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Hyundai Nexo 2021 review

The Nexo is the culmination of over 20 years of research, and it's finally here in Australia.

The first time I drove the Hyundai Nexo it was in a place called Goyang in South Korea.

Goyang was a place of pure contrast. The old Korea clashed with the new as you walked through ancient seafood markets toward the towering Hyundai Motorstudio, an ultra-modernist expression of design, perched like a steel battleship above a simultaneously crumbling and rapidly modernising city. 

Part museum, part design expo, part car dealership of the future, it was as though the whole place was a metaphor for the breakneck pace at which megacorp Chaebols like Hyundai were advancing Korea at a faster rate than its populace could keep up with.

The brand’s Nexo SUV is the same in a lot of ways. It’s a mid-size SUV that might be popular right now, but it contains the technology of the future wrapped in a digestible format for the masses.

Of course, it’s the future from a certain point of view. VW would argue EVs alone are set to drive our brave zero emissions future, but Hyundai is of a different mind.

What you’re looking at here, or so Hyundai’s representatives tell us, is the ultimate replacement for diesel. Long range, high load capacity, and an ultra-fast refuelling time are part of the hydrogen fuel cell promise. One that promises to out-do many of Australia’s qualms with EVs.

A statement of the future it may be, but what’s the Hyundai Nexo actually like as a car? We went to its Australian launch to find out

Price and features - Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Sadly, if you’re a private buyer and not a fleet customer, you can’t actually buy a Hyundai Nexo. At least, not yet. 

The brand is currently rolling this interesting SUV out amongst special interest fleet buyers, and our test drive comes as the first 20 examples are handed over to the ACT government which is also celebrating the opening of a new refuelling station in the territory.

The Nexo has flush door handles with keyless entry. The Nexo has flush door handles with keyless entry.

Hyundai is leasing Nexos out to early fleet adopters for a set (and undisclosed) monthly fee for the time being but promises it will consider taking private orders once the refuelling network is more established and its usage is better understood. 

We’ll get back to you on price if and when it becomes more available to private customers. Don’t expect it to be cheap. 

We took a look at the Nexo’s Korean retail price, where it starts from the equivalent of A$83,645 before on-road costs and in Korea’s more forward-thinking case, tax benefits.

It rides on 19-inch alloy wheels. It rides on 19-inch alloy wheels.

Thankfully though, as a “technology leader” for the brand, Hyundai’s local division has chosen to import the car with every possible spec item from the factory. 

This includes a dual-screen layout with a 7.0-inch digital dash as well as a 12.3-inch multimedia touchscreen with built-in navigation, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto connectivity, fully leather-appointed interior trim, heated and ventilated power adjustable front seats, heated steering wheel and outboard rear seats, dual-zone climate control, 19-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, fully LED head- and tail-lights, an eight-speaker audio system, smart parking assist with remote function, flush door handles with keyless entry and push-start ignition. That’s a lot of stuff. If this were my fleet car, I’d be pretty happy.

There's a dual-screen layout with a 7.0-inch digital dash. There's a dual-screen layout with a 7.0-inch digital dash.

Rivals? The only electric cars with anywhere near an equivalent range are the Tesla Model 3 ($86,325), Mercedes-Benz EQC ($141,400), and Audi E-Tron ($137,100), but as it is with these models you’re faced with high retail prices and long recharging times from anything but an ultra-fast DC station. 

There’s also the Prius-shaped-and-sized Toyota Mirai kicking around. It’s also an FCEV and also available to limited fleets.

Design - Is there anything interesting about its design?

Like Toyota’s Prius, the Hyundai Nexo is not only a technology leader for the brand, but it also debuted many of its current exotic design elements long before they arrived on any mainstream model. 

A little larger than a Tucson, the Nexo has a dramatic honeycombed grille which maintains a paint finish, topped off with a strip of LED lighting which Hyundai says was to give it a distinctive look at night.

All its lighting is LED to fit with its avant-garde design, although when seen from the side or the rear it could be any mid-size SUV

The Nexo isn’t the kind of car which will polarise buyers because of its design alone. The Nexo isn’t the kind of car which will polarise buyers because of its design alone.

There’s something sensible about that. The Nexo isn’t the kind of car which will polarise buyers because of its design alone.

Hidden away are very neat design elements, like functional air dams on the front guards and rear spoiler fitment, and hidden wiper blades under the bonnet cladding and tucked under the rear spoiler. 

There is also intricate pattern-work on the light fittings, making for an admirable overall attention to detail befitting such an interesting, if typically shaped, SUV.

