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2020 Hyundai Nexo review: This hydrogen fuel-cell SUV deserves your attention

If you live in California and have easy access to hydrogen stations, the Nexo should be on your shopping list.

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2020 Hyundai Nexo

The Nexo is the best-looking hydrogen-powered car out there.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

We've been hearing for decades that hydrogen fuel-cell cars would be the future, but it's never really happened. Sure, there have been some limited-run production cars like the Honda FCX, as well as lots of concepts and prototypes. But right now, and only if you live in California, there are just three hydrogen-powered cars you can buy: the Honda ClarityToyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo. After spending a week with a Nexo I can safely say that it's the best of the bunch. And if you can make hydrogen life work for you, it's a fantastic all-around crossover to boot. 

2020 Hyundai Nexo
8.6

2020 Hyundai Nexo

MSRP

$58,735

Like

  • Fantastic interior styling
  • Extremely quiet and composed ride
  • Long driving range
  • Tons of tech onboard

Don't like

  • Slow acceleration and no AWD
  • Filling up can be a pain
  • Only available in California

First, a quick primer of how the Nexo actually works. The hydrogen fuel is stored in a tank under the floor of the car. That hydrogen gets sent to the fuel-cell stack, where it's combined with oxygen from the air intakes in an electrochemical reaction, creating electricity and water. A single motor on the Nexo's front axle uses that electricity to drive the front wheels, producing 161 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque. The water is dumped out underneath the car, which you can also do on command at the press of a button (I'm not exactly sure why).

2020 Hyundai Nexo is a handsome, concept-like hydrogen crossover

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The EPA says the base Nexo Blue has a range of 380 miles, with the Nexo Limited (like my test car) getting a 354-mile range because of its larger wheels. That bests the range of every EV this side of a Tesla Model S, and it's even better than the total range of many gas-powered cars. I find the Nexo's range readout to be very accurate if not actually pessimistic at times; after 260 miles of driving I still have about a third of a tank left, with the Nexo saying I have around 120 miles of range. And unlike an electric car, refueling the Nexo at a hydrogen station takes just five minutes, like filling up a traditional car with gas, though hydrogen is more expensive.

Driving the Nexo is pretty much like driving any other electric car. Hyundai says the Nexo will accelerate to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds but it feels quicker than that, and you get the familiar, satisfying punch of instant EV torque off the line. The steering isn't too light, a problem that a lot of EVs have, and the Nexo is actually pretty fun to chuck into a corner.

The Nexo has regenerative braking, which has three adjustable intensity settings or can be turned off entirely. While I'm always happy to have regen and the Nexo's system works well, I wish the car had true one-pedal driving capabilities, like an EV. The Nexo will slow way down in the most intense regen setting, but even at lower speeds you still need to hit the brakes to come to a complete stop.

2020 Hyundai Nexo

There's no frunk under the hood.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

Without any hyperbole, the Nexo is one of the quietest and comfiest cars this side of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The suspension damping is sublime, even with the 19-inch wheels, and it's not unsettled by even the biggest potholes and bumps. A little bit of wind noise and tire noise makes its way into the cabin, but otherwise the Nexo is dead silent. It's an extremely calming car both to drive and be driven in, and even after long journeys I get out feeling refreshed.

A hydrogen car that's handsome

Unlike the, shall we say, divisive Mirai and Clarity, the Nexo's handsome design doesn't shout, "Hey, I'm a weird car powered by something future-ish." I think that's a good thing. Sure, the Nexo does look a bit like a concept car with strange design quirks like its waterfall grille, flush door handles and triangular LED lights, but mostly it just blends in. If you're going to get a Nexo, I implore you to choose the rose gold paint color, at least.

The Nexo's interior is the real star here, especially in the two-tone Stone Gray color scheme of my test car. All of the upholstery is vegan leatherette that feels great, but strangely the steering wheel is wrapped in real leather. A horizontal faux-metal strip that contains the air vents runs across the length of the dash, and similar trim is found on the door panels. The large, raised center console is one of the best parts of the interior, with a bunch of analog buttons and knobs that give it a 1990's hi-fi stereo vibe. I don't even mind the push-button shifter controls, and I especially love the fab two-spoke steering wheel.

