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2020 Hyundai Nexo Road Test and Review

by Autobytel Staff
December 2, 2019
5 min. Reading Time
2020 Hyundai Nexo ・  Photo by Hyundai

2020 Hyundai Nexo ・ Photo by Hyundai

Driving the 2020 Hyundai Nexo is like driving the future — today. It looks futuristic, it sounds futuristic, and it’s got a futuristic fuel cell powertrain. It literally cleans the atmosphere as you drive it, and nothing but water vapor comes out of its tailpipe. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? My 9-year-old asked me why everyone doesn’t drive a car like the Nexo.

The answer is the availability of hydrogen fuel. Though hydrogen is one of the most plentiful elements in the universe, nearly all of America's publicly accessible charging stations are in California, which has invested millions to start building the infrastructure fuel cell vehicles require. As of this writing, 39 have opened statewide, 24 more are in various stages of development, and California is planning to subsidize many more. Fortunately, my house is just a few miles away from one, making it easier to live with a 2020 Nexo Limited. For a week, anyway.

Hyundai Nexo Tax Credit, Rebate, and Free Fuel

Hyundai offers the Nexo in two trim levels. The Nexo Blue includes standard equipment and is priced at $59,830, including a destination charge of $1,095. The Nexo Limited costs $63,280, including destination. It adds great-looking 19-inch aluminum wheels, a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, a power hands-free rear liftgate, a power sunroof, a Krell premium sound system, and a surround-view camera system with blind-spot camera views. It also comes with Remote Smart Parking Assist, which allows you to stand outside of the vehicle and operate its remote self-parking and self-retrieval technology.

Every new Nexo in California is eligible for a $7,500 federal income tax credit as well as a $4,500 rebate from the state's Clean Vehicle Rebate Project. Additionally, Hyundai provides $13,000 in free hydrogen fuel during the first three years of ownership. And for those times when you need a gasoline-fueled vehicle, Nexo owners enjoy seven free days of rental cars for each of the first three years.

 Photo by Hyundai

Photo by Hyundai

What does a Hyundai Nexo look like?

Though it looks like a typical crossover SUV, the Nexo captured attention wherever I drove it. Part of the reason was the Copper Metallic paint job. Part of the reason was the full-width front lighting signature. Part of the reason was the whirring noise it makes at low speeds. And part of the reason is that it’s Hyundai’s most appealing SUV in terms of design.

The appeal extends to the cabin, too, where luxury-grade materials (many of them ecologically friendly), high-tech displays, and complementary colors make the Nexo look and feel like it’s worth what you paid for it. The center control panel looks terrific, too, but in use, it leaves something to be desired. Gray buttons with dark gray lettering are aimed at the roof of the vehicle, making them hard to see, find, and use. At night, the backlit markings are easier to discern, but the arrangement still isn’t ideal.

 Photo by Hyundai

Photo by Hyundai

What is a Hyundai Nexo’s cargo capacity?

Hyundai Nexo cargo capacity is on par with compact crossover SUVs. It supplies 29.6 cubic feet behind the back seat, which is more than double what you get in the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell or Toyota Mirai sedans, the only other fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) available in the U.S. Maximum volume with the back seat folded down measures 56.5 cubic feet.

Thanks to its roomy interior and supportive, leather-wrapped seats, the Nexo is great at carrying people as well as cargo. Heated and ventilated, each front seat features power height adjustment for optimum comfort. Hyundai's Blue Link Connected Car Service is free, allowing owners to remotely start the Nexo and pre-condition the cabin with heat or air conditioning. Rear seat passengers sit up high with terrific thigh support and a great view out. Air conditioning vents keep occupants cool, and there’s a 110-volt power outlet. For 2020, Hyundai adds dark-tinted privacy glass to the Nexo’s rear windows.

 Photo by Hyundai

Photo by Hyundai

How big is the Hyundai Nexo’s infotainment system screen?

Hyundai has outdone itself with the Nexo’s brilliant high-resolution infotainment system, marred only by the indistinguishable controls on the center console. Featuring a 12.3-inch touchscreen display, it offers three display panels on the home screen and easy access to all menus by swiping right.

Where to begin with the praise for this technology? From the handy hydrogen station finder and driving range map to the free three-year trial subscription to Blue Link and the available eight-speaker Krell high-end audio components, this system is complex yet simple at the same time. The infotainment system marries to the digital instrumentation, the dual screens sitting under a dashboard brow like a couple of iPads propped on the dashboard. It reminds me of modern Mercedes-Benz products, another way the Nexo seems worth the price even though it’s a Hyundai. Sometimes, luxury and sophistication aren’t about brand cachet.

