and the handling reflects this
- Button layout is overwhelming
- A lack of fuelling stations makes it hard to live with
The electric vehicle revolution might be in full swing, with uptake of battery-powered cars increasing year-on-year and the charging infrastructure growing monthly, but there is another zero emissions motoring revolution slowly bubbling away in the background.
Hydrogen has long been hailed as a more realistic way of ridding our roads and railways of polluting internal combustion engines, because fuel cell vehicles boast a better energy density and faster refuelling times than their pure EV counterparts.
In short, experts believe that we have a long way to go before battery technology is in a position to replace those high output diesel engines favoured by heavy goods vehicles, plant machinery and trains. But hydrogen could provide a solution.
Energy density isn't quite so important when it comes to passenger vehicles, but range and refuelling times are, and Hyundai's clever Nexo addresses these facts. By harnessing the power of hydrogen fuel technology, the clever powertrain draws power from a fuel cell stack (not just a battery pack), which combines oxygen from the surrounding air with hydrogen from its high-pressure storage tanks to produce the electricity required to power the motor.
The result of this chemical wizardry is a vehicle with an impressive range and very short refuelling times, while water vapour, which harmlessly exits through the exhaust, is the only thing entering the atmosphere. With full tanks of hydrogen on board, the Nexo is capable of travelling 414 miles (as agreed by the new WLTP testing cycle), before the need to refuel in a similar time and manner to a traditional petrol or diesel engine.
Granted, this isn't the first car to dabble with such technology, as Honda and Toyota have previously offered a similar set-up, while even Hyundai touted an ix35 Fuel Cell version to a small section of the public. Mercedes is also due to release a Hydrogen SUV.
But this is the first time a model has been built from the ground up to house such technology and that hydrogen power has been wrapped up in such an attractive and well-executed package.
Nexo looks like a special car, with sleek SUV styling, a bespoke front end, sharp alloy wheels and an interior lavished with tech and premium materials raising it above the rest of the range.
Inside, customers are treated to a baffling array of buttons that are laid out like a flight deck of some futuristic spacecraft. But this is all surrounded by innovative and luxurious materials, such as bio fibres harvested from sugar cane waste and vegetable plasticisers in the headliner and carpet areas. There are also bioplastics from sugar cane and corn waste in door, seat, pillar and console trims and bio paint extracted from rapeseed and soybean oils for the dashboard and centre console.
Because Hyundai sees this as its technological flagship, it is also offered with plenty of innovative tech, including myriad interior screens and a clever blind spot monitor, which comes into play when the indicators are active and beams a live video feed from wide-angle cameras in the wing mirrors to the instrument cluster.
Drivers will be pleased to know that despite its futuristic hydrogen powertrain, the Nexo behaves just like a conventional automatic car - albeit one with a decent amount of poke. The 0-62mph sprint is dispatched in around 9.5 seconds, which is impressive given the bulk of the hydrogen tanks.
Now, let's address the pair of elephants in the room. Price and the hydrogen fuelling network. The former is a wallet-stinging £69,495 on the road (making it slightly more expensive than the hydrogen powered Toyota Mirai) and the latter is sparse to say the very least. In fact, there are only 11 hydrogen refuelling stations in the UK at the moment.
Despite UK government plans to have 65 stations by 2030, the Nexo will really only appeal to those very early adopters or fleet managers with the economies of scale and regular mileage to warrant the switch to hydrogen.
|Warranty||5 years / Unlimited mileage|
|Boot space||461 litres|
2018: The Hyundai Nexo is revealed in concept form at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas
2019: Hyundai release the Nexo globally as a replacement to Tucson FCEV and ix35 Fuel Cell.
Understanding Hyundai Nexo names
Premium SE Trim
Seeing as this is a flagship car for Hyundai, it is only offered in one trim level. Top of the range Premium SE includes pretty much every conceivable optional extra Hyundai offers.
5 Door Body style
The Nexo is best described as a premium crossover, blending elements of a family hatchback with the slightly raised ride height of an SUV. Just one body style is available.
Hydrogen Fuel Cell + Electric Motor Powertrain
There isn't one. A hydrogen fuel cell stack that feeds a permanent magnet synchronous motor powers Nexo.
Single speed Gearbox
Like many pure electric vehicles on the market, Hyundai's innovative fuel cell vehicle features a single speed gearbox, so there aren't any gears to contend with.
Hyundai Nexo Engines
Powertrain: Hydrogen fuel cell electric powertrain
The key difference between this hydrogen-powered car and a more conventional electric vehicle is the fact that users will never have to plug the batteries into a socket to recharge, as the H2 fuel cell stack takes care of this.
Drawing hydrogen from special, reinforced tanks beneath the bodywork, the Nexo then cleverly combines this highly pressurised chemical with oxygen from the air to create the electricity required to power the electric motor.
Overall, the system delivers around 161bhp and 395Nm of torque, which results in fairly punchy acceleration, despite the 2.3-tonne gross vehicle weight. Handling is blunted slightly by the mass, but otherwise the drive is smooth, quiet and very refined.
To eke out more from the batteries, Hyundai offers three separate driving modes: Normal, Eco and Eco+. There is little tangible difference between the three options, but the Eco settings limit power delivery to reduce the load on the system, while paddles mounted behind the steering wheel increase or decrease the force of the regenerative braking.
Refuelling is very similar to a traditional petrol or diesel engine, with owners locking the hydrogen 700 bar nozzle into Nexo's refuelling slot and waiting around four or five minutes for the tanks to fill. It really is as simple as that.
Alas, you may have an issue locating one of these refuelling stations, as the hydrogen used by Nexo has to be extremely pure, thus requiring very specific refuelling stations. As previously mentioned, there are 11 currently in operation (mostly around London), but the UK government plans to roll out more.
The lack of infrastructure is a shame, as there are many advantages to using hydrogen over even a standard electric vehicle. For example, Nexo's advanced air purification system filters 99.9% of very fine dust (PM2.5) from the atmosphere around it as it drives. The vehicle shows the exact amount of air purified on the display panel in the car.
0 - 62mph
Hydrogen fuel cell
Hyundai Nexo Trims
Just one trim level is on offer here and as you would expect from a £69,495 Hyundai, specification is very generous. Enormous dual screens take up a large proportion of the dashboard, with the middle 12.3” colour touchscreen taking care of navigation, entertainment and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
All seats are wrapped in a faux leather material, while the front pews are heat and ventilated (rear outer passengers also get heated seats). The cabin offers plenty of USB sockets for charging gadgets and there are numerous handy stowage compartments and luggage hooks for keeping life's things in place.
Hyundai's centre console isn't the easiest on the eye, as its large floating deck is festooned with buttons and dials. A slightly strange move given that the capable touchscreen display could have easily dealt with much of the functionality.
Outside, Nexo benefits from some striking 19-inch alloy wheels, integrated LED lighting and some flashy door handles that automatically pop out (a la Range Rover Velar) when the vehicle is unlocked.
On top of this, Hyundai's hydrogen vehicle comes fully kitted-out with some cutting edge safety and convenience features, including highly automated remote parking, the aforementioned camera-based blind view monitor and high levels of autonomous driving capabilities.
Hyundai Nexo Reliability and warranty
The Nexo is far too new a proposition to properly comment on its reliability, but seeing as it features an entirely fresh powertrain set-up and a brand new platform, it is fair to say that customers are venturing into slightly unchartered territory.
That said, Hyundai's reputation for dependability (backed up by a long 5-year/unlimited mileage warranty) will apply here and those early adopters can expect extremely high levels of customer service and support.