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How convincing is Hyundai’s hydrogen-fuelled bellwether for the future of driving?

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To borrow a sporting analogy, Hyundai seems to have timed its run exceedingly well.

At the same time that China – already the world’s largest market for battery electric vehicles – announces tentative plans to dramatically build out its fuelling infrastructure for vehicles powered by hydrogen, the Korean brand launches its first dedicated fuel cell car. ‘Dedicated’ being the imperative.

There are currently only 13 places in the whole of the UK where you can fuel an FCV and several of those are on private land. Germany has more than 50. Another infrastructure issue where we’re already playing catch-up

The ix35 Fuel Cell was Hyundai’s first proper stab at a series production hydrogen-fuelled car and eventually became available to the public in 11 countries under a lease deal, including in the UK, where this magazine successfully ran one as a long-term test car. But the Nexo is different, not least because it uses a bespoke platform built from the ground up, allowing Hyundai to better package an updated zero-emissions powertrain.

All you need to know about hydrogen cars

The exterior design is also bespoke and something of a statement, and the interior is more sophisticated than anything we’ve yet seen from this increasingly impressive brand. Moreover, for its new high-tech showcase, Hyundai has gone further than a revolutionary powertrain.

The Nexo has the potential for level four, ‘mind off’ autonomous driving, mainly for use on the motorway. (Our test car didn’t have it, however, because current legislation does not yet permit public use of such technology.)

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The obvious drawback? That so few hydrogen fuelling stations currently exist in the UK. Progress is being made – not least by major players such as Shell – albeit slowly.

Today, then, we assess the Nexo largely on its own merits. Does it have the rolling refinement, usability and straightforward desirability to justify its considerable price and could such a car conceivably displace well-established rivals over the coming years? Let’s find out.

Price £65,995 including government grant Power 161bhp Torque 291lb ft 0-60mph 9.6sec 30-70mph in fourth na Fuel economy 42mpkg CO2 emissions 0g/km 70-0mph 47.5m

The Nexo range at a glance

In terms of spec, Hyundai offers just one flavour of Nexo: the Premium SE. As the sole offering for what is intended to be viewed as a luxury model, the standard equipment is very generous. It includes heated and ventilated seats; a full infotainment suite with sat-nav, DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; a premium Krell audio system; vegan ‘leather’ upholstery; a sunroof and more.

Hyundai also hasn’t skimped on safety features, with a full suite of active systems such as blindspot detection, autonomous emergency braking and forward collision warning all helping contribute to a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.


Hyundai Nexo 2019 road test review - hero side

Hyundai has chosen to package such a complex, innovative powertrain in the most reassuringly recognisable body it can: that of a compact crossover. At 4670mm long, 1860mm wide and 1640mm tall, the Nexo is of comparable size to a Volkswagen Tiguan or Volvo XC40 and styled in the same two-box manner.

A rising beltline meets the falling roofline to lend the shape a dose of glamour, though, and the relatively simple silhouette is adorned with aerodynamic elements. Ducts in the front bumper and D-pillar help guide air around the body and both the bladed 19in wheels and retractable door handles are there to reduce the car’s drag coefficient. Highly unusually for this class of car, the Nexo is also outfitted with an entirely flat underbody, again in the interest of reducing drag.

Nexo is the first Hyundai to feature door handles that sit flush with the bodywork in the style made popular by Tesla. They retract after five seconds, or once you’re above walking pace.

Beneath the body and positioned either side of the rear axle are three tanks – we’ve previously described them as ‘oversized scuba-diving cylinders’ – with a capacity of 157 litres. These are topped up via a port above the rear wheel arch and store at a pressure of up to 700 bar a total of 6.3kg of hydrogen, which is passed through a fuel cell stack along with oxygen from the ambient air. The resultant chemical reaction generates only heat, electricity and water, which exits through an exhaust tip beneath the rear bumper.

