2019 Hyundai Nexo – The First Really Complete Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

Twelve years ago when I first started writing professionally about cars, the very first review I ever wrote for AutoblogGreen was a fuel cell electric car, the Ford Focus FCV. In the years since I’ve had the opportunity to drive a number of different concept, prototype and production fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) from Ford, GM, Honda and Toyota. While the technology has absolutely advanced over that time, all of them have had some compromises. Until now that is. Aside from the obviously limited network of hydrogen filling stations, the 2019 Hyundai Nexo felt like the most finished fuel cell vehicle yet.

The first thing to keep in mind about FCEVs is the EV part. A fuel cell vehicle is electric. In most cases, it doesn’t have a plug or get electricity from the grid although some like the new Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell do. Instead of storing energy in a battery as EVs do, hydrogen is the energy carrier and electricity is generated on demand. A fuel cell takes in hydrogen gas from a storage tank and oxygen from the atmosphere. As the two gases pass over a series of plates coated with a platinum catalyst, a chemical reaction occurs, combining them into water with excess electrons thrown off to produce an electrical current.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

FCEVs and BEVs have exactly the same sort of propulsion system, one or more electric motors and a power electronics module that converts the direct current from the battery or fuel cell to the alternating current used by most more efficient motors. FCEVs usually also carry a small battery of about 1.5 kWh like a hybrid to recover kinetic energy during braking. Like any other hybrid, the battery feeds that energy back to the motor during acceleration so that a smaller fuel cell can be used.

The biggest advantage that FCEVs have over battery EVs is refueling time. A typical FCEV can be refilled with hydrogen in about five minutes, far faster than even the most powerful DC fast charging system.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

The Nexo was revealed at CES in January 2018 as Hyundai’s first completely purpose-built FCEV. The former Tucson-based fuel cell was available in 18 countries from 2013 to 2017 but only a few hundred were built. Hyundai isn’t saying what the production capacity will be for the Nexo, but it should be much higher since demand for FCEVs and available fueling infrastructure is expanding. Since the launch of the Toyota Mirai two years ago and the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell last year, more than 5,000 have been sold in California. The current network of 35 hydrogen stations should grow to 40 by the end of 2018 and 59 by the end of 2019.

With the Nexo, Hyundai has made some distinctly different design choices from Honda and Toyota starting with the form factor. While the Japanese brands built sedans, Hyundai has created a midsize crossover so the Nexo slots into a growing rather than shrinking segment. From an aesthetic perspective, the Mirai and Clarity fall somewhere between weird and hideous. The Nexo, on the other hand, is sleek and modern and would easily fit into any upscale neighborhood.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

The exterior design of the of the Nexo was done at Hyundai’s California studio led by Chris Chapman. Chapman explained that Hyundai’s design philosophy will be adapting going forward. Since the debut of the fluidic design language in 2009, most Hyundai models have evolved to look largely the same, just scaled up or down. While that wasn’t a bad look, new models starting with the Nexo will diverge more, better reflecting their purpose.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

For example on this hydrogen-fueled crossover, it has a smoother, cleaner shape to optimize aerodynamics. Chapman describes it like a river rock that skips silently across the water. One of the interesting details of the Nexo design is the vertical slots built into the D-pillars at the back of the body. Air flowing through these slots creates a virtual wall, managing the overall airflow at the back of the vehicle. Air tumbling off the back of a vehicle body creates turbulence that is a prime source of drag. The slots cut the drag coefficient by two counts. At the front, the typical Hyundai cascading grille has also been more integrated into the face of the Nexo. Hints of the Hyundai look are there, but reformed to the new purpose of the vehicle.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

The fuel cell system in the Nexo is a next-generation design that is both more powerful and efficient. The overall output has increased by 20% over the system in the old Tucson to 161 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque thanks in part to a more powerful battery. The overall package volume of the stack has dropped by 18% but the power density is up by 50%, efficiency is up by 5% and there are 14% fewer moving parts. Like the latest Honda system, Hyundai has adapted an e-booster to compress the air coming into the stack. Since the compressor is typically the single noisiest part of the system, this has made a noticeable improvement in sound quality, especially compared to the Mirai.

