So the Nexo is a purpose-built fuel cell car. Hyundai quotes a 414-mile range (on the more stringent WLTP cycle) and says those tanks can be fully replenished in five minutes, little longer than it takes to refuel a conventional car.
The point of all of this, of course, is that you have the range and flexibility of a petrol or diesel car, but nothing more harmful than water comes out of the tailpipe.
The Nexo takes learnings and engineering know-how from the ix35, but not its hardware. The fuel cell componentry is completely new, and the stack itself was designed and built in-house by Hyundai. At current UK prices, it would be slightly cheaper to refuel the Nexo than a similar petrol car and its range is comparable too.
It feels exactly like an electric car to drive, albeit one with a relatively lightweight motor. You simply aren’t aware that any clever chemistry is happening beneath that bonnet. The car is every bit as serene as a conventional EV. What it doesn’t have is the surprising turn of speed of a typical electric car. Instead, it feels brisk enough to keep pace with traffic, but no faster.
There is regenerative braking to recoup some energy that would otherwise be lost and you can choose your preferred level of energy harvesting, from none at all to near enough single-pedal driving. Unlike with some EVs and hybrids, the Nexo’s brake pedal is actually quite consistent and easy to modulate.
At motorway speeds, there is a pronounced wind rustle from the A-pillar, as though a window has been left open a crack, but otherwise the Nexo is calm and relaxing at a cruise. On race-track-smooth Norwegian roads (we’re on the outskirts of Oslo because of the region’s well-developed hydrogen infrastructure), the ride quality feels perfectly fine, although it remains to be seen how the Nexo’s chassis deals with a really gnarly UK road.
The car is easy to drive around town, too, thanks in part to the elevated seating position, but out on a flowing, cross-country route, the Nexo is a little less impressive. The steering, for one thing, is bizarre, the wheel tugging lightly this way and that for no apparent reason, as though somebody has got a hold of the steering column and is trying to spook you out. In corners, meanwhile, the car feels heavy, tipping over quite markedly if you carry any meaningful speed through a bend. The Nexo weighs 1814kg and you feel every single kilo.
Within its comfort zone – on the motorway, in the city or in among gently flowing traffic on an A-road – the Nexo does exactly what it needs to do. But its comfort zone has no breadth. The cabin, meanwhile, looks very modern but also quite slabby. The flat, expansive centre console is littered with so many squared-off buttons that it looks like a game of Scrabble at the Rees-Mogg household.
As an SUV-style car, the Nexo isn’t at all bad. As a concept, being able to drive for more than 400 miles, while emitting only water, before filling up again in five minutes flat is nothing short of brilliant. It’s game changing. Yet so few of us will be able to enjoy it, for there are just 15 hydrogen fuel stations in the UK.
If you don’t happen to live near one, the Nexo – or any hydrogen car, for that matter – is a complete non-starter: a shame given how much potential the technology has for offering big ranges and zero emissions. There are plans to increase the number of stations to 65 by 2025, but until the infrastructure improves beyond recognition, hydrogen will continue to be a fuel of the future.
The Nexo does suffer for its high price. There is no exact figure just yet but it will not come in at any less than £60,000, positioning the car just below the £66,000 Mirai. The Hyundai badge doesn’t carry it, nor does the driving experience, and the cabin doesn’t feel it – even though the company has clearly tried hard with soft-touch, rubbery plastics, intricately drilled metal speaker grilles and so on.