Inside, and Hyundai points out that the Nexo was the first of its cars to get the 'bridge' centre console which now appears on the Santa Fe, Palisade, and Kona EV

It has a similar right height and seat positioning to a Tucson and headroom despite a standard sunroof is excellent. It has a similar right height and seat positioning to a Tucson and headroom despite a standard sunroof is excellent.

It’s an impressive design element, really lifting the cabin ambiance on all the vehicles it appears on, although the plethora of buttons smattered across its face is reminiscent of older Porsche models, and not necessarily in a good way. It can be tough for first-time or occasional users to find the button they’re looking for.

The Nexo was also one of the first Hyundai models to score the impressive dual screen layout, consisting of a 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster, and a 12.3-inch multimedia touchscreen.

There's a 12.3-inch multimedia touchscreen with built-in navigation. There's a 12.3-inch multimedia touchscreen with built-in navigation.

Trim options for our market consist of a two-tone cream or a navy blue leather-appointed upholstery.

Again, there are attention-to-detail elements here, with interesting grain designs across the dash-topper and door cards, with many of the fittings appearing in silver rather than black to add a touch of futuristic flair. 

It can be tough for first-time or occasional users to find the button they’re looking for. It can be tough for first-time or occasional users to find the button they’re looking for.

Hyundai promises sustainable 'bio-based' plastics are used extensively in the interior, leading to a 12kg reduction in CO2 emissions during the production process. 

There are also vegetable oil-derived paints used in the cabin, and fibres made using corn and sugarcane waste material. Nice to have some real eco bragging rights on something a lot cheaper than a BMW i8.

Practicality - How practical is the space inside?

Being a mid-size SUV, the Nexo will possess many of the practicality attributes today’s buyers are searching for.

It has a similar right height and seat positioning to a Tucson, so it’s really bang-on for the market, and headroom despite a standard sunroof is excellent. Adjustability is also good with telescopic adjust for the wheel and 10-way electrical adjust for the seats. 

As is typical for Hyundai there are some great storage areas, with a large centre console box, a single large bottle holder and odd little storage tray, a huge cutaway underneath the console bridge (which houses the wireless charger and USB ports).

There's a cutaway underneath the console bridge (which houses the wireless charger and USB ports). There's a cutaway underneath the console bridge (which houses the wireless charger and USB ports).

There are also large door bins, although these proved not so great for holding bottles as the door design and speakers limit the height of objects that can be placed there. 

There’s also an odd little pop-out bottle holder on the passenger side, I assume to make up for the fact that there isn’t a second one in the centre.

The back seats had a good amount of room, behind my own (182cm/6'0" tall) driving position my knees had plenty of airspace, although the presence of a 'transmission tunnel' which eats space for the middle seat was puzzling given this car is strictly front-drive only. 

The back seats had a good amount of room, with plenty of airspace for knees. The back seats had a good amount of room, with plenty of airspace for knees.

Amenities for rear passengers include pockets on the backs of the front seats, a single 12V power outlet, and dual adjustable air vents. There are also small single bottle holders in the doors.

Boot space comes in at a competitive but not stellar 461-litres (VDA), or 1466L with the seats down. This is okay for the mid-size segment, although the loading lip and boot floor is quite high due to the presence of under-floor batteries. 

Boot space comes in at a competitive but not stellar 461-litres (VDA). Boot space comes in at a competitive but not stellar 461-litres (VDA).

There is also no spare wheel for the Nexo, with only a small amount of room for a tyre repair kit.

Drivetrain - What are the key stats for the drivetrain?

The Nexo’s hydrogen system is not really a drive component. It generates power for the electric motor, which is similar to the one that appears in the Kona EV. 

Like other EV models, it’s a permanent magnet synchronous motor mounted on the front axle, producing 120kW/395Nm. 

The hydrogen system is a grid of catalyst membranes which are essentially used like a giant battery to chemically combine oxygen sourced from outside the car with pressurised hydrogen. 

There's an electric motor, which is similar to the one that appears in the Kona EV. There's an electric motor, which is similar to the one that appears in the Kona EV.

This reaction generates two bi-products: electricity and water, the latter of which exits the Nexo’s tailpipe.

The hydrogen system is capable of generating 135kW, just over the motor’s total output so there is always power to spare.

Powering the car’s auxiliary systems, and acting as a buffer to store excess and regenerated energy, is a hybrid-sized 1.56kWh lithium-ion battery under the boot floor.

Energy consumption - How much does it consume? What’s the range like, and what it’s like to recharge/refuel?

The Nexo drinks compressed hydrogen. It has 6.33kg worth of hydrogen storage tanks which grant it a generally EV-beating 666km of range. 

