3.9.2019Hyundai Nexo review
Hyundai's Nexo is a rare car to see in the UK. As a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCEV), there are only a handful on the road, and that number is shared with Toyota's Mirai. As such, for many, the Nexo will not even have registered as being in existence, let alone a car that you can use right now. Next Green Car reviews Hyundai's SUV to see if a FCEV makes a viable choice as an electric car.
Review by Chris Lilly
The Hyundai Nexo is powered by a 120 kW electric motor driving the front wheels. It's a conventional electric car set-up at this point, with no gearbox to deal with, and a battery to power the motor. Before that, the hydrogen fuel cell part of the equation comes in, but more on that later. Focusing on the performance here, the Nexo will reach a top speed of 111 mph, and complete the 0-62mph sprint in 9.2 seconds. It's not particularly fast, but neither is it slow, and there can be no accusations of sluggishness in real world driving conditions. The electric motor feels more than up to the task of shifting the Nexo forward, and as with many electric cars, it feels quicker than the acceleration time would suggest. The Hyundai sits very comfortably at motorway speeds, without feeling out of puff or with a range plummeting at 70mph. As you would expect, it performs excellently around town, with the stop-start motion of traffic and short bursts of acceleration suiting the Nexo down to the ground. Brakes are good but lacking in feel, a trait common with many electric cars and SUVs - and even more so with electric SUVs. They feel strong however, and there is brake energy recuperation to capture some of the otherwise wasted energy when slowing down. Much of the time you can ignore the brake pedal by using the variable regen levels on offer.
This is no stiffly-sprung, sporty handling SUV - and it's all the better for it. The Nexo is a relaxing car to drive, with excellent levels of refinement on offer by combining the whisper quiet powertrain with a cushioned ride. The springs have plenty of give to them which means that there's a little body roll in corners. The positive however is that the Hyundai drives comfortably - best experienced in a relaxed manner. The car is surprisingly agile considering its electric and SUV foundations, but one benefit of using a FCEV powertrain over a conventional electric one is a reduction in weight. This not only helps with efficiency, but also during cornering, and the Nexo can accurately be piloted through a series of bends, even if it's not going to put a grin on your face. Settle down in urban areas and the springs shrug off all but the worst of a city's pock-marked roads, while on the motorway, the Nexo excels. It's an excellent long-distance driver, and will cover distances happily.
It's not often said about an SUV, but the Nexo looks great in my view. The front end in particular is superbly designed to give plenty of interesting features, a hint at the advanced powertrain beneath the bonnet, but not so 'futuristic' as to put customers off. It sits fairly squat, with wheels pushed to each corner, and the Nexo's design works hard at providing an aerodynamic shape to aid efficiency. Inside, the SUV shape translates to a practical car, with space in the cabin for four adults comfortably. The boot is easily large enough to deal with a trip away as a family, pushchair and all. It's not the largest around, but it's certainly a very good size and shape, and there's a flat floor to make access easier. Head, leg, and shoulder space further forward is plentiful for passengers, and those up front also sit in spacious surroundings, despite the high centre console. All of this is largely possible because the Nexo is built on a new-from-the-ground-up platform for the FCEV. Whereas its predecessor - the ix35 Fuel Cell - was a converted conventionally-powered model, the Nexo has been built on a custom-designed architecture. The fuel tanks are therefore tucked away under seats for example, opening up space for passengers and luggage.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The levels of comfort on offer match those presented by the suspension. Hyundai's fitted a comfortable set of pews to the Nexo, and there's a reasonable amount of lateral support from the seats too. In terms of materials used, Hyundai's stuck to the eco-friendly brief. Vegan leather is used on the seats with textile piping, and the carpets and headlining are made from natural fibres. The design cleans off clutter from the dashboard, where there are simply two large screens - one for the infotainment system, and a smaller set-up for the driver's instruments. Instead, the high and rising centre console houses an array of buttons and dials that gives the impression you are piloting an aircraft rather than a car. It all feels solidly put together and with a good quality of materials used. It's not going to worry premium SUV makers, but the quality is up there with those brands that sit between mass-market manufacturers like Ford and the executive names such as BMW. Controls are simple and intuitive to use, and there's a handy dial to control most of the touchscreen features when necessary. On the move, it's far easier using a physical dial rather than pressing a virtual button, and the system works very well. The whole panel sits pretty flush, as the drive selector is a drive-by-wire system, and the handbrake is electronic. It's a nice cabin in which to sit, with the only question being how long the pale grey interior will remain looking clean and not grubby.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Fuel cell cars have a different set of statistics when compared to conventional fuels or electric cars. The Nexo has a fuel consumption rating of 0.95 kg/100km. Now this will mean almost nothing to most - is that a good number or terrible? In fact, even for FCEVs, it's very good. More useful figures are quoted at a range of 413 miles under the WLTP test cycle, and the only emissions produced from the tailpipe is water vapour. In fact, the Nexo actually cleans the air as it drives along. Considering the paucity of hydrogen refuelling stations across the UK, I wasn't tempted to really push the Nexo towards empty, but did a number of calculations based on distance driven and refuelling quantities. On a 50% tank, the range showing was 199 miles, indicating that the Nexo will get close to its 400+ mile official range. In fact, having covered around 470 miles during my time with it - and a number of motorway miles amongst them - the calculated range on a tank was 353 miles. It's a little down on the official figures, where WLTP tests tend to be pretty accurate for electric vehicles, but the higher than average proportion of motorway miles accounts for at least some of this. I'd expect between 350 and 380 miles on a tank most of the time. An equivalent fuel economy figure is displayed, which ended on 61.3 MPG.
