First Drive: 2019 Hyundai Nexo
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.
2019 Hyundai Nexo
2019 Hyundai Nexo