One of the key benefits of the hydrogen system is that it refuels in roughly the same time as it takes to fuel a diesel car, using a pressurised hose in a similar manner to an LPG vehicle.

The trouble is hydrogen is hard to source at a pump in Australia. There is one refuelling station at Hyundai’s Macquarie Park HQ in NSW, another just opened in the ACT, and a third one owned by Toyota which is about to open at its Altona, VIC HQ.

The fleet of 20 cars handed over to the ACT government will use the new pump, which for the first year will be providing free hydrogen as the system is evaluated.

One of the key benefits of the hydrogen system is that it refuels in roughly the same time as it takes to fuel a diesel car. One of the key benefits of the hydrogen system is that it refuels in roughly the same time as it takes to fuel a diesel car.

Overall costs for the hydrogen after that time will depend on where it is sourced from. As Australia is uniquely positioned to generate compressed hydrogen (with an abundance of renewable energy idle time which can be stored in places like the ACT) the cost will come down over time. 

Right now, though, the brand estimates somewhere to the tune of $15 a kilo for an end-consumer, or about $90 to fill the Nexo.

Finally, a benefit for the eco-conscious, Hyundai pitches the Nexo as a product which actually leaves the air cleaner after generating energy, although there are some caveats.

The first is that the membrane requires use of platinum – a rare earth metal, and the second is hydrogen requires a lengthy, power-intensive and complex process to generate in a usable form. 

In the ACT government’s case this is less of a problem, as it will use 100 per cent renewably sourced idle energy to process the gas.

Safety - What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

Despite being so low volume, the Nexo has a maximm five-star ANCAP rating and comes with the full array of active safety items from any other high-spec Hyundai model.

Included is radar-based auto emergency braking which works up to freeway speeds with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring with collision avoidance, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, driver attention alert, auto high beam assist, and a top-down reversing camera

Also featuring is a blind-spot camera which appears in the instrument cluster when the indicator is applied.

The Nexo of course features the expected traction, stability, and brake controls, and has the regular suite of six airbags for the event of an actual collision.

Ownership - What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Ownership is a tough one, because, well, you simply can’t own one. 

Either way Hyundai says the Nexo’s hydrogen drivetrain carries no warranty implications, meaning if you could own one (as Koreans can), it would still be covered by the brand’s five year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

In terms of servicing, the Nexo requires a visit once a year, although like a pure EV there are few items that actually need attention at one of these visits.

A top-up of coolant is only required about once every six years, and various filters need to be cycled out. Other than that, it’s just your usual wear and tear items like brakes and tyres.

As Hyundai leases the current vehicles out, it will be taking care of servicing for the initial batch.

Driving - What's it like to drive?

To drive the Nexo is essentially no different to an electric car. It uses the same permanent magnet motor, the same regenerative braking, and the same buffer battery system.

This means a very quiet and smooth drive. It’s not quite the unleashed performance of a Tesla, but then that’s not really the point of the Nexo which leans into the comfort of the whole experience.

The drive and hydrogen reaction is entirely a silent process, although the Nexo emits a pleasant choral tone at low speed to alert passers by of its presence, same as the Kona EV.

Despite that strong torque number, the Nexo isn’t inclined to spin the wheels, and for balance reasons, Hyundai actually de-tuned the motor slightly to make it gentle off-the-line.

When it comes to corners the comfort is again emphasised, with very light and linear steering. The chassis is rigid enough to feel under control, although the comfort suspension tune will have it tilting around a little more than, say, a Tucson.

The ride is also far more forgiving than Hyundai’s sportier petrol range, with the Nexo undulating over bumps and corrugations with ease.

As is usual with Hyundai models, the safety systems aren’t too invasive, making the Nexo a friendly companion on the freeway, and the soft interior trimmings add to its near-luxurious feel.

The ACT government reps who will be receiving this car are of the mind that anybody that drives it will become an advocate for electrification, and I’m inclined to agree with them.

For most people it’s better in every way from behind the wheel when compared to a petrol car.

If nothing else the Nexo is a brilliant experiment to prove there can be more than one solution for a zero-emissions future. A lot of this depends on the power grid being more sustainable, but the most pressing issue for end-consumers, and Hyundai itself when it comes to FCEV technology, is the rollout of a more robust refuelling network.

At the end of the day, the thought of having an electric car with the range and refuelling ease of a petrol one is a much easier sell than the tall retail prices and compromises that come with an EV for every-day Australians. In a way, then, the Nexo is functionally an ideal blend of the old and the new. 

You can’t buy one yet, but as this SUV will lay the groundwork for hydrogen’s future, we’ll be watching it with a keen eye.

Score

4.2/5
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