How do you feel when you spill water? No big deal, right? It’s not to me because whether inside or out, water is just part of the world and inherently clean. It’s a pretty neat trick, then, that cars exist that can carry people around from place to place and do nothing more than spill a little water (it’s actually water in its gas form: water vapor). The process of combining hydrogen and oxygen results in water and electricity. That electricity is then used to power a motor. Cool! The only problem is that while grabbing oxygen from air is easy enough, finding pure hydrogen is extremely difficult.
No matter: We, as a society, are getting better at it and Japan and Korea continue to make cars that run on the first element of the periodic table. Honda builds the Clarity, Toyota, the Mirai, and Hyundai now has a new SUV called the NEXO. Replacing the Tucson Fuel Cell, the NEXO comes with both more power and a longer range. Its electric motor produces 161 horsepower, 25 more than Tucson FC and can travel 380 miles (in Blue trim; Limited models last 354 miles) on a tank of H2, 115 miles farther than the outgoing model.
The NEXO comes in two trims: Blue and Limited. Blue is lighter and focuses on efficiency, which nets that longer aforementioned range and a better equivalent fuel economy rating: 65 city, 58 highway, 61 combined. Limited models weigh 126 pounds more and can only manage 59 city, 54 highway, 57 combined, but that trim includes 19-inch wheels (Blue has 17’s), a sunroof, power liftgate, and other luxury bits that Blue goes without. It must be said, fuel economy feels less important when it's hydrogen and included in the lease price, as it was for Tucson.
Range and fuel economy always come up when discussing any kind of electric vehicle, but other stats are worth a mention. The NEXO is also longer and wider than the outgoing Tucson FC and Hyundai is the only brand putting this technology into a crossover SUV, giving it nearly 30 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second row and the only body shape that shoppers seem to give a hoot about these days.
Well over 100,000 gas stations exist in the United States. Hydrogen stations are a bit harder to find — there are fewer than 50. Most of those are in California, which is the only place Hyundai will offer the NEXO in the U.S.; in fact, only in Southern California when the vehicle is first available. Outside the States, the NEXO will be leased or sold to Swedes, French and Germans in Europe and to Koreans. For those folks, the process of filling a car with hydrogen is similar to filling one with gas. The nozzle is different and requires a seal to pressurize the tanks, but the time required to fill the 41.4 gallon tanks, and the facilities used to fill them, feel quite familiar.
Driving the NEXO is familiar too. Riding on a softly sprung, fully independent suspension (struts in front, multilink in the rear), the NEXO smoothly and silently rides down the road. In fact, ride comfort rivals the unflappable softness of Buicks and Cadillacs from the era of cassette tapes. Seats, too, are plush and cushy, giving the NEXO a cruise down the boulevard kind of vibe, which you wouldn’t expect from an alternative fuel powered small SUV from Asia, but there you go. The other side of that coin, of course, is handling. It’s not brilliant. Grip is low and understeer is plentiful. But there’s nothing unexpected about it either — the NEXO turns predictably and remains controlled, it’s just slow.
Power is adequate. There’s plenty of it to get moving in urban areas, and power delivery is bang-on quick and consistent, just like all electric powertrains. There’s just not a ton of it. The NEXO is quick to accelerate, but not very quickly. In Blue trim, the NEXO weighs just under two tons and is burdened with 24.8 pounds per horsepower; Limited NEXOs 25.6. You do, however, have 291 pound-feet of torque from effectively zero rpm to play with. Altogether, 0-60 mph comes in a reasonable 9.5 seconds and the NEXO can achieve 110 mph.
For those looking for green bragging rights, the NEXO is covered in a soybean oil-based paint, or “bio-paint.” The plastic and carpet use sugar cane in lieu of oil and the fabric comes from a bamboo-based thread. Need more? The NEXO cleans the air. The filter used to purify oxygen on its way to bond with hydrogen to produce electricity also takes care of various pollutants hanging around as the NEXO drives down the road.
And for the gadget conscious among us, there’s a 12.3-inch display on top of the center console to navigate through all the various infotainment options, and lots of active safety systems like Forward Collision Avoidance and Lane Follow Assist (the first Hyundai vehicle to have it). Additionally, the NEXO can park itself when you’ve arrived and pull itself out of that parking spot when it’s time to depart. Named Remote Parking Assist, you use the key fob to have the car either parallel park or back into a perpendicular space remotely, as long as the sensors determine there is space ahead of time. The car will also pull back out of the perpendicular space if it’s too tight to comfortably open the door.
Hyundai did not yet announce price, but I speculate that it will not be far from the $500 a month lease price of the outgoing Tucson fuel cell and that includes hydrogen fill-ups. I also speculate that the vast majority of the Californians who want a NEXO are not deciding that because of cost.
Aside from environmental statement the car makes, the NEXO is a competent, comfortable cruiser, one that I wouldn’t mind taking for another spin down the boulevard.
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