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Hyundai Nexo 2018 review

The Hyundai Nexo 2018 model is a hydrogen fuel-cell SUV that will change the way you think about the future of mobility.
EXPERT RATING
7.9
The world has become obsessed with electric cars - but what about EVs that don't require you to plug in, but instead use hydrogen to help you get around?

The 2018 Hyundai Nexo is the brand's first serious attempt at making people consider hydrogen as a fuel source for the future.

Admittedly, Hyundai has been mucking around with hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles for a while now: the first production version was the ix35 FCEV, which launched in 2013 - but the Hyundai Nexo 2018 model is all-new, improved, safer and purpose-built for its task.

What is that task? Using hydrogen to create electricity and only produce water as a byproduct. It is coming to Australia in 2019, but refuelling infrastructure could be the main issue with the Nexo - I say that because the vehicle is genuinely impressive.

Oh, the price might be a concern, too...

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   6/10

This could be a problem for the Hyundai Nexo. There is no set price yet in Australia, but we're thinking the asking price may be as high as $85,000, plus on-road costs.

That would make this thing close to BMW X5 territory, and I know a lot of people who would much prefer a sleek German luxury SUV in their driveway than a relative unknown quantity. But then again, early adopters may be willing to spend the money... provided they have access to a filling station.

Hyundai has done a deal with the ACT government to take on 20 examples of the Nexo to get the ball rolling, and we expect a few other government agencies and do-good corporations may also take a punt on it.

Full specifications are also set to be confirmed for Australia, but we expect buyers/lessees will get a lot of equipment for their money, including a comprehensive safety suite, a standard high-tech media system, and a lot more.

Chances are the average Joe or Joanne won't be able to justify this as a private purchase, but fleet buyers are likely to be the main customers in its infancy, in Australia anyway.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

It looks like the future, if you ask me. This is perhaps the most considered and convincing application of Hyundai's new cascading grille design, with LED daytime running lights up high, LED headlights below, and an LED bar that runs the width of the front to help it achieve a super streamlined appearance across the entire front of the car.

In profile it has a bit of Mercedes to it - there aren't many lines on the surface, and that's a good thing: it looks like it was made to cut through the air like a fine blade. The retracting door handles - a la Tesla - are another nice touch.

At the rear it's a bit less convincing, with those clear LED tail-lights looking reminiscent of what you'd find on eBay in 2014 when you searched "aftermarket tail-lights". But I really like the D-pillar treatment, which is like a more convincing version of the Lexus RX.

  • The Hyundai Nexo 2018 model is a hydrogen fuel-cell SUV that will change the way you think about the future of mobility. The Hyundai Nexo 2018 model is a hydrogen fuel-cell SUV that will change the way you think about the future of mobility.
  • At the rear it's a bit less convincing, with those clear LED tail-lights looking reminiscent of what you'd find on eBay in 2014 when you searched "aftermarket tail-lights". At the rear it's a bit less convincing, with those clear LED tail-lights looking reminiscent of what you'd find on eBay in 2014 when you searched "aftermarket tail-lights".

The interior isn't as high-tech as you may expect: sure, there are two crisp screens that sit on the dashboard in front of the driver, but there's also an array of buttons below on the centre stack.

They're really logically placed, and while some people may criticise Hyundai for not being tempted to go full-screen-overload like some of its competitors, I applaud this design. It is functional, even if it isn't that funky.

It's hard to judge the size of the Nexo from the outside - it looks quite compact, but with dimensions  spanning 4670mm long, 1860mm wide and 1630mm tall, it's not that far off the existing Hyundai Santa Fe (it is 4700mm long, 1880mm wide and 1690mm tall)

This is no seven-seater, but there's some marvellous packaging engineering under the metal of the Nexo.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

I said that it's packaging brilliance, but if you've stepped out of a Hyundai Tucson - which is a size smaller than this car - you might think you've been robbed of cabin room.

That's because there are three 52.2-litre hydrogen tanks below the floor of that car at the rear (total: 156.6L). Plus there's a battery under the boot floor, and a few hundred kilos of fuel-cell stack under the bonnet.