The hydrogen storage system has also been revamped. The earlier Tucson fuel cell, the Mirai and the Clarity all use a two tank layout. A smaller tank sits under the rear seat while a larger one is behind the axle. This larger cylindrical tank eats up a significant portion of the cargo space, especially in the sedans. The Nexo uses three identical 13.7 gallon tanks with two under the seat and the third under the cargo floor. As a result, the Nexo is left with 29.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat, while the Honda has just 11.8 and the Toyota has 15.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

The three tank system increases the fuel capacity from 12.4 to 14 pounds of hydrogen while the overall mass of the hydrogen storage system drops from 281 to 245 pounds. Combined with the more efficient fuel cell stack, the Nexo has a range of 380 miles. By way of comparison, the smaller Kona EV has a 258-mile range while the battery weighs about 1,000 pounds, four times as much as the hydrogen storage.

An interesting feature of the Nexo is its air purification system. Before sending air into the fuel cell stack, it is run through a filtration system that removes 99.9% of particulate matter, fine dust and other air pollutants. So not only does it emit nothing by water vapor, the excess air comes out cleaner than it went in, compensating for some of the internal combustion engines on the road.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

Despite eight inches less overall length than the Honda and Toyota, the Nexo beats them both in all interior dimensions except rear headroom where the Clarity has a slight advantage because the seat sits a bit lower on the smaller hydrogen tank. Overall, the Nexo falls between the Tucson and Santa Fe dimensionally, although closer to the Santa Fe.

The Nexo has been given a high-tech looking cabin with a large dual display panel that stands atop the dash, spanning from the left to the center. Like other Hyundais, it has support for Android Auto and Apple Carplay. The Bluelink remote app shows real-time driving range estimates and has a hydrogen fuel station locator and the ability to send directions directly to the in-car navigation system.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

The cabin is comfortable and roomy and the only real functional complaint I had was with the lettering on the buttons on the sweeping console. The gray lettering is backlit at night but during the day, the graphics were not easy to read against the surrounding silver finish, especially when wearing sunglasses.

Driving the Nexo is a remarkably unremarkable experience. In a straight-up drag race, the Kona EV will outrun it since it’s about 100 pounds lighter but has about 40 more hp. The Kona is definitely meant to the be sportier of the pair. However, the instant torque of the electric propulsion system means that the Nexo feels equally responsive off the line, giving it excellent around town drivability.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

It’s also very convenient in other ways. One of the cool new features it offers is the remote smart parking assist. If a parking spot is too narrow to open the doors, you can just step out, press a button on the fob and the Nexo will automatically back itself into the slot, maneuvering itself back and forth until it’s perfectly centered. The parking assist also works with parallel parking and also pulls the car out.

With its multi-link rear and strut front suspension, the Nexo has very good driving dynamics in spite of its low rolling resistance tires. The steering is nicely weighted although it doesn’t provide the best feedback about what is happening at the tire-road interface. The Nexo isn’t the vehicle to challenging a Jaguar F-Pace or Porsche Macan with on the canyon roads above Malibu.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

It is, however, an excellent family cruiser for daily driving, at least if you live in California or soon the Northeast states. Aside from fuel availability, it doesn’t really require any notable compromise or sacrifice of style. You can top it off in about five minutes, much like putting in gasoline and have 380 miles of range, more than enough to get from Santa Barbara to San Jose without stopping.

Over the past dozen years, I’ve had the opportunity to sample many different fuel cell vehicles. The 2019 Hyundai Nexo feels like the first one that is really a complete design from a manufacturer with no real compromises or elements of being either a science experiment or prototype.