2020 Hyundai Nexo

The Nexo has one of the coolest interiors around.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

Interior space and cargo room are about on par with the outgoing Hyundai Tucson, but the Nexo has the benefit of a flat floor inside. There's lots of storage space under the center console, including USB ports and a wireless charging pad, but I wish there was more than one cupholder available for the driver. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, and I love the cloth trim and orange accents throughout. The 60/40-split rear bench is great, too, and it folds almost completely flat. (There's no frunk though, as the space under the hood is taken up by all sorts of powertrain hardware.)

A 7-inch digital gauge cluster and 12.3-inch central screen are standard, with the main infotainment display controlled via touch or a knob on the console. The gauge cluster can display things like nav info, trip data or my personal favorite, an energy flow graphic showing exactly what the powertrain is doing. The infotainment system is largely the same card-based setup you'll find in other new Hyundais like the Sonata, but the Nexo gets some specific features. The navigation shows the closest hydrogen filling stations and can even give the fuel prices, and if you input a destination that's farther than your current range the system will change the route so you hit a station along the way. There's also a screen to show the status of the hydrogen tank and fuel cells, as well as detailed eco driving data.

An interesting value proposition

As it's a Hyundai, there should be no surprise that the Nexo packs a ton of features in as standard. There's LED exterior lights all around, 17-inch wheels, powered and heated front seats, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, wireless phone charging, proximity key and keyless entry. Standard safety tech includes adaptive cruise control with stop and go, automated emergency braking, blind-spot warning and collision assist, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist and rear cross-traffic assist.

2020 Hyundai Nexo

A 12.3-inch infotainment screen shows detailed hydrogen station info.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

Jumping up to the Limited model like this test car adds the 19-inch wheels, a power sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel, a fantastic Krell sound system, a power liftgate, parking sensors, a 360-degree camera system and Hyundai's Smart Park automated parking feature. The Limited also gets Hyundai's blind-spot cameras that display in the digital gauge cluster, which I love.

There are a few omissions from the feature list, though. The sunroof is a single pane above the front seats and not a panoramic unit like I'd prefer. Only the front windows are auto up/down, with the rears not getting auto functionality at all. A head-up display isn't available. But worst of all, especially for such a well-designed cabin in 2020, there's no interior ambient lighting.

The base Nexo Blue starts at $59,910 including destination, with the Limited costing $3,450. To me, the Nexo feels well worth the price. And I haven't even gotten to the good stuff yet. Not only is the Nexo eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $8,000, it's also eligible for a California rebate of up to $4,500. Anyone who purchases or leases a Nexo also gets a complimentary fuel card worth $15,000 (or 3 years) of fuel, as well 7 days of free rentals a year from Enterprise over the course of 3 years. Oh, and you can drive the Nexo in California's HOV lanes.

2020 Hyundai Nexo

Every Nexo gets strange LED lights and pop-out door handles.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

It's hard to talk about competition for the Nexo. Obviously there's the Honda Clarity and the Toyota Mirai, the only two other hydrogen cars on the market, but both of those wear sedan bodies and don't feel nearly as plush as the Nexo. Then you've got luxury EV crossovers like the Audi E-Tron, which has more power and all-wheel drive but a much lower overall range and a higher price (especially if you're leasing). So the Nexo is a bit of a unique proposition, and that's part of why I find it so appealing.

At this time there are fewer than 60 hydrogen stations in California, most of which are located in Los Angeles or the Bay Area, so it's tougher to take the Nexo on a long road trip than it would be with an traditional gas car or even an EV. Filling up at a station can still be tricky, too, with busted pumps or other issues not an uncommon sight.

But with a redesigned (and much more appealing) Toyota Mirai about to be released, new stations popping up throughout the state, and more hydrogen-powered commercial vehicles and concept cars being released all the time, who knows -- maybe the hydrogen renaissance is finally, finally on the horizon. Wouldn't it be cool to be on the forefront of it? If you can live with the caveats that come with a hydrogen car, the Nexo shouldn't be overlooked.

2020 Hyundai Nexo
8.6

2020 Hyundai Nexo

MSRP

$58,735

Score Breakdown

Performance 8Features 9Design 8.5Media 9

Specs

See full specs Engine Electric MotorDrivetrain Front Wheel DrivePassenger Capacity 5Body Type SUVs