 Photo by Hyundai

Photo by Hyundai

Is the Hyundai Nexo safe?

Rated a Top Safety Pick+ by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Hyundai Nexo is a safe FCEV. It also boasts a full Smart Sense suite of advanced driving assistance systems, including a remarkably effective lane-keeping system. During testing on Pacific Coast Highway, the technology proved accurate and smooth, resisting false warnings and reactions. Sharper bends in the road tripped up the lane-keeping system, and as the road narrowed from two northbound lanes to one, the system issued a lane-departure alert.

The Nexo Limited includes a camera-based blind-spot system that shows the driver a video feed of what’s in the vehicle’s blind spots. I prefer the standard radar-based blind-spot monitoring system. Hyundai’s new Remote Smart Parking Assist (RSPA) is also gimmicky, but it could prove useful in the future. Though I did not try it during this test, I’ve seen it in action, and it works just as well as similar technology from BMW and Tesla.

 Photo by Hyundai

Photo by Hyundai

How does a Hyundai Nexo work?

The Nexo’s fuel cell stack transforms hydrogen gas into electricity, which flows to a battery that powers an electric motor featuring 161 horsepower and 291 lb-ft of torque. Water vapor is the byproduct of this process, exiting the tailpipe and essentially "cleaning" the atmosphere as you drive. Acceleration is quick and supplies the satisfying sensation of thrust common to electric vehicles. When driving at low speed, the Nexo emits an unusual whirring sound that captures attention, and when driving on the freeway it’s remarkably quiet with no more than a hint of wind noise.

I took the Nexo to my local hydrogen refueling station. It was my first "unsupervised" fuel cell vehicle refill, and it took five swipes of my credit card to achieve anything close to success. Ultimately, over the course of 15 minutes, I brought the tank from about half full to 92% of its capacity, at a total cost of $34.67. I’d driven the Nexo just 118.7 miles.

 Photo by Hyundai

Photo by Hyundai

What’s it like to drive a Hyundai Nexo?

As long as you’re not exploring the Nexo’s handling limits, it is an exceptionally agreeable vehicle to drive. In urban and suburban environments, it is quiet and composed, its relatively compact size and various camera systems making it easy to park. Strong low-end acceleration whooshes the Nexo away from traffic lights, and this hydrogen-powered Hyundai whispers down freeways. Depending on the situation, the three-stage regenerative brakes can feel a little grabby and hard to modulate, and steering assistance feels heavy and rubbery at first, with odd resistance to input. But you get used to these traits over time.

Run the Nexo down a favorite back road with enthusiasm, and it doesn’t take long to realize this isn’t the SUV’s purpose. You’re aware of all the weight low in the chassis, and over undulating pavement, the suspension struggles to manage it. Brake actuation is less smooth in this environment, and the steering simply doesn’t encourage prolonged travel on less-traveled roads. But I still love the Nexo.

 Photo by Hyundai

Photo by Hyundai

What competes with a Hyundai Nexo?

If you want an FCEV, the Hyundai Nexo, Honda Clarity, and Toyota Mirai are your only choices.

Honda will lease a Clarity Fuel Cell to you for 36 months. You can’t buy one. You can buy the Toyota, but its weird styling and four-passenger configuration are big strikes against it. Both the Honda and Toyota are sedans with small trunks. And then there is the Hyundai Nexo, which has a huge cargo area, good looks, and, in Blue trim, a class-leading estimated 380 miles of travel on a tank of hydrogen.

Each of these vehicles is available with federal income tax credits, California rebates, and free fuel and car rentals. But only one of them is the best, and it’s the Hyundai Nexo. For now.

 Photo by Toyota

Photo by Toyota

Should I buy a Hyundai Nexo?

The first time I drove an FCEV was in 2005, and that odd little Honda FCX had me smitten with the first press of the accelerator pedal. I’ve been a fan ever since. When my L.A. suburb got its first hydrogen refueling station, I started trying to convince my wife that the Hyundai NEXO was perfect for us. After all, our own SUV hasn’t been beyond Santa Barbara to the west, Santa Clarita to the north, Irvine to the south, or Pasadena to the east. Relatively speaking, there are plenty of hydrogen stations within that geographic region, and you get 21 days of free car rentals for extended road trips. 

My real-world refueling experience has tempered my desire for an FCEV. Clearly, the infrastructure needs improvement. But the technology is ready. And the outstanding 2020 Hyundai NEXO is proof of that.

 Photo by Hyundai

Photo by Hyundai


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