Hyundai covered the cost of travel and lodging for us to evaluate the Kona Electric

“>

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

Twelve years ago when I first started writing professionally about cars, the very first review I ever wrote for AutoblogGreen was a fuel cell electric car, the Ford Focus FCV. In the years since I’ve had the opportunity to drive a number of different concept, prototype and production fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) from Ford, GM, Honda and Toyota. While the technology has absolutely advanced over that time, all of them have had some compromises. Until now that is. Aside from the obviously limited network of hydrogen filling stations, the 2019 Hyundai Nexo felt like the most finished fuel cell vehicle yet.

The first thing to keep in mind about FCEVs is the EV part. A fuel cell vehicle is electric. In most cases, it doesn’t have a plug or get electricity from the grid although some like the new Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell do. Instead of storing energy in a battery as EVs do, hydrogen is the energy carrier and electricity is generated on demand. A fuel cell takes in hydrogen gas from a storage tank and oxygen from the atmosphere. As the two gases pass over a series of plates coated with a platinum catalyst, a chemical reaction occurs, combining them into water with excess electrons thrown off to produce an electrical current.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

FCEVs and BEVs have exactly the same sort of propulsion system, one or more electric motors and a power electronics module that converts the direct current from the battery or fuel cell to the alternating current used by most more efficient motors. FCEVs usually also carry a small battery of about 1.5 kWh like a hybrid to recover kinetic energy during braking. Like any other hybrid, the battery feeds that energy back to the motor during acceleration so that a smaller fuel cell can be used.

The biggest advantage that FCEVs have over battery EVs is refueling time. A typical FCEV can be refilled with hydrogen in about five minutes, far faster than even the most powerful DC fast charging system.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

The Nexo was revealed at CES in January 2018 as Hyundai’s first completely purpose-built FCEV. The former Tucson-based fuel cell was available in 18 countries from 2013 to 2017 but only a few hundred were built. Hyundai isn’t saying what the production capacity will be for the Nexo, but it should be much higher since demand for FCEVs and available fueling infrastructure is expanding. Since the launch of the Toyota Mirai two years ago and the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell last year, more than 5,000 have been sold in California. The current network of 35 hydrogen stations should grow to 40 by the end of 2018 and 59 by the end of 2019.

With the Nexo, Hyundai has made some distinctly different design choices from Honda and Toyota starting with the form factor. While the Japanese brands built sedans, Hyundai has created a midsize crossover so the Nexo slots into a growing rather than shrinking segment. From an aesthetic perspective, the Mirai and Clarity fall somewhere between weird and hideous. The Nexo, on the other hand, is sleek and modern and would easily fit into any upscale neighborhood.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

The exterior design of the of the Nexo was done at Hyundai’s California studio led by Chris Chapman. Chapman explained that Hyundai’s design philosophy will be adapting going forward. Since the debut of the fluidic design language in 2009, most Hyundai models have evolved to look largely the same, just scaled up or down. While that wasn’t a bad look, new models starting with the Nexo will diverge more, better reflecting their purpose.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

For example on this hydrogen-fueled crossover, it has a smoother, cleaner shape to optimize aerodynamics. Chapman describes it like a river rock that skips silently across the water. One of the interesting details of the Nexo design is the vertical slots built into the D-pillars at the back of the body. Air flowing through these slots creates a virtual wall, managing the overall airflow at the back of the vehicle. Air tumbling off the back of a vehicle body creates turbulence that is a prime source of drag. The slots cut the drag coefficient by two counts. At the front, the typical Hyundai cascading grille has also been more integrated into the face of the Nexo. Hints of the Hyundai look are there, but reformed to the new purpose of the vehicle.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

The fuel cell system in the Nexo is a next-generation design that is both more powerful and efficient. The overall output has increased by 20% over the system in the old Tucson to 161 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque thanks in part to a more powerful battery. The overall package volume of the stack has dropped by 18% but the power density is up by 50%, efficiency is up by 5% and there are 14% fewer moving parts. Like the latest Honda system, Hyundai has adapted an e-booster to compress the air coming into the stack. Since the compressor is typically the single noisiest part of the system, this has made a noticeable improvement in sound quality, especially compared to the Mirai.

