2019 Hyundai Nexo First Review
As manufacturers look to offer vehicles that can meet zero emission requirements in states like California, many of them are counting on battery electric vehicles for compliance. Hyundai is no different in that it introduced its family of Ioniq compact hatchbacks that offer hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure EV variants. But it is also pursuing fuel cell technology and the 2019 Hyundai Nexo Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) showcases how far that technology has come in making hydrogen power a viable alternative in the ZEV race.
Slated to go on sale during the second half of the year in California only, the Nexo replaces the Hyundai Tucson fuel cell vehicle that previously was leased to consumers on a limited basis in the state. As a second-generation effort, the Nexo represents a major step forward on several fronts including performance, range, design and its use as a platform for Hyundai’s autonomous vehicle technology efforts. The only stumbling block to wider distribution of this vehicle nationally is the lack of hydrogen fueling infrastructure, something that the company sees as being addressed over time.
Like the FCEV Tucson, the 2019 Nexo is basically a compact crossover SUV with 2-row seating for five, a vehicle type that represents a healthy and growing segment of the market. However, unlike the Tucson, Nexo has a dedicated platform and its own styling. Riding on a 109.8-inch wheelbase, the Nexo measures 183.8 inches overall up nearly 6 inches in wheelbase and over 10 inches in length over the Tucson. In addition to a roomier package, the exterior design is clean and contemporary with a unique take on Hyundai’s new cascading grille signature. The top of the front fascia is defined by LED running lights, while the main headlamp clusters are positioned on either side of the grille. The sleek design is further enhanced by flush exterior door handles and aero-styled alloy wheels.
Inside, the upscale interior has a flat, high console with easy to reach buttons and controls for the HVAC and audio system, while two screens measuring a combined 12.3 inches are integrated into the dash design. The right screen in the dash center handles infotainment and navigation duties, while the left one displays a digital instrument cluster and can also show a camera view of the vehicle’s right or left rear blind spot when the turn signal is activated.
The Nexo incorporates a new powertrain that combines a 95-kW fuel cell stack with a 40-kW battery for a combined output of 135 kW or about 180 horsepower. The electric motor driving the front wheels is rated at 160 horsepower and provides 290 lb-ft of torque. Hydrogen compressed to 10,000 psi is fed to the fuel cell to create the electricity to run the motor and store additional power in the battery. The Nexo can accelerate to 62 mph in 9.2 seconds, a major improvement over the hydrogen-fueled Tucson’s 12.4 seconds. In addition to that performance, Hyundai says the Nexo can travel about 370 miles between hydrogen refueling and that the 52.2-liter tank system can be topped off in about five minutes.
The drivability is what you expect from an electric. Power delivery is immediate, smooth and quiet. Attention to sound insulation pays big dividends in the Nexo. One of the major noises from fuel cell vehicles are compressors and cooling fans, however, Hyundai has for the most part damped these noises out. At speed, you hear a wisp of wind noise from the outside rearview mirrors and a slight hum from tire noise.
The EV nature of the Nexo shines on initial throttle tip in and in mid-range passing maneuvers where the power comes on quickly and effortlessly. Most of our driving was on freeways, so there is little we could discern on the vehicles overall handling, however, the ride is comfortable and well-damped and the underfloor storage of the three gas cylinders and low mounting of the electric motor on the front axle with the fuel cell on top translates to a low center of gravity and well-planted feel. The electric boost to the power steering gives it a light touch, though it doesn’t communicate a sharp on-center feel.
The 2019 Hyundai Nexo is not only being touted for its large suite of driver assists, it is also being used as a platform for the Korean auto maker’s foray into autonomous driving. On the driver assist front, the Nexo boasts Highway Driving Assist (HDA) and Lane Following Assist (LFA), the former handling adaptive cruise control functions and the latter, active steering to keep the vehicle centered on lane. Hyundai believes the combination of the two reduces driver stress by being able to maintain lane discipline and vehicle distance with minimal driver input.
The Nexo is also equipped with Hyundai SmartSense, which includes forward collision warning, forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, automatic high beams, driver attention warning and blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts. Hyundai also offers a remote parking assist feature that can be used to automatically park in parallel and perpendicular spaces and in some markets, will include a remote feature where the vehicle will park itself and return when summoned.
Hyundai has also equipped three Nexo models with Level 4 autonomous drive technology, which requires no driver intervention. These vehicles also retain their steering wheels and pedals and can be driven conventionally. These autonomous Nexo models were used in a demonstration run during the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang where they literally drove themselves nearly 120 miles from Seoul to the venue.
While the 2019 Hyundai Nexo models sold in the California market this year will not have autonomous capability, all the other features of the vehicle including the HDA and LFA systems will be offered on the vehicle. Pricing for the Nexo will be announced closer to its on-sale date.