There was no issue with range anxiety as there might have been. Considering there are only a handful of hydrogen refuelling sites in the UK - around 15 publicly available at the last count - and no option to just plug-in at home like you can with a pure-EV, or stop off at a petrol station, the lack of anxiety is somewhat surprising. It says a lot about the Nexo's abilities that it simply never was. To refuel, I had to head to Swindon for the ITM Power station there. Since I live in Monmouth and work in Bristol, this wasn't particularly convenient, but needs must, and in fact there were no issues at all - just a further than usual trip out of the way to fill up. Refuelling is as simple as filling an LPG car, which is to say just about as easy as using a petrol pump, but with the need to lock the nozzle on. A quick test of pressure from the pump to see all is safe, and the car will take the hydrogen on-board. It doesn't fill up to 100%, which seems to be something to do with the pump's safety systems cutting the supply off before the tank is full. Developments are pushing the accuracy higher however, and the range is good enough for a slightly less-than-full tank to be no issue.
As mentioned above, the Nexo actually has a positive effect on the air quality around it as it's driving. Hyundai gives a read-out and after around 470 miles the car had purified 56.1 kL of air - the amount three adults breath each day - and reduced CO2 emissions by 14.8 kg, compared to a similarly sized petrol model. There are a number of eco features, including driving modes, to help make the most out of the car's efficiency. Eco and Eco+ modes are available, and there are four levels of brake energy recuperation that can be controlled via tha paddles behind the steering wheel. Going down a fairly big and steep hill capture enough energy to completely recharge the battery. The hydrogen on-board is stored in three tanks, to maximise interior space. These store almost 157 litres of hydrogen combined - 6.3kg - at 700 bar. The hydrogen is used by the fuel cell stack to generate electricity, which charges the battery. This acts as a buffer for the powertrain. Without it, when the driver put their foot hard down, the fuel cell stack would have to ramp up its efforts, losing responsiveness. The car would drive more like a petrol or diesel car, and there wouldn't be the benefit of brake energy recuperation either. There are lots of screens giving information on eco driving and the statistics the Nexo is producing.
As with most electric vehicles, to off-set some of the high initial cost of the car, Hyundai has kitted out the Nexo with a huge amount of kit. Safety systems in particular are a strength, including the use of blind-spot view monitoring, which displays a camera shot on the driver's screen of the rear three-quarter view - left or right - when indicating to change lanes on a motorway or similar. Other features include the huge 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system with DAB, Bluetooth, USB, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity. Voice recognition can be used, and the sat-nav can display hydrogen refuelling points. The driver gets a 7-inch display for various bits of information, and the stereo fitted is Hyundai's premium Krell system. A powered tailgate and large sunroof are supplied, along with the vegan leather trim. Drive mode select, alloy wheels, climate control, heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, parking assist, and adaptive cruise control with lane keep assist are also fitted.
There are two main reasons why drivers will not flock to the Hyundai Nexo - the refuelling infrastructure and the price. At more than £65,000, the Nexo represents a significant amount of money for a mid-sized SUV. You can get a Jaguar I-Pace for the same money, and it's easier to refuel thanks to a far greater public recharging network, plus the option to charge at home or work. For many, this lack of access to hydrogen refuelling stations is the main issue, but should you live or work near one, the Nexo could make a lot of sense.
It has a long range, is quick to refill, provides a comfortable drive, and actively cleans the air as you drive. It's good to look at and stocked to the gills with equipment. It's a very good electric car, restricted mainly be the refuelling infrastructure it requires. As that grows however, Hyundai is ideally placed to make the most of it with the Nexo.
Model tested: Hyundai Nexo Premium SE
Engine / CO2: 163hp electric motor / 0 g/km
Trim grades: Only one
On-road price: £65,995 (inc. PiCG)
Warranty: Five years / unlimited mileage
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 Stars