Without looking at an X-ray schematic of the car, you might think it's a pretty pokey space in the cockpit. But the fact is, it's spectacularly packaged: Hyundai claims the boot space with the back seats folded flat is a huge 860L (VDA).

They haven't provided a seats-up figure, but we think it's no more than 450L - even so, it's great the company has prioritised practicality rather than cutting costs (which would have meant cutting into cabin space even more).

There'll be ISOFIX child-seat anchors, top-tether points, and all the safety stuff you'd expect. There'll be ISOFIX child-seat anchors, top-tether points, and all the safety stuff you'd expect.

The cabin looks and feels premium, too, and that's despite the fact - or perhaps because of the fact - it has a bunch of different materials used. There are "bio-friendly" materials used, like sugarcane and bamboo, and it doesn't feel cheap... but nor does it feel quite as well finished as, say, the BMW i3
Still, there is a huge 12.3-inch central media screen for all the things you can imagine - it controls the sat nav, media (Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, USB, radio, even digital TV) and allows you to keep an eye on detailed parts of the drivetrain.

That screen is complemented by a crisp and colourful driver info display so you can keep an eye on your speed, navigation instructions and other driving data.

What about family-friendliness? Well, there are a bunch of really handy storage spots, like a cubby under the centre console, a single bottle holder between the front seats, twin cupholders in the rear flip-down armrest and map pockets in the back - but the door pockets are those long, slim numbers that were popular 10 years ago, and there are no bottle holsters in any of the doors.

Even so, the family-friendly bit is taken care of in other ways: there'll be ISOFIX child-seat anchors, top-tether points, and all the safety stuff you'd expect. Check out the safety section below for the full run-down.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   8/10

The Nexo's battery is rated at 40kWh, and the electric motor is claimed to produce 120kW/395Nm, with an estimated range of around 600km.

Power goes to the front wheels via a single-speed transmission.

The electric motor is claimed to produce 120kW/395Nm, with an estimated range of around 600km. The electric motor is claimed to produce 120kW/395Nm, with an estimated range of around 600km.

How much fuel does it consume?   8/10

For the 156.6 litres of hydrogen capacity, you're said to be able to get 609 kilometres under the Korean certificate standard, or 800km on the European fuel cycle test.

Another way of putting it is that the Nexo's tanks can cope with 6.3kg of hydrogen, and on our test route - which including mainly highway driving - our vehicle was covering an average of 93.9km/kg. In other words, our test would have seen us use our 6.3kg of hydrogen up over about 600km. Nice.

What does that mean in terms of cost of refilling? At the moment the rough estimate is that a kilo of hydrogen in Australia could be as much as $10, meaning at best you're going to spend $60 to do 600km. Any diesel mid-size SUV will be better than that, and plenty of petrol ones will, too. But I guess that'd be looking at the whole hydrogen thing the wrong way, right?

Our test would have seen us use our 6.3kg of hydrogen up over about 600km. Nice. Our test would have seen us use our 6.3kg of hydrogen up over about 600km. Nice.

Usage is one thing, but infrastructure is the killer here. There is only one permanent hydrogen filling station in the entire nation of Australia, and Hyundai's own head of the hydrogen program suggested that to reach a point where the fuel source is a viable option in the Nexo's home country of Korea, he'd need more than 400 filling stations.

It is a niche fuel type, but Hyundai Australia is working with everyone from governments to oil companies to try and set up some sort of network of filling stations around the country.

And even though it's an electric car in the way it operates, it doesn't have an electric socket... so you need a fuel station nearby for this to be a viable vehicle, because you can't just plug it in overnight to charge it up. That seems like a missed opportunity to me.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   9/10

The Nexo hasn't been crash-tested yet, and while there may be people out there who think hydrogen is still synonymous with the Hindenburg, Hyundai assured the assembled automotive media that all measures possible have been taken to ensure the best safety imaginable when it comes to housing the highly volatile substance.

Like, Hyundai says it has shot bullets at the hydrogen tanks; that it has done an impact test by crashing a car into the rear of the Nexo at 80km/h; that it has lit the hydrogen tanks on fire; that it has dropped the thing off a cliff and smashed it up in such a way that all that was left intact was the hydrogen tanks. I'm convinced.

