High-tech hydrogen Hyundai pushes technology boundaries at a price
- There isn’t a cleaner, more environmentally friendly type of car
- It’s comfortable, quiet and packed with high-tech kit
- Can effectively drive itself where local laws allow
- Doesn’t look as divisive as the Toyota Mirai
- List price likely to be prohibitively high
- Infrastructure must grow significantly
- Driver-assistance kit ahead of curve
- Too early to judge price and spec against rivals
Set to arrive in British showrooms in early 2019, the Hyundai Nexo is a hydrogen fuel cell-powered SUV. A few years ago we drove the Korean firm's first foray into hydrogen-powered technology – the ix35 Fuel Cell – but this is a far more compelling proposition.
This time around, the Nexo is a bespoke model rather than a conventional crossover modified to use fuel cell technology. That means it will suffer from few of the compromises (other than the current lack of a nationwide refuelling infrastructure) of Hyundai's modified ix35.
All of that should go some way to justifying what we’re expecting to be a list price north of the Toyota Mirai’s – another hydrogen-powered vehicle that’s very expensive to buy, albeit with ungainly four-door saloon bodywork. The Nexo's other main rival is the Honda Clarity, but that's not yet officially sold in the UK.
Will the Hyundai Nexo be expesive and is it hard to refuel?
Hyundai's keeping tight-lipped about Nexo pricing, but we expect it to start around the £60,000 mark. This technology will remain expensive until it becomes more viable for everyday use.
There’s also still a significant problem with a lack of filling stations – we’re up to 26 in the UK at time of publication (but some aren’t publically accessible and others don't offer the fastest refuelling speeds) - but there are organisations investing money to change this now.
Hydrogen power is a becoming more compelling, particularly when across Europe fuel cost works out at under 50% of that of petrol or diesel.
It's also as easy to refuel a hydrogen car as a petrol or diesel one. Connect the filler pipe to the nozzle and wait for it to refill the tank in stages, building pressure as it does so. Time-wise it takes about twice as long as refilling a tank with petrol or diesel, but this is still significantly less time than it takes to recharge an electric car.
Why should I consider a hydrogen fuel cell car?
There are a number of reasons why hydrogen – or H2 – may prove the fuel of choice of the future. The biggest is that it’s completely sustainable and ultra-clean in use – the by-products of electricity generation using a fuel cell to power a car are simply clean air and water. There are no nasty emissions at all.
Furthermore, long-distance driving range is easier to achieve than it is with electric vehicles.
Hyundai states a real-world 370 miles is realistic in the Nexo, and we’ve got no reason to doubt this so far. The ‘official’ range is higher, but calculated in lab conditions that you’re unlikely to be able to recreate driving in the real-world.
What is the Hyundai Nexo like to drive?
It’s easy. In fact, it’s easier than most other cars: simply push the D (Drive) button on the central console and you’re away.
It’s also eerily quiet because, in essence this is an electric vehicle, so when running the drivetrain is almost silent. Hyundai has engineered this car with comfort in mind, so the suspension is satisfyingly compliant, while the drive itself is about as far from sporting as you can imagine.
It also features Hyundai’s latest suite of driver-assistance technology, which allows the car to effectively drive for you in some situations, taking care of steering, braking and accelerating.
We tested this on the highway during our initial test drive in Korea and found it worked smoothly and reliably, but it remains to be seen how it’ll stack up in the UK.
One particularly impressive safety-boosting technology is the blindspot package that shows views from rearward-facing cameras in the digitised instrument binnacle.
Is the Hyundai Nexo a proper SUV, though?
We have no idea how it would fare off-road or when towing, but it’s as practical as an SUV needs to be. The boot is a usefully large 471 litres and has a flat floor and ski flap for loading longer items.
The cabin fits four adults easily and in comfort, but five is a bit of a squash. The front seats in particular are great, with loads of support, heating and ventilation and electronic adjustability.
What standard equipment will the Hyundai Nexo have?
We’re still a very long way from getting the final UK specification list for the Nexo, but it’s clear it’ll have to be packed with kit to command the sort of price hydrogen cars do. And to be fair, Hyundai’s cars are generously equipped as a rule anyway, but in the Nexo we’re expecting a far more premium feel.
The 12.3-inch multimedia touchscreen in our test cars is great, with sharp graphics and a rotary dial to control it, meaning you don’t need to reach forward to touch it.
The cabin is designed with driver safety in mind, so there are loads of physical buttons – we’re happy to see this in a world where more and more functions are being integrated into touchscreens because it’s far safer than having to negotiate menus while you’re driving.
Expect the full gamut of safety kit (legal legislation permitting), a range of interior and exterior colours and a choice of alloy wheels.
The Parkers Verdict
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are right on the cusp of breaking into the mainstream. Infrastructure is growing and cars like the Nexo will be in a great position to capitalise on an increased network of H2 filling stations, should they come to pass as promised.
Its biggest current problems are that buyers will need to live or work in close proximity to locations that do have them, and that the list price will be prohibitively expensive for most.
However, this can be off-set by leasing or other finance arrangements, and some businesses with particularly large fleets – such as bus companies or inner-city delivery firms – may be able to build a business case to fund their own hydrogen filling points. As the network grows, the viability of cars like Nexo in enhanced and subsequently costs should fall.