The fuel cell stack itself – consisting of an anode, a cathode and a polymer electrolyte membrane – sits in the ‘engine’ bay, along with a 161bhp electric motor that drives the front wheels using the electricity generated. The final element of the powertrain is a 1.56kWh lithium ion battery to store energy from regenerative braking and feed it back into the electric motor when required. All this hardware is new from the ix35 and, moreover, the fuel cell stack is designed and built by Hyundai rather than externally.

The refuelling process is similar to that of petrol and diesel cars, in that it takes minutes (roughly five), not hours, but a pump at a dedicated station is required. Once full, the Nexo has a WLTP range of 414 miles.

The chassis is more traditional than the powertrain, with MacPherson struts at the front, a multi-link rear and electrically assisted steering with 2.6 turns between locks. Like most battery-electric cars, the Nexo uses a single-speed transmission, with the driver able to alter the level of regenerative braking to their taste.


Hyundai Nexo 2019 road test review - front seats

The Nexo’s cabin is unlike any Hyundai interior we’ve come across. From behind the wheel, it seems to have been created by some future-gazing technophile from decades gone by, or one of the set designers of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It’s the large, button-heavy centre console (we counted around 40 individual controls) that stands out most. Finished in silver and protruding down from below the fascia-mounted infotainment screen, it looks like a supercomputer that has come straight out of the world of science fiction, although mercifully there’s no maniacal “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that” operating system to contend with.

Seats are upholstered in something called vegan leather, which seems rather in tune with the car’s green image. The front seats are heated and ventilated, too.

The Nexo’s infotainment system makes use of a very generously sized 12.3in screen. This can be controlled either by touching the screen itself or by using the rotary dial and shortcut buttons mounted on the centre console. Regardless of how you choose to interact with it, the sharpness and general fluidity of the operating system seem superior to anything we’ve seen from Hyundai before.

An impressive roster of standard features includes satellite navigation, DAB radio, a wireless charging pad, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In addition to telling you where to go, the sat-nav system can also show you how far you can expect to travel in any given direction based on the amount of hydrogen left in the tanks at that point in time. And if you’re running low, it can guide you to the nearest filling station – provided that you’re in a part of the country that actually has one.

If the design of the centre console is unusual to behold, it’s equally strange to interact with while on the move. Hyundai should be commended for resisting the trend to remove all buttons in favour of touchscreen-based controls but, in reality, it has probably taken things too far in the other direction here. The sheer number of dials, rocker switches and buttons can be overwhelming on first acquaintance and learning where everything is takes a more than ideal amount of time.

That these controls – along with a number of the interior surfaces – are fashioned from materials that don’t quite feel expensive enough to belong on a £65,000 car is also a bit of a turn-off. No matter how futuristic the Nexo’s fuel cell technology is, it plainly shouldn’t feel at all low-rent when inspected by prodding fingers.

Still, the Nexo does win back some favour when it comes to roominess. We measured typical second-row leg room at 740mm, which means the Nexo trumps the Audi Q5 (720mm) and only just loses out to the BMW X3 (750mm). Head room isn’t quite as strong, coming in at 930mm versus 970mm for the Audi and 975mm for the BMW; likely a limitation of the packaging of the hydrogen tanks.

Overall, although you wouldn’t say the Nexo feels noticeably cramped, it’s difficult to ignore the feeling that there’s less room to move inside it than there is in those similarly sized conventional SUVs. A large battery beneath the boot floor means that theme continues when you get to luggage capacity. There’s 461 litres available in the Nexo, compared with 550 litres for both the Audi and BMW. While far from miserly, the compromise that comes with electing for the Nexo’s alternatively fuelled powertrain is still clear.


Hyundai Nexo 2019 road test review - engine

Given how technologically avant-garde the Nexo’s hydrogen fuel cell technology is, it’s surprising to discover that it’s not really any different to drive from some biggish electric vehicles you might come across. It responds keenly and precisely to more delicate throttle adjustments and acceleration away from a standstill or from low speed arrives with the same sense of smooth, powerful immediacy that we’ve become accustomed to from electrified powertrains. The manner in which its enthusiasm for accruing straight-line pace tails off once you push up past 60mph isn’t a foreign experience, either.