As for other elements of the safety package, the model we drove in Korea was brimming with the latest tech: auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and lane-keeping assistance that could work on the highway without human intervention for minutes at a time, plus a blind-spot monitoring system that uses the driver info display to show the cars behind you in either lane by using a camera. It's the future, man.

There's also rear cross-traffic with auto braking, plus a system called 'Highway Driving Assist' that allowed the car to slow down for speed cameras and also maintain a set speed when the cameras were point-to-point (and it'd speed up after it had passed them, too, if the set speed was higher than that signposted).

It has six airbags, a full surround-view camera system, parking sensors, and a remote parking assistant that'll drive the vehicle into tight spots without a human needing to be present.

There's even a dashboard-mounted camera that monitors the driver's face to see if they're tired or distracted, and will warn them to take a break if they are.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   8/10

We can't say what Hyundai is planning to do with servicing the Nexo just yet, but we understand the vehicle will be covered by a 10-year/160,000km drivetrain guarantee.

We'd expect the existing five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty for all other parts will remain.

What's it like to drive?   9/10

It's an odd one, because there are elements of the drive experience that are very much like a ‘regular' electric car, while other parts are similar to a conventional SUV.

The fact there's a big, heavy fuel-cell stack (and all of its components - a humidifier, a compressor and heaps of other ancillaries) under the bonnet means it has that nose-heavy feel of a diesel SUV.

But it has the throttle response and performance of an electric vehicle, with a fair bit of zing when you need it, decent push from a stand-still, and almost silent progress on the move (you can hear the air compressor feeding the fuel-cell under hard throttle).

There are elements of the drive experience that are very much like a 'regular' electric car, while other parts are similar to a conventional SUV. There are elements of the drive experience that are very much like a 'regular' electric car, while other parts are similar to a conventional SUV.

Like most electric cars it has a single-speed transmission, so it doesn't have to fumble through gears to keep pace with traffic, and the regenerative braking system helps feed the battery, which in turn helps the car get away from the line quickly because according to Hyundai experts there's an inherent lag from the fuel-cell compressor.

Some of my Aussie media colleagues were critical of the braking performance and pedal feel of the Nexo, but I found it to be well judged - not that wooden feel you sometimes get in other electric vehicles, and the regenerative braking system allows you to choose between three levels of aggressiveness using the paddle-shifters, which is a neat touch.

And you guessed it, the Nexo will go in for Hyundai Australia's much-lauded dynamic tuning, just like every other model in the company's range. That means it'll get suspension and steering tweaks to suit local desires, but I've got to say that the one I drove in Korea wasn't disappointing in either respect.

It has the throttle response and performance of an electric vehicle, with a fair bit of zing when you need it. It has the throttle response and performance of an electric vehicle, with a fair bit of zing when you need it.

Sure, the steering wasn't as pin-point precise as an i30 N, and nor was the ride as comfortable over little bumps as a Tucson, but I'd suggest the local tune on this thing could be one of Hyundai Australia's easier jobs.

The best bit of the drive experience was the autonomous tech - some other systems I've used have been a bit bouncy, in that they will ping-pong you between the lane markings on the highway. But on straight, and even marginally cornered, stretches of road, the Nexo's camera system watched the lane markings and kept things under control.

The radar system also kept a decent distance from cars ahead, and the blind-spot camera system was super intuitive: after only one initial tap of the blinker stalk I found myself habitually checking my side mirrors, then the driver info screen, to make sure I wasn't going to merge in on an unsuspecting fellow road user.

Verdict

There may not be a big market for the Hyundai Nexo hydrogen fuel-cell SUV when it arrives in Australia in 2019, but that doesn't mean it won't have some appeal to certain buyers.

If you're considering a Tesla Model X and you live nearby to Hyundai's very own hydrogen station in Sydney's north - or maybe you just happen to know of a way to source hydrogen that you haven't filled anyone else in on yet! - then maybe you should hold off. This could be a relative bargain compared with that car, and even more of a head-turner.

Would you consider a Nexo over another electric rival? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

EXPERT RATING
7.9
Price and features6
Design8
Practicality7
Engine & trans8
Fuel consumption8
Safety9
Ownership8
Driving9
Matt Campbell
Senior Editor

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