The hydrogen storage system has also been revamped. The earlier Tucson fuel cell, the Mirai and the Clarity all use a two tank layout. A smaller tank sits under the rear seat while a larger one is behind the axle. This larger cylindrical tank eats up a significant portion of the cargo space, especially in the sedans. The Nexo uses three identical 13.7 gallon tanks with two under the seat and the third under the cargo floor. As a result, the Nexo is left with 29.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat, while the Honda has just 11.8 and the Toyota has 15.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

The three tank system increases the fuel capacity from 12.4 to 14 pounds of hydrogen while the overall mass of the hydrogen storage system drops from 281 to 245 pounds. Combined with the more efficient fuel cell stack, the Nexo has a range of 380 miles. By way of comparison, the smaller Kona EV has a 258-mile range while the battery weighs about 1,000 pounds, four times as much as the hydrogen storage.

An interesting feature of the Nexo is its air purification system. Before sending air into the fuel cell stack, it is run through a filtration system that removes 99.9% of particulate matter, fine dust and other air pollutants. So not only does it emit nothing by water vapor, the excess air comes out cleaner than it went in, compensating for some of the internal combustion engines on the road.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

Despite eight inches less overall length than the Honda and Toyota, the Nexo beats them both in all interior dimensions except rear headroom where the Clarity has a slight advantage because the seat sits a bit lower on the smaller hydrogen tank. Overall, the Nexo falls between the Tucson and Santa Fe dimensionally, although closer to the Santa Fe.

The Nexo has been given a high-tech looking cabin with a large dual display panel that stands atop the dash, spanning from the left to the center. Like other Hyundais, it has support for Android Auto and Apple Carplay. The Bluelink remote app shows real-time driving range estimates and has a hydrogen fuel station locator and the ability to send directions directly to the in-car navigation system.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

The cabin is comfortable and roomy and the only real functional complaint I had was with the lettering on the buttons on the sweeping console. The gray lettering is backlit at night but during the day, the graphics were not easy to read against the surrounding silver finish, especially when wearing sunglasses.

Driving the Nexo is a remarkably unremarkable experience. In a straight-up drag race, the Kona EV will outrun it since it’s about 100 pounds lighter but has about 40 more hp. The Kona is definitely meant to the be sportier of the pair. However, the instant torque of the electric propulsion system means that the Nexo feels equally responsive off the line, giving it excellent around town drivability.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

It’s also very convenient in other ways. One of the cool new features it offers is the remote smart parking assist. If a parking spot is too narrow to open the doors, you can just step out, press a button on the fob and the Nexo will automatically back itself into the slot, maneuvering itself back and forth until it’s perfectly centered. The parking assist also works with parallel parking and also pulls the car out.

With its multi-link rear and strut front suspension, the Nexo has very good driving dynamics in spite of its low rolling resistance tires. The steering is nicely weighted although it doesn’t provide the best feedback about what is happening at the tire-road interface. The Nexo isn’t the vehicle to challenging a Jaguar F-Pace or Porsche Macan with on the canyon roads above Malibu.

2019 Hyundai NexoSam Abuelsamid

It is, however, an excellent family cruiser for daily driving, at least if you live in California or soon the Northeast states. Aside from fuel availability, it doesn’t really require any notable compromise or sacrifice of style. You can top it off in about five minutes, much like putting in gasoline and have 380 miles of range, more than enough to get from Santa Barbara to San Jose without stopping.

Over the past dozen years, I’ve had the opportunity to sample many different fuel cell vehicles. The 2019 Hyundai Nexo feels like the first one that is really a complete design from a manufacturer with no real compromises or elements of being either a science experiment or prototype.

Hyundai covered the cost of travel and lodging for us to evaluate the Kona Electric

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