On Millbrook’s mile straight, the Nexo hit 60mph from a standstill in 9.6sec, with 20-40mph and 30-50mph being completed in rather spritely respective times of 2.8sec and 3.7sec. The journey from 60mph to 80mph, however, took a particularly leisurely 9.0sec.

Straight-line acceleration at lower speeds is good, although it drops off once you reach 60mph or so. Its handling is competent if unremarkable and the ride is acceptable

So the Hyundai’s sense of strength in straight-line performance is reasonably limited in scope, but it’s certainly in the same ballpark as we’ve found in the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles we’ve road tested in previous years. The Toyota Mirai in 2016 was only a mite slower to 60mph (10.1sec), and the Honda Clarity in 2017 was marginally quicker (9.0sec). Both recorded similar times to the Nexo for 20-40mph and 30-50mph, too.

Given the proximity in price, it’s difficult not to compare the Nexo with the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace; an exercise that highlights something of a gulf between the current performance capabilities of the two approaches to zero-emissions mobility. The I-Pace we road tested last year hit 60mph from a standstill in just 4.5sec – less than half the time taken by the Hyundai.

Drivability in the Nexo is good, in the main. The severity with which the regenerative braking system recovers kinetic energy can be controlled by paddles on the steering wheel, although, oddly, the automatic regeneration management system fitted to the Kona Electric has been omitted here. At its most resistant, the manner in which the motor immediately saps pace from the car can take some getting used to, but learning to balance your inputs to maximise efficiency does come with a sense of satisfaction.


Hyundai Nexo 2019 road test review - on the road front

As the tussle between fuel cell vehicles and bigger, simpler battery-electric cars plays itself out over the coming years, kerb weight may well prove to be one of the hydrogen car’s trump cards. Compared with the all-new, all-electric SUVs from the likes of Jaguar, Audi and Mercedes, the Nexo is light: 1852kg as tested, rather than the 2.3 tonnes that those all-electric opponents weigh.

It’s a shame, then, that the Nexo so clearly isn’t tuned for a bit more dynamism or agility, because there would appear to be no reason that it couldn’t be. The car’s handling does little to inspire or excite but equally little to offend. To drive, it feels, almost to the last detail, like the undemanding, ever-filtering, ever-secure, equally blameless and charmless luxury car of the future. But while competent and drivable, it’s also predictably anodyne and about as sterile and short on character as you might expect of a car that has been designed to leave absolutely no trace of its presence behind it.

Suspension absorbs the transmission bumps with suppleness and doesn’t crash or clunk, maintaining good directional stability

The car steers through a smallish wheel and an averagely paced rack that feels light at the rim but does at least remain faithful and consistent in its loading during harder cornering. Handling is obedient and wieldy enough when negotiating junctions, roundabouts and tighter bends and doesn’t play any dynamic tricks to conceal its size or bulk when cornering more quickly – but nor does it really need to. Body roll is present but far from punishing. Grip levels are high enough to make for a secure hold on the road and assured motorway stability.

By and large, the Nexo handles like it might be the most normal, upmarket mid-sized SUV you’ve ever driven, although you might have to remind yourself that you’ve actually driven it. Which, under the circumstances and after the decidedly less normal-feeling Toyota Mirai and Clarity FCV, is well worth a nod of approval from us.

Despite its raised ride height, the Nexo coped slightly better with the Millbrook Hill Route than the last hydrogen fuel cell car we road tested, the softer and more boat-like Honda Clarity FCV. You wouldn’t say it revealed previously undetectable depths of grip and handling composure, but it tolerated higher cornering speeds and a more aggressive driving style than you may expect of an eco-conscious option.

The car can be hustled into an apex fairly keenly, and although it rolls a bit en route, it doesn’t do so to the detriment of stability or steering precision. Mid-corner grip is assured enough to allow you to accelerate through that apex and well before taking all of the lateral load out of the front tyres.

