First Drive: 2019 Hyundai Nexo Limited

TOPANGA, California — Hypothetically speaking, let’s suppose that the government made clean air vehicles a priority and invested our tax dollars in the infrastructure for hydrogen fuel. Would this proposition spark your interest in a zero-emissions hydrogen powered vehicle—one with splendid design and an estimated 380-mile range? Very well then, meet the all-new hydrogen powered 2019 Hyundai Nexo crossover.

Hyundai recently introduced their second-generation fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) in Hollywood, California. During its U.S. debut I had a chance to sample one on the picturesque roads of Topanga Canyon.

This being the first FCEV I have ever driven I would like to start by breaking down its powertrain. Nexo’s powertrain is comprised of a hydrogen storage system, motor, battery, and a fuel cell system. The permanent magnet 120kW motor produces 161 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque while the lithium-ion battery and fuel stack have a combined output of 135kW.

With a fast-refueling time the Nexo can be refueled in five minutes and its three-tank system can store 14 pounds of hydrogen. To increase cargo capacity Hyundai relocated the battery from the undercarriage to the trunk and changed the hydrogen storage system’s layout.

The Hyundai Nexo Limited offers an estimated driving range of 354 miles and an EPA-rated fuel economy of 59/54/57 (city/highway/combined). The Blue model extends the driving range to 380 miles and has an improved fuel economy at 65/58/61.

Overall fuel cell vehicles are a tough cell and considering their confinement to California, the limited number of fuel hydrogen stations, and the costs associated with leasing or buying a hydrogen powered vehicle it is easy to understand why.

Despite obvious drawbacks, there is a great deal of stuff to like about the Hyundai Nexo and for me it begins with the interior. Earlier this year Automobile daily news editor Conner Golden drove the Hyundai Nexo in Korea and I agree with him when he says that the Nexo’s crossover packaging is on point.

Compared to the Honda Clarity and Toyota Mirai the Hyundai Nexo is clearly the more handsome of the three. If I were a contestant on an episode of “ElimiDate” I would quickly eliminate the other two in favor of the hunky Nexo.

Blue and Limited are the two trim levels available for the Nexo. If you settle on the Blue trim you will miss out on the Krell premium audio system, 19-inch alloy wheels, blind-spot view monitor, tilt-and-slide wide sunroof, and Remote Smart Parking Assist (RSPA). One advantage of choosing the Blue model over the Limited is driving range, but let’s talk about the Limited’s Smart parking feature for a minute.

With (RSPA) the car can retrieve itself from a parking space or automatically park with or without a driver inside. Functions that can be done via the remote include parallel in, perpendicular out, forward out, and back in.

Standard equipment on both Nexo models consists of a 12-inch color touchscreen with navigation, heated and power-adjustable front seats, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Blue Link connected car system with a 3-year complimentary service, wireless charging, vegan leatherette seating surfaces, and a 7.0-inch instrument cluster.

There is a generous amount of advance and safety features which include a tire pressure monitoring system, regenerative braking, front crumple zone, smart cruise control, forward collision-avoidance, driver attention warning, rear view monitor with parking guidance, lane follow assist, blind-spot collision warning, and rear cross-traffic alert.

On the exterior standard are intermittent windshield wipers, LED headlights and taillights, approach puddle lights, rear spoiler, side mirrors with turn signal indicators, and a hands-free smart liftgate.

When I stepped out of the Sunset Marquis hotel to meet the Nexo I would’ve never suspected it of being a clean air vehicle. The rear mounted fuel cell badge is the only element that blows its cover. I like that the Nexo looks like a regular crossover and does not come across as an oddball thanks to its innovative design. What I love the most about the Nexo is the futuristic interior because the design is not boring or ugly.

As my driving partner and fellow colleague Kim Reynolds drove the Nexo down Santa Monica Boulevard toward Topanga State Park I took advantage and familiarized myself with the cabin.

Every surface throughout the interior is pleasing to the touch. The vegan leatherette seats are accommodating and they have a design pattern comprised of dots that resemble an exploding particle. The center stack sits at an ideal angle and the control panel layout makes it very user friendly. One interior detail that is kind of radical is the single cup holder on the armrest console. Front seat passengers please don’t panic—there is an even cooler cup holder for you that pops out above the glove box.

While I drove on the twisty roads of Topanga Canyon, I fiddled with the regenerative braking system and had a blast. By using the paddle shifters on the Nexo’s steering wheel I was able to increase or decrease velocity to comply with the varying posted speed limits. As one would expect of an eco-friendly vehicle the ride quality is polished and powertrain noise is almost non-existent.

After reviewing as much information as I could comprehend about fuel cells it seems that the Nexo will be a tough sell. A premature infrastructure only adds to the uncertainly of hydrogen powered vehicles. With all that being said, the 2019 Hyundai Nexo will be available for sale in select dealerships in Southern California before the end of 2018 and in Northern California in early 2019. Nexo customers will be provided with a $5,000 fuel card that approximately amounts to 10,000 miles. Pricing has not been announced at this time.

2019 Hyundai Nexo Limited Specifications

ON SALELate 2018
FUEL SYSTEMHydrogen Fuel Cell
MOTORPermanent-magnet/161 hp, 291 lb-ft
BATTERYLithium-ion Polymer/1.56 kWh, 40 kW
TRANSMISSION1-speed reduction gear
LAYOUT4-door, 5-passenger, front-motor, FWD crossover
EPA MILEAGE59/54 mpge (city/hwy)
L x W x H183.9 x 73.2 x 64.2 in
WEIGHT4,116 lbs
0-60 MPH9.5 sec (est)

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