First Drive: 2019 Hyundai Nexo

The Standard (Elliot Lake) - - BLIND RIVER - By GRAEME FLETCHER, DRIV­ING.CA

WEST hol­ly­wood, Ca.—the past decade has seen fuel-cell-pow­ered ve­hi­cle fi­nally come of age. the early ex­am­ples were plagued with prob­lems, not the least of which was the abil­ity to start and func­tion in cold weather. Then there’s the whole re­fu­el­ing in­fra­struc­ture is­sue, but as the tech­nol­ogy is prov­ing vi­able, that should change with time. as a re­sult, the fuel cell is about to be­come the long-term so­lu­tion.

the cur­rent crop of elec­tric ve­hi­cles rely solely on a bat­tery to sup­ply the en­ergy needed to power the ve­hi­cle. at this junc­ture the range has been, as is demon­strated by the kona Elec­tric and its 415 kilo­me­tres, stretched to the point where range anx­i­ety is a thing of the past. the hang-up, how­ever, re­mains the “re­fu­el­ing” time. it is still too long to com­pete with a gaso­linepow­ered ve­hi­cle or gas­based hy­brid. the nexo fuel-cell crossover is set to elim­i­nate the neg­a­tives.

one of its big­gest plusses, when com­pared to a con­ven­tional bat­tery­elec­tric ve­hi­cle, is it takes as lit­tle as five min­utes to re­fuel its three un­der-floor hy­dro­gen tanks. This makes its top-up time com­pa­ra­ble to that of gaso­line-pow­ered rig. of course, the fact the nexo has a driv­ing range of 600 kilo­me­tres un­der­scores its abil­ity to com­plete on a level foot­ing while leav­ing zero lo­cal emis­sions in its wake.

an­other dis­tinct plus is the nexo will start in a good old-fash­ioned Cana­dian win­ter. in the past, cold weather was the en­emy and a mas­sive draw­back. The nexo’s fuelcell stack starts within 30 sec­onds at tem­per­a­tures of -29 de­grees Cel­sius—it will start at tem­per­a­tures well be­low that, it just takes a lit­tle longer. now this is world-class fuelcell per­for­mance and one of the key rea­sons the nexo is such an in­trigu­ing al­ter­na­tive.

the fuel cell is joined by a 1.56-kilo­watt/hour lithium-ion bat­tery, which im­proves out­put and pro­vides a seam­less flow of power. mi­nus the bat­tery, it takes the fuel cell about a sec­ond to go from idle to full power, which would make for a some­what laggy driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence—the bat­tery cov­ers the in­ter­ven­ing pe­riod to pro­vide an in­stan­ta­neous re­sponse to ac­cel­er­a­tor in­put.

now given all of its clean virtues, if you think the nexo is des­tined to be a bor­ing drive, well, you’d be dead wrong. the fuel cell and bat­tery work with an elec­tric mo­tor that twists out 161 horse­power and 291 pound-feet of torque. This is enough to de­liver a spir­ited drive— the clock says the nexo can­ters to 100 kilo­me­tres an hour in about 10 sec­onds. the re­al­ity is it feels so much punchier, es­pe­cially through the mid-range. it also of­fers Eco and nor­mal modes. Given the range, the lat­ter is the only mode re­quired.

aside from its perky per­for­mance the nexo also re­turns out­stand­ing fuel ef­fi­ciency. the 80-kilo­me­tre test drive saw the fuel cell re­turn a mileper-gal­lon-equiv­a­lent of 89 mpge. That equates to 2.64 l/100 km, which is a su­perb num­ber by any stan­dard!

a big part of the ef­fi­ciency boils down to re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing. nexo has two pad­dles that give ac­cess to four lev­els of re­gen. as with the kona Elec­tric the re­gen ranges from ba­si­cally noth­ing; to a healthy dose. the nit is the top level of re­gen does not pro­vide the same onepedal-drive as the Ev—in this re­gard nexo mir­rors the sort of en­gine brak­ing ex­pe­ri­enced from a con­ven­tional crossover.

dy­nam­i­cally, nexo is up to snuff. in spite of its 1,867-kg curb weight it rides and drives like any other crossover. the sus­pen­sion is tuned to favour ride more than out­right han­dling, but even when pushed through a twisty canyon road it held the de­sired line with­out slid­ing into un­der­steer— the P245/45r19 tires hauled the nose in with a re­as­sur­ing grip.

Ditto the steer­ing. It was a tad light, but it has de­cent on-cen­tre feel and a lin­ear re­sponse when turned into a cor­ner. In this re­gard it is a match for any other crossover.

The steer­ing has a party trick of its own, as it’s an in­te­gral part of the Re­mote Smart Park­ing As­sist (RSPA). This fea­ture al­lows the Nexo to park au­tonomously in both par­al­lel and per­pen­dic­u­lar spots with­out the driver hav­ing to be in the ve­hi­cle—push a but­ton on the key fob and Nexo parks with the driver look­ing on.

The cabin is a slick af­fair that’s dom­i­nated by a pair of large screens. The first sits be­hind the steer­ing wheel and pro­vides all the per­ti­nent in­for­ma­tion on the fuel cell and what it’s up to at any given time. To the right is the in­fo­tain­ment touch­screen. It sup­ports Ap­ple Carplay and An­droid Auto as well as host­ing the over-sized map­ping and yet more fuel cell in­for­ma­tion. The push-but­ton shifter sup­ports the high-tech theme and gives the Nexo an air of to­mor­row.

As for util­ity, the un­der-floor place­ment of the hy­dro­gen tanks means there is lit­tle sac­ri­fice—the back seat has plenty of room for two six-foot adults with 839 litres of cargo space be­hind. Fold­ing the seats down opens up 1,600 litres.

As a pack­age, the Hyundai Nexo is com­plete. It has out­stand­ing fuel ef­fi­ciency, the right driv­ing range with a short re­fu­el­ing time and a happy de­meanour that sees it han­dle a fast-mov­ing high­way, as well as it does an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment. And it does both while leav­ing zero lo­cal emis­sions, mean­ing the fu­ture does look de­cid­edly rosy.

The 2019 Hyundai Nexo is due to ar­rive in Canada late this year or early next. Sadly, the al­lot­ment will be lim­ited and nearly all will go to Bri­tish Columbia or Que­bec be­cause of the abysmal re­fu­el­ing in­fra­struc­ture in other parts of the coun­try. Pric­ing will be an­nounced closer to launch.

PHOTO By GRAEME FLETCHER/DRIV­ING.CA

2019 Hyundai Nexo

Photo by GRAEME FLETCHER/DRIV­ING.CA

2019 Hyundai Nexo

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