The stability electronics are always on and always a factor in producing what limit handling security the car has – but you wouldn’t call them particularly intrusive.


Slightly flat seats and a ride that’s only averagely quiet and settled would be our main criticisms of the Nexo here. It remains a deal calmer and more relaxing than the average SUV in any case, because its powertrain is mostly very quiet and its cabin otherwise well sealed. You’d still be likely to get into one from almost any combustion-engined car, in other words, and feel like you’d taken a sizeable leap forwards in on-board well-being, but perhaps not a quantum one.

The Nexo certainly conjures that futuristic sense of calm better on smooth, well-surfaced dual carriageway than on a lumpy, bumpy B-road. Uneven stretches bring a distinct sense of under-dampedness from the car’s primary ride; and so, in what might be a misplaced attempt to produce greater rolling comfort, the Nexo actually becomes less comfortable as a result of its initially permissive close vertical body control.

It doesn’t heave or pitch like an old-school 4x4, or even get close to doing so. Nor does that vertical excitability translate into the sort of lateral fussiness that can readily cause head toss in cars with a higher ride height, thankfully. The Nexo simply struggles to cope with compressions and crests taken at and around the national speed limit quite as well as you’d like of a £65,000 luxury SUV.

Motorway driving over longish distance is relaxing thanks to a good lane keeping assist system. The Nexo’s other active safety gadget is a camera system called Blindspot View Monitor, which seemed to most testers simply to repeat the view you get in the driver’s door mirror on the digital dashboard display when you indicate to change lanes.


Hyundai Nexo 2019 road test review - hero front

Were you to base the Nexo’s rating in this section on nothing more than its real-world range, it would likely score much better. We recorded a total test average hydrogen consumption figure of 42mpkg that, combined with the 6.33kg capacity of its three hydrogen tanks, equates to a 266- mile range. That’s significantly more than the Toyota Mirai’s test figure (222 miles), if not quite as much as the Clarity (276 miles). Our touring test economy result suggests you could put almost 380 miles between fills when driving more moderately.

The Jaguar I-Pace we tested last year could manage only 165 miles at test average and 214 miles at touring pace. Even a Tesla Model S would do well to cover as much ground as the Hyundai on a charge: the P90D we tested in 2016 managed a 214-mile test range. You can, of course, charge an EV on your driveway; and hydrogen filling stations remain a rare commodity in the UK. As such, the question of how realistic or easy running a Nexo would be will likely come down to your proximity to a garage where you can fuel it.

Regardless of its lifetime CO2 efficiency versus that of a battery-electric car, being able to top up the Nexo’s tanks in five minutes is appealing

Although this lack of infrastructure isn’t a fault of Hyundai’s, it’s still one of two principal barriers to the wider adoption of fuel cell electric vehicles, in the UK at least – the other, of course, being the cost of the necessary technology.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Hyundai


Hyundai Nexo 2019 road test review - static side

The Hyundai Nexo is only the third hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCV) to undergo an Autocar road test in our history, all carried out in the past four years.

Even so, testing new FCVs at a rate of one in 66 drastically over-represents the rate at which these cars are being adopted globally. Hyundai can make only 3000 Nexos a year at present. Toyota’s capacity for Toyota Mirai production is very similar. So while the technology is developing quickly, much else needs to grow before hydrogen motoring becomes practical.

Impressive effort that heads in the right direction for fuel cell cars

When the world is finally ready for the fuel cell car, however, we can clearly depend on Hyundai to be right there, pushing it forwards. Right now, the Nexo makes a slightly bland and underwhelming alternative to the battery-electric, premium-branded SUVs we’re seeing emerge onto our roads – but as a technical proof of concept, it’s effective.

Its performance and range are comparable with those of the Honda Clarity FCV we tested in 2017, and its ride and handling, although forgettable, do just about meet your expectations of a luxury car. From a mid-sized SUV compared with the lower, more aerodynamic Honda saloon, those are decent achievements.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Hyundai

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Hyundai Nexo First drives