Hydrogen power and autonomous tech together in Hyundaiâ€™s ix35 replacement
From a distance, the Hyundai Nexo could be any midsized SUV â€“ albeit a pretty good-looking one â€“Â but itâ€™s actually a very important car for the Korean company in two key areas: autonomous driving and low-emissions motoring.
You make that realisation when, from behind the steering wheel, you see clouds of water vapour issuing from the twin exhausts of the Nexo ahead as it cruises around an 80mph bend. And thereâ€™s nothing else to distract you as you do that because your arms are folded across your chest: both Nexos are steering themselves.
The hydrogen fuell-cell poweredÂ Nexo is set to replace the similarly-equipped Hyundai ix35 FCEV crossover, a limited number of which have been on trial-lease around the world for the last four years or so. Hyundai knows that an incomplete hydrogen refuelling map plus high pricing will put a cap on the Nexoâ€™s success, but even so they are aiming for four-figure sales rather than two-figure rentals.
Hyundai Nexo FCEV
Price: Â£60,000 approx
Engine: hydrogen fuel cell stack, electric motor
Power: 181bhp combined
Torque: 291lb ft combined
Gearbox: single speed, selectable deceleration rate
Kerb weight: TBC
Top speed: 111mph
Fuel economy: tbc
CO2, tax band: TBC
In one statement of intent, the Nexo will be offered with right-hand drive (the ix35 FCEV was left-hand drive only) while a redesign of the fuel cell hardware has delivered greater practicality with a bigger boot and more rear passenger space. Greater energy density in the lighter cell gives the Nexo a full-tank range of around 370 miles and the combined fuel cell/electric output of 181bhp results in a 0-62mph time of 9.2sec, versus the ix35â€™s 12.5sec.
If youâ€™ve ever driven a conventional electric vehicle, youâ€™ll not be surprised by the quiet, fussless power delivery of a hydrogen car. Itâ€™s brisk rather than face-distorting in the manner of a Tesla on its â€˜ludicrousâ€™ setting. A big plus for hydrogen is the considerably shorter replenishment time compared to an EV: it takes just five minutes to fill the Nexoâ€™s three tanks. Set against that is the continuing rarity of 700bar hydrogen dispensers in the UK, most of the fifteen that are currently on line being located in or around London.
Perhaps of more general interest at this moment is the Nexoâ€™s autonomous ability. Some autonomous cars will only correct themselves once a drift across while lines is detected, but the Nexo successfully plots a course between two white lines while keeping a respectful distance between itself and the vehicle ahead. The steering wheel gently re-adjusts itself on the move as you hold it lightly between your palms. A warning will sound if you take your hands off for more than 10-12 seconds, but our test car let us continue hands-free for nearly six minutes.
The Nexo also has a â€˜look no driverâ€™ self-parking facility, but when there is someone begind the wheel theyâ€™ll face an adaptive instrument display featuring a very small digital speedometer and a big 12.3in infotainment screen showing (among many other things) how the energy is flowing and the volume of air being treated by the Nexoâ€™s particulate and dust-trapping fuel cell filter, dubbed a â€˜vacuum cleaner of roadsâ€™ by Hyundai.
Looked at in isolation, the Nexoâ€™s driving manners are bland and a little stiff, but in everyday use the feelgood factor of zero-emissions motoring and the sensation of calm disturbed only by a slight side-pillar rustle on faster roads tend to trump these slight inadequacies.Â Thereâ€™s no denying the smart appearance inside and out too, after applying the common proviso of some bits of interior trim being a bit too plasticky.
Weâ€™re used to inflated sticker prices on hydrogen car windscreens, and the Nexo will be no exception at an expected price of around Â£60,000. That shortage of UK refuelling opportunites will keep it firmly in its own niche for now, but for early adopters living in the south-east itâ€™s a valid and interesting choice.