2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell (1083-1)

Introduction: One of my readers has agreed to share his experience with the Hyundai Fuel Cell Vehicle. Since I test drove the prototype GM HyWire FCV about 7 years ago the technology has finally matured to an actual commercial application. Herewith this consumers take on the newest breakthrough to an alternate powered vehicle for the average commuter. I have edited his story to comply with space requirements for publication but did not change the meaning intended.

Overview:

The 2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell

By Brian Wood

Hyundai announced their lease program early 2014 so I signed up.  Presumably because there’s no hydrogen fueling station near my residence in Agua Dulce I wasn’t’ accepted. But since Burbank is the closest hydrogen station, which is where I work, they agreed and I signed the lease. I’ve been a fan of hydrogen fuel cell technology for some time, so this is a great opportunity to validate that fuel cell technology is indeed a viable option heading into the future.

Briefly, most fuel cell-powered vehicles are simply electric cars that generate their own electricity on-board by converting hydrogen and oxygen to electricity and water which condenses to a trickle of water out the tailpipe.  The key advantages of fuel cell vehicles over electric cars is (1) increased range between fill-ups which I’ve found 260 miles is a realistic figure. People who are familiar with EVs (Electric Vehicles) will appreciate the second important fact – (2) decreased time to re-fill (8 to10 minutes) versus many hours for a plug-in electric car. Other than those two differences a fuel cell vehicle drives and behaves just like any other electric vehicle.

Unlike some other FCVs (Toyota, Honda, and Mercedes for example), Hyundai’s Tucson looks almost exactly the same as the conventional model. Others are more futuristic in styling.

To me, that’s one of the attractions of this car – how “normal” it is.  For all practical purposes, it’s a nicely appointed 5-seater compact SUV that just happens to drive in near-silence.  But it also qualifies for a carpool lane sticker indicating you are a “zero emissions” vehicle.

General Information:  Essentially it’s a well-equipped Tucson Limited FWD with Hyundai’s “Technology Package”. The gasoline engine and fuel tank are replaced with a 134-horsepower electric drive motor, 100-kilowatt fuel cell stack, and hydrogen reservoir. The only color option is white exterior with black leather interior.  All maintenance is fully covered under Hyundai’s concierge program with some exclusive features for fuel cell owners.

Handling & Performance:

As expected you sit up high and have good visibility. Hyundai upgraded the suspension to accommodate the increased weight of the fuel cell drivetrain and it handles and ride better than the “conventional” Tucson. Braking is very good including regenerative braking that isn’t too intrusive. Acceleration from a stop is great, with instant torque and power, though it tapers off above 30mph, making quick launches to highway speeds a bit lacking.  It is fun to drive briskly around town, but not very snappy at freeway speeds.

Cost:

While conventional Tucson’s are competitively priced, roughly $28,000 for a comparably outfitted gasoline Tucson, the fuel cell version is hard to rate.  For insurance purposes, Hyundai states these are $50,000 vehicles for an outright purchase.  However, for a leased vehicle the monthly lease cost of $499 per month includes all fuel and maintenance, which makes it reasonably attractive.

Toyota’s Mirai  (a 4-door Sedan) will be available June/July 2015 and will cost $57,000 purchase or a lease option also at $499 per month. It is not clear if that includes fuel and maintenance as does the Hyundai.

Conveniences and comfort:

Very well appointed, other than no sunroof or cruise control. Cargo room is good with very little space given up for the hydrogen fuel tank and it has all the features you would expect including adjustable seats, power windows/locks/mirrors, seat warmers, navigation, Bluetooth, etc. The seats are very comfortable (and heated) and combined with adjustable steering, neither my wife nor I have any problem easily getting into a good driving position.

Consumer Recommendation:

While Hyundai (and sister Kia) have long offered excellent value, this vehicle is obviously a bit different.  If you can deal with the limited fueling stations (California has a program to add more) and take full advantage of the lease, it’s a good deal and fun alternative to “usual” cars.  If you want cutting-edge drivetrain technology in a car that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be something out of the Jetson’s, it’s worth a look.

Recognized Competition:  

Conventional: Honda CRV, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-5. Hydrogen FCV’s, there aren’t many current options. This Hyundai Tucson, Honda Clarity, Toyota Mirai and Mercedes has a few models.                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Good News:

Good handling, comfortable, easy to drive car with excellent features and good fit and finish.  It is exceptionally quiet.

Bad News:                                   

Heavy, slow to accelerate to higher speeds, only available as a lease (with no buy-out option). The current lack of fueling stations is inconvenient (to say the least).

Standard Equipment:   

134-horsepower electric drive motor, Vehicle Stability Management, Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control, Anti-lock Braking System, Dual front and side airbags, automatic headlights (projector headlamps with LED accent lights), fog lights, dual automatic temperature control, rear window defroster, heated seats (2+2), trip computer, remote keyless entry with alarm, proximity keyless entry with electronic push-button start, multiple 12-volt outlets, interior mirror with compass, 60/40 split fold-down rear seat, LATCH anchors, tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), 360-watts AM/FM/SiriusXM/HD Radio/CD/MP3 audio system with amp and 7 speakers, navigation, 7” high-resolution touch-screen display and iPod/USB/auxiliary input jacks, Bluetooth hands-free phone system with voice recognition and rearview camera.

Gas Stats:

EPA 50 mpg-e (miles per gallon equivalent) with zero emissions. Additionally, the lease includes all the fuel you use, so it’s hard to compare gas to hydrogen equivalent.

Pricing:

Valued at $50,000, but only available on a 3-year, 36,000 mile lease for $499 per month plus fees/taxes and $2,999 due at signing (there is an available 45,000 mile option).  There is also a $5,000 California Clean Vehicle rebate available which helps offset costs considerably.

Closing Notes: Brian and I agree on most of his experiences and the main objection for me is the fact that there are currently only 9 Hydrogen refueling stations in California. It is estimated by Toyota that there will be 18 by year end 2015. Then depending on the acceptance of the technology by consumers stations surely will pop up all over just as Diesel availability did over the past several decades.

 